Shadow Lives

by Jon lowenstein



Shadow Lives

USA, Chicago, May 2005, Tomas, who has been working day labor jobs in the Albany Park neighborhood for more than 10 years, wanted his picture taken in the Juan Diego Worker’s Center his way. Braving the pouring rain, he stripped down to his underwear and went to the middle of the parking lot. Tomas wanted a nude picture to show his connection to the center, for which the workers had struggled for more than three years.

USA, Chicago, May 2005, Tomas, who has been working day labor jobs in the Albany Park neighborhood for more than 10 years, wanted his picture taken in the Juan Diego Worker’s Center his way. Braving the pouring rain, he stripped down to his underwear and went to the middle of the parking lot. Tomas wanted a nude picture to show his connection to the center, for which the workers had struggled for more than three years.

During the past decade, millions of Latin American migrants have left their homes and risked death on the perilous journey to the United States in search of a chance to live the ‘American Dream.’ Once here, many of these migrants face economic exploitation, live under the increasing specter of criminality and confront a right-wing political movement dedicated to their removal from American society. Despite these obstacles, these resilient immigrants have contributed greatly to the economy and are transforming American culture in communities across the nation. How the world’s wealthiest nation integrates the estimated 12 million undocumented Latino immigrants will define the future of this country for decades.

USA, Hidalgo, January 2005, A Mexican migrant crosses the Rio Grande on his way to the United States.

USA, Hidalgo, January 2005, A Mexican migrant crosses the Rio Grande on his way to the United States.

USA, Sells, March 2009, This El Salvadoran made it to the United States, but died from exposure about 50 yards from a cattle pond in the Sonora desert.

USA, Sells, March 2009, This El Salvadoran made it to the United States, but died from exposure about 50 yards from a cattle pond in the Sonora desert.

The struggle about how best to define and treat this growing and increasingly influential population is one of the most vital and complex issues our nation faces. Although many agree that the current immigration system is not working, few can find common language or understanding to forge effective solutions.  

USA, Immokalee, January 2005, Migrant carrying a suitcase. Immokalee is located in Central Florida and has been a flashpoint in the immigration debate.

USA, Immokalee, January 2005, Migrant carrying a suitcase. Immokalee is located in Central Florida and has been a flashpoint in the immigration debate.

USA, McAllen, January 2005, After being processed in the Border Patrol headquarters, detained migrants are searched for contraband or weapons, put on a bus and sent to a detention facility. They had to keep their arms up the whole search, which lasted nearly 45 minutes.

USA, McAllen, January 2005, After being processed in the Border Patrol headquarters, detained migrants are searched for contraband or weapons, put on a bus and sent to a detention facility. They had to keep their arms up the whole search, which lasted nearly 45 minutes.


Los Deportados

Guatemala, Guatemala City, July 2008, Deported men and women depart a flight that just arrived from the United States to La Aurora Airport.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, July 2008, Deported men and women depart a flight that just arrived from the United States to La Aurora Airport.

Thousands of Mexican and Central American migrants are returned to their home countries each year by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. The agency operates about 48 flights each week to deport people from the United States back to their country of origin.

Depending on the crime the migrants commit will determine whether or not they will be shackled throughout the flight. The flights originate from various parts of the United States. Approximately 400,000 people were deported this past year.

 

Thousands of Mexican and Central American migrants are returned to their home countries each year by the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Texas, Harlingen, December 2009, Handcuffs lie on the ground before being put away after shackling a group of undocumented immigrants who were being transported from Pennsylvania to the border crossing at Hidalgo.

Texas, Harlingen, December 2009, Handcuffs lie on the ground before being put away after shackling a group of undocumented immigrants who were being transported from Pennsylvania to the border crossing at Hidalgo.

Texas, Brownsville, December 2009, Guatemalan nationals are loaded onto an airplane named Molly at a municipal airport. The flight flew directly to La Aurora Airport in Guatemala City where the men and women were returned to their homeland.

Texas, Brownsville, December 2009, Guatemalan nationals are loaded onto an airplane named Molly at a municipal airport. The flight flew directly to La Aurora Airport in Guatemala City where the men and women were returned to their homeland.


A Cruel Exodus

Guatemala, Guatemala City, April 2010, A man lies on top of the body of his murdered brother in Zone 6. Zone 6 is considered a red zone or dangerous zone where murders are common and life is quite cheap. The shooting occurred at the end of a wake for another shooting that had happened several days before.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, April 2010, A man lies on top of the body of his murdered brother in Zone 6. Zone 6 is considered a red zone or dangerous zone where murders are common and life is quite cheap. The shooting occurred at the end of a wake for another shooting that had happened several days before.

During the past several years I have made at least four trips to Guatemala to document the social upheaval and its impact on the local population. I have arrived at a murder scene three minutes after a bus driver was fatally shot, witnessing the last bit of life ebb from his body after he was pulled from the bus. Exodus follows the journey that migrants take through the Peten Jungle in Northern Guatemala. The men and women ride on the back of a smuggler’s truck crammed into a steel cage meant to transport livestock. Like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, these migrants are fleeing the Dust Bowl of their home countries, facing extortion, robbery and death in their journey to the promised land of the United States.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, April 2010, El Limoncito is one of the poorer and more dangerous neighborhoods of Guatemala City.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, April 2010, El Limoncito is one of the poorer and more dangerous neighborhoods of Guatemala City.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, February 2008, There is so much violence and shooting in the city that the bus companies rarely try to fix the windows that get shot out.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, February 2008, There is so much violence and shooting in the city that the bus companies rarely try to fix the windows that get shot out.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, January 2008, A sign searching for a missing person on the doorway of the San Juan de Dios public hospital.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, January 2008, Two teenagers murdered along a highway on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, January 2008, Two teenagers murdered along a highway on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

292 people were murdered in Guatemala in 2008. Most of them were killed in the capital of Guatemala City. The violence in this small Central American country knows no limits and currently it is one of the most violent and insecure places in the world that is not in a declared state war. People are consistently murdered for their cell phones on the streets, bus drivers are shot in the head in broad daylight in front of crowds of onlookers and people are openly extorted and killed if they do not pay.

Violence is on the rise and many here feel that the current government has little or no control over the various forces undermining basic civilian normalcy.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, July 2008, A family mourns for the loss of their loved one lying in a body bag on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The man was found in a ditch on the side of the road and had been there for some time before a street cleaner found him.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, July 2008, A family mourns for the loss of their loved one lying in a body bag on the outskirts of Guatemala City. The man was found in a ditch on the side of the road and had been there for some time before a street cleaner found him.

As part of a project examining the collective experience of Latin American migrants to the United States I have traveled to Guatemala at least 4 times over the past several years to show the devastating effect that violence has on everyday people in the nation’s capital and demonstrate why some people choose to leave their country’s homeland in search of a better and hopefully safer life in the United States.

With the daily drumbeat of intimidation, fear, extortion, and murder continually met with impunity, the local population grows increasingly desperate. Because the police often do nothing, it is not uncommon for street justice to take over, with mobs clamoring to protect their neighborhoods and enforce provisional order. This body of work attempts to show shows the bloody impact of organized crime, ineffectual government and grinding poverty on everyday working people.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, September 2008, The promised land of the United States. The men and women who make it to the United States in Arizona can now be legally racially profiled by any officer of the law. The increasingly hostile, xenophobic atmosphere in the United States awaits these migrants trying to improve their lives.

Guatemala, Guatemala City, September 2008, The promised land of the United States. The men and women who make it to the United States in Arizona can now be legally racially profiled by any officer of the law. The increasingly hostile, xenophobic atmosphere in the United States awaits these migrants trying to improve their lives.