February 6, 2015

Denial Is a Pool in Bakersfield: An Immigration Picture You've Hardly Seen Before

As one of the most important political and social justice issues in America, immigration has been widely documented, too. In a recent feature at the NY Times Lens Blog (“An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life“), photographer Mark Abramson documents Blanca, a Dreamer attending U.C. Berkeley, and her family and community living in Bakersfield, Ca.

Across these photo stories, one will find familiar themes, categories or types of images. For example, you’ll see photos of the undocumented at work, perhaps toiling in a kitchen or a field or engaged in domestic labor. Or you might see images of immigrants in encounters with law enforcement, questioned by police in a public place or pulled over in a car.

What is disconcerting and oddly innocuous about this photo from the essay is how it ends up combining the two. If undocumented immigrants are always in fear of the authorities, here we see Eduardo, Blanca’s father and an undocumented migrant with a landscaping business, tending to the yard of a police officer who is actually floating in his pool.

It’s not just an oddly prosaic snapshot of a radical status differential. It’s also a terrific, if incidental illustration of hypocrisy and double standards. What Mark’s photo frames and what it also nails are two of the immigration issue’s elephants in the room: America’s ultimate demand for low cost labor, and the arbitrary enforcement of immigration laws. What’s so commendable about the photo, and a contribution to the conversation, is how deftly it highlights the art and practice of looking the other way.

(photo: Mark Abramson. caption: Eduardo tends to a client’s backyard by cleaning up trash. The client, a police officer, relaxes in his pool in Bakersfield. June 19, 2014.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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