rodrigo cruz – the promised land

[kml_flashembed fversion=”8.0.0″ movie=”” targetclass=”flashmovie” bgcolor=”#262626″ publishmethod=”dynamic” width=”800″ height=”551″]

Get Adobe Flash player



Rodrigo Cruz

The Promised Land

Every year, thousands of Central Americans from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras illegally enter Mexico via the southern border with the goal of reaching the United States in search of a better life. The journey is long and full of dangers, traveling for days as they cross the country atop the “beast”, as they call the train that takes them to Mexico’s northern border.

Related links

Rodrigo Cruz


136 Responses to “rodrigo cruz – the promised land”

  • A touching set of quality photos. Thank you for sharing this, I never really gave enough thought to these poor people: This made me realize what it can be like to have no choice, but to make that dangerous trip. The background music and the voices telling the story really gave this set a strong feeling and message.

  • The photos are well made. The subject we’ve seen again and again.

  • Rodrigo, thank you for submitting this to Burn. As immigration policy is debated in the U.S. too often the migration of Central Americans is overlooked, and the gauntlet they face trying to make it across Mexico, avoid corrupt police, the gangs and maiming and death by the beast. I saw the documentary film De Nadie not too long ago so these issues are familiar to me although I doubt many people understand even the basic story here and how both internal and external U.S. policy have and continue to contribute to this ongoing humanitarian crisis. Anything anyone can do frankly to put a human face to the many tragedies of American migration and a century of failed U.S. policy, to put it nicely, is one more step in the right direction. When I have seen my neighbor’s families literally ripped apart at the point of federal guns, children who are U.S. citizens left homeless as their parents sit in privately run jails with questionable human rights records sometimes for years without due process … for the crime of wanting a better life and not having the right paperwork … these issues become personal, saddening, and maddening. And as these issues become more personal for more U. S. citizens, as they are, I have great hope for change. The trail of your story ends in everyone’s backyard here in the U.S., if they just LOOK. Your work can help people see as the veil is lifted.

    Great work Rodrigo. Stay safe and on it. You are making an important contribution.

  • I would challenge Jim’s assertion that “we” have seen this again and again. Who is “we”? Texans? Many people I know have no knowledge or understanding of many of these issues, except within dehumanizing and often dismissive policy discussions. That is changing. There is hope, even if Jim has none.

  • Nice. Very well done.

    And to young tom… I agree, to both posts.

  • Rodrigo, I want to thank you for documenting this story in such a sensitive way. Yes, your heart is obviously with the people who are risking their lives by making this journey north, but so is mine. For I have seen firsthand the places where life is unsustainable, where no matter how early you get up before dawn and make your way to a pick-up point for workers, no matter how late at night you tredge back up the mountain for an hour or two of sleep, your family still goes hungry. I wish “The Promised Land” would be required for each so-called “legal” Norte Americano to see, especially those who create the policies and pass the laws in Washington, DC. Maybe then they would stop seeing illegal immigrants as criminals.

    Aesthetically, your essay is beautiful in a haunted kind of way. You are obviously a gifted photographer who uses your skill and exerience to try to make a difference. Please keep doing what you’re doing. I hope one day soon to hold the book, “The Promised Land” in my hands. Muchas gracias, mi amigo.


  • Well I gotta say, there aren’t too many things that are better in the morning than good black and whites and a little massive attack. Well played sir. oh, and a great cup of coffee to go along with em!! Amen.

  • fuerte! I’d love to see the next chapter in this story as well..

  • Hey Rodrigo! Nice work! Are you continuing with this project? I hope so as it can certainly be expanded, this is such a large story. Good work so far though, you have good access to the groups making the trip through Mexico. It does finish a little abruptly for me though. I don’t know what logistical issues you might face with following them further through the border? But I hope you can keep going and expand this further. Great start!

  • Well, obviously, young tom, we in Texas have a history with these issues. We are impacted every day with them. It impacts our economy and our criminal justice system. Unfortunately, it seems to be one of those problems with no solution.

  • Rodrigo, thanks for submitting this essay. On this ongoing project, I hope for even a more personal approach to some of these people, which, though I disagree we have no idea of their plight, lack a face, so to speak, in numerous “border” PJ work.

    Young Tom. I mean, my good friend, come on! Yes, the arm of the law can be brusque, and policies ill-judged, but don’t you think the problem is indeed a difficult one (no solution, says Jim) because many americans, including their elected officials, can’t quite depart from a human approach, rather than cut, burn and set afloat…

    How about a walk in our latino neighboroods, and not latino, how about a thought about all the latinas and latinos who made a life for themselves, and gave their kids an education only rich central americans can give their children back home, all this after crossing illegally.

  • I myself was an illegal in th early years of my american journey, having worked on a tourist visa, which would have me deported and unable to come back for a long time, if caught.

  • rodrigo, amazing essay… the closeness… access and severity of the images are very well thought out and executed… amazing essay… the trust with your subjects is inspiring… this is a problem we are seeing more and more of and even in rich rural communities… even here were i live… big bankers are getting the boot from long time money schemes and bribery charges… and ou have covered this on the opposite end… people trying to look for a better life… no more… they are not bad people… they just want a better simpler life… and they cannot have it… very sad essay but i think it is something we all need to take a look at…. very well done… thank you for this… great website by the way!

  • I’m quite shocked by many comments here actually….First, yes poverty is an issue facing most parts of the world today and the ways in which people search to find a better way of life are numerous.

    To Jim commented positively on my work a couple weeks back and I appreciate that but to say that, “this is a story that we’ve seen over and over again” and “it’s one of those problems with no solution” actually blows my mind to say the least. These issues cannot be documented enough and that’s one thing that actually annoys me about photojournalism today…the search for finding new problems in the world, portraying them in an “artistic” way and leaving other issues (already covered) buried. Keep going Rodrigo Cruz…nice photos and nice subject!

    How to solve these problems…Get life back on track in the places where people are suffering, not build walls and put border guards to keep them away. I’m citing the U.S. and Israel as two prime examples of this today..

    bonne soiree

  • Thankyou for your sensitive essay Rodrigo, well done.

    Young Tom, people up here in Canada are well aware of the situation. There was a very moving documentary on exactly this story last year on prime time CBC television. Many of those desperate people keep moving right on through the US into Canada.

    Desperate people with nothing to loose will do desperate things. Immmigration policies are not to blame. It is not practical to just open the borders and let millions of people flood in. The crushing poverty is to blame. Latin America has been exploited and manipulated for generations. This is the result. Foreign policy plays a huge part in creating the problem. Yaldas photo draws attention to a small sleazy piece of it. The results are just coming home to roost.

  • Herve, I don’t understand what you are saying. Are you saying U.S. policy is a “human approach”? Are you arguing it would be better if citizens and elected leaders “depart from a human approach”? I know you are not, so I know I am not understanding your point. As a French citizen outstaying his visa, do you think you would be treated the same as a Central American citizen in the same situation?

    Obviously this is a horrendously difficult issue, and I make no claims of having any solutions, but in the midst of trying to grapple with the issue, should the U.S. be creating Guantanamos all over this country and denying basic human rights? Should undocumented parents be literally stripped from the arms of their citizen-children at gun point and sent to de-facto prisons for long terms with little or no due process? And what of all the historic foreign incursions into Central America, or South America? Have you seen the list of those we know about, it is sobering? What about the dictators the U.S. has trained at the School of the Americas? The monsters we have supported not because of who they were but of who they were not (socialist)? On and on. The United States bears great, great responsibility in the creation of these people’s plight and in my mind continues to heap injustice on injustice.

    Hey, I love this country, my country. My family goes back to within a few years of the Mayflower here, fought in all the wars, helped to shape significant policies, afflicted the comfortable and comforted the afflicted, etc … but I do not love everything this government does and I do not think most people are aware of what has happened here in recent years. It is not “right” by any standard. Perhaps we have “seen” this kind of story before but do we really understand it? Are we actually perceiving the “big picture”? Is this placed within both the historical and cultural context? THAT is what I believe is beginning to dawn, an outgrowth of both increased migration and new global economy and communication.

  • David Bacher, it simply makes no difference to keep documenting the issue. It’s not going to be resolved and it is not going to go away. We can’t fix the problems in other countries and we can’t, locally, financially afford to support their people. The humanitarian problem is very real. But it is not one we can resolve.

  • Gordon, I know I saw the same documentary as well. Can’t remember the title but it was well done. Agree with what you are saying. And I have always said, if you want to understand what is really happening in this country, read a Canadian newspaper … and maybe The Economist. :))

  • very interesting essay. i like the simplicity of the presentation. this is how i often imagine the ‘real’ documentary work to be. at the same time there is almost a personal aspect in it, empathy. thank you for sharing.

  • Jim and David, i believe there is a point in documenting everything. photography is as just as legitimate as a voice.
    there are couple issues here that concern me. (my apologies for bring it up under your essay, Rodrigo)
    On one hand in the Western media there is bombardment of images documenting the “problems” in other parts of the world which often are used as a distraction from our own.
    On the other hand, majority of the issues on the pictures of Western photographers about “other lands” are of an economical nature with little insight into other aspects of peoples’ lives. (community, family, religion, etc.)

    as far as “we can’t, locally, financially afford to support their people” – till western societies find themselves entitled to sustain wars in other countries, to support with arms conflicts around the world, South America is a very good example of this intrusion. it means we have money to help instead. that’s the price we have to pay as citizens too. it starts with our awareness. changes for better societies have often come as a result of the grass roots movements, not politicians

  • i meant central, although south too

  • Marina, “we” unfortunately, is not the federal government. “We” are the taxpayers in our small Texas county that sees half a million dollars of our tax money go to indigent care (we have a county hospital). We see a big chunk of our tax dollars that go to education (school taxes I pay even though I’ve never had children of my own to educate) to educate the children of Illegals. We see another big chunk of our tax dollars locally go to law enforcement costs associated with Illegals. There are only a finite number of dollars here (cities and counties have to operate with balanced budgets).

    You are right. We are hijacking a photographers thread to debate social policy. My point is that more photos of the problem isn’t going to solve it. We know the problem very well.

  • Before reading the comments, I thought this essay was amazing, I felt I was with those in the essay, trying to live and cross the border. The pacing is spot on with this essay and I like the use of subtitles throughout.

    @Jim, I agree with you again that this is something we have seen before, and I live in the UK! But as with the last essay, we discussed the representation of The Other, and creating positive change out of it. This is a different human problem that I believe can be solved. I don’t know how but I remain optimistic here.

  • great photo essay-

    longtime viewer on burn, however this essay moved me to post for the first time. as jim mentioned, the debate over immigration appears to be hijacking this fantastic photo essay’s theme, that is- the view of immigration from a side that is far too often neglected when one considers immigration in our country. This is exactly what makes this essay powerful- it illuminates the pitfalls and dangers for those who are often assumed to ‘benefit’ from continued immigration (jim alludes to this when he claims that ‘indigents’ are usurping limited county resources).

    moreover, as i was in el salvador the past three months, i was shocked to learn what i hadn’t learnt previosuly in the states (where i am from); and again, this essay doesn’t just ‘show more pictures of the same problem’, it articulates more definitively what is in fact an incredibly complicated issue. for example, i did not know until i arrived in el salvador that mexico also is outmatched and overstretched by illegal immigration from guatemala, honduras, nicaragua and el salvador, much the same way the us is. i didn’t know about the 10 million dollars the us spends a year, flying felons back into el salvador, a policy which has contributed to a massive crime wave that makes el salvador one of the most dangerous places in the world (while keeping the hardworking civilians in the united states).

    i don’t mean to hijack this thread more, my point is that what makes this essay powerful is its nuanced understanding. it isn’t another ‘on the border’ photoessay, akin to alan webbs. it is an elaboration of one particularity of an incredibly complex issue.

    and to boot- the images themselves are strong enough that people debate policy, not the aesthetics of the images themselves, which in my opinion lends credence to the power of these images.

    well done rodrigo,


  • Tax policy? You just don’t give up, Jim.

  • Tom, there is policy (and some have been very humane, like legalizing long-stay illegals) and there are people. I say we are a people, and many of us, even border cops by the way, do react as people, with much humanity still, I mean not cruelly, not wantonly violent. Your take was way too one-sided, in seeing only wrong, cruel and ignorant behaviour, this side of the border. To all the points you make, I simply say, no sorry, I do not believe we are going towards being a racist/fascist aryan country with camps and miradors. Everything points actually to the contrary.

    save the hardship of desert crossing, legally, my situation would have been worse than a latino, during these years. Since I have been in the construction business, I have known and befriended many latinos. They never had any problems coming and going thru the border. They even had a counter at SF airport for people in their situation, leaving the country by plane. No passport!

    No, I am not against latinos coming over here….. I love people.

    But where there is a problem, it is worth to keep looking for a solution that may include some but not all the millions of people wishing to come to our USA, as inhuman (smirk) as it is.

  • Preston, this essay doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It exists within an ongoing controversy and a real economic cost. If a photographer is going to shoot these kinds of stories, they should have a full understanding of the issue (and perhaps this photographer does).

  • You can think that all you want, Jim, but this is not a story about the impact of migrants on border towns in the US. That would be a different essay. It’s disingenuous to throw up your own local gripes and insist that the photographer be somehow conversant in them. Why do all of the essays on Burn have to be about you and your silly worldview?

  • I am just wondering Jim, what exactly do you shoot on a regular basis that we have not seen before? Actually what do you shoot period that we have not seen before?

    By your logic we should sell the cameras and do something else.

  • Preston, I just expressed an opinion. Ignore me. Don’t engage me. I don’t get it.

  • of an economical nature with little insight into other aspects of peoples’ lives. (community, family, religion, etc.)
    That may hve been quite tru a few decades ago, Marina, but IMO, not anymore. Western people are very much in touch with quite a few regions and cultures around the world. Now, doing so, they may end up or choose, in majority, not to be too interested in these cultures.

    That may not be a fault, and could seem after all to be a natural attitude (even though you and I may deplore it), at least for that stage where mankind is, at this point. this is not just western people who are not “really” into others cultures. I mean real culture, what makes us who we are, not just consumering culture, sometimes the worse of what “we’ have to offer others). Especially, as you say, we take the economic incentive out of it.

    I mean, I want to see when India, China and Russia, 3 biggies with plenty of cash and manpower, and a vow to world leadership, will help around the world as much as individuals and NGO/foundations in the West (including Japan) do. Hey, just to help around their own shores, their own cultures, that would be fine too! ;-)

    Not sure about grass roots. I actually think that individual(s) are usually at the beginning of change. Then, if it looks good, we follow in. Especially grass roots movments. they usually take much voluntariship from a few individuals to get off the ground.

    as usual, IMO.

  • Herve, you misrepresented what I wrote and your point is unclear. Loved your smug smirk though.

    “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we [ICE] can make him disappear.”
    James Pendergraph, Former Executive director of the ICE Office of State and Local Coordination, August 21, 2008.

  • Rodrigo, good work; strong photographs, bleak and unflinching. Congratulations on being published here. I do hope that you continue your essay; I would love to see the homes that these people leave and the lives that they make if they cross into the U.S. successfully. If you can, note the names of your subjects: makes them people and not victims.

    I do not see people’s comments here as hijacking. It seems to me that Rodrigo has been successful if he can begin such a debate.

    Jim, before I read any comments I knew that you would be here and I predicted your first post.

    As for “We” are the taxpayers in our small Texas county that sees half a million dollars of our tax money go to indigent care (we have a county hospital). We see a big chunk of our tax dollars that go to education (school taxes I pay even though I’ve never had children of my own to educate) to educate the children of Illegals. We see another big chunk of our tax dollars locally go to law enforcement costs associated with Illegals…” – I’m sure that the people shown in this essay who have had to leave everything and everyone to try to find a better life would be only too pleased to be able to afford to pay tax dollars.

    In many parts of the world the migration of the poor in search of a better life is becoming ever more common. The more enlightened among us recognize that people don’t migrate through choice; they migrate because of desperation. If people had jobs and work in their own country they would stay in their own country. Considering the cost of attempting to seal a porous boarder it may be worth a try to build a manufacturing base in Central America with the sole aim of bringing economic stability to the area. The U.S. have done it before; after World War 2 – the Marshall Plan.

    Poverty is a waste and a disgrace.


  • Sean
    Welcome. I don’t think you are hijacking this thread at all. Isn’t the point of presenting documentary material here and elswhere to inform and encourage discussion? You are right on topic.

    Jim, you’re a news guy, and believe in free press and all that. Truthful and accuarate information plays a big part in keeping politicians (and those who control them) in line. I was going to say honest, but it stuck in my craw.
    Seen it all before? Jim, it’s like advirtising. We all know what Coca-cola is, and what it tastes like. But Coke stills spends an obcene amount of money reminding us. They don’t do this because they like throwing money into a hole, they do it because they know absolutely that their sales would drop and eventually cease if they didn’t advirtise.
    We all know cancer is nasty, no need to remind us, people will just keep sending money…d’ya think?

    A message needs to be repeated constantly to keep it on the radar.

    The more informed the public is, the harder it is for those in power to pull the wool over our eyes. There seems to be a lot of wool out there to be removed. Every essay like this one maybe pulls a little off.

    Gordon L

  • Mike R.

    Be careful. There is WAY too much common sense in your post.

  • Good news! This essay has sparked a debate about the issue (rather than over the aesthetics of the photos).

    A topic that has been covered a lot – but that’s not a reason not to do it. When I was deciding on the topic for my master’s thesis (AIDS, Poverty & Faith), my advisor warned me that of course it had been done a lot, but encouraged me that I had never done it, and so it could be unique (though not guaranteed). (

    I think when you’re choosing a story, you have to go with what you really want in your heart. If you’re just following the crowd or picking something “edgy” just for the edge factor, then your motive is messed up. But if you’re covering something you really care about (or want to care more about), then it doesn’t matter if it’s been done before or not.

  • We need more solutions, I think, than restatements of the problem.

  • Okay, my last post on this … again, thank you Rodrigo and BURN.

    Between 1991 and 2007, the number of Hispanics sentenced in federal
    courts nearly quadrupled (270%), rising faster than the number of
    offenders sentenced in federal courts over this period and accounting for
    54% of the growth in the total number of offenders.

    Hispanics represented 40% of all sentenced federal offenders in 2007, the
    single largest racial and ethnic group among sentenced federal offenders.

    More than eight-in-ten (81%) non-citizen Hispanic immigration offenders
    in 2007 were sentenced for entering the U.S. unlawfully or residing in the
    country without authorization.

    – Above statistics from The Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center.

    In 1996, immigration authorities had a daily detention capacity of less than 10,000. Today more than 30,000 immigrants are detained each day, and this number is likely to increase even further in 2009. More than 300,000 men, women and children are detained by US immigration authorities each year. They include asylum seekers, torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, longtime lawful permanent residents, and the parents of US citizen children. – Amnesty International, “Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA”

    “While ICE reported an average detention stay of 37 days in 2007, Amnesty International found that immigrants and asylum seekers may be detained for months or even years as they go through deportation procedures that will determine whether or not they are eligible to remain in the United States. For example, according to a 2003 study, asylum seekers who were eventually granted asylum spent an average of 10 months in detention with the longest reported period being 3.5 years. Amnesty International has documented several cases, detailed in this report, in which individuals have been detained for four years. Individuals who have been ordered deported may languish in detention indefinitely if their home country is unwilling to accept their return or does not have diplomatic relations with the United States.” – Amnesty International, “Jailed Without Justice: Immigration Detention in the USA”

    “Women in detention described violations such as shackling pregnant detainees or failing to follow up on signs of breast and cervical cancer, as well as basic affronts to their dignity. Because immigration detention is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States, these abuses are especially dangerous. They remain largely hidden from public scrutiny or effective oversight.” – Meghan Rhoad, US researcher for the Women’s Rights Division

    “A team of legal organizations announced today that it is suing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in federal district court for detaining immigrants in egregious, unsanitary conditions in a downtown Los Angeles facility without soap, drinking water, toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, changes of clothing or showers. The lawsuit – filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the National Immigration Law Center, and the law firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky and Walker LLP – also charges that the unsanitary conditions have led ICE to deprive immigrants of due-process rights such as access to mail or attorneys while in detention.” – April 2, 2009, ACLU press release.

  • I am excited to see the great work up here lately! I have been working on a story that will be finished soon on refugees from Zimbabwe. Refugee stories have certainly been done before – but I am pretty sure that nobody has met a fugee like the one I’ve been working with. Instead of being depressed or angry after watching his story, I think people will be encouraged (and maybe even challenged, I hope). I really hope Burn will consider publishing it here, I would be honored to hear everyone’s feedback. I should be finished in a few weeks.

  • Sean, welcome! Gordon, right-on! Pete, thanks.

    Jim, “We need more solutions, I think, than restatements of the problem” – BORING!!!

    Think, Jim, think. Do you think that human beings are going to stop trying to get a better life for themselves and their families because of a fence? Would you rather live on a rubbish tip or work in the U.S.? – discuss.

    You are supposed to be a newspaper editor! Do you just drip-feed your audience with what they want to hear? How about putting a few names to those “Illegals” that end up in hospital? How about putting a reporter and cameraman on a plane that takes “Illegals” back to their country of origin and see what they are attempting to escape?

    Does your newspaper have a website?


  • Rodrigo,

    Wonderful essay. I hope you continue to explore this subject matter. It would be interesting to see if you could do a counter story about organizations, both government and civilian, whose purpose is to keep the illegal immigrants out.

    Well done. Love the Massive Attack soundtrack too.

  • gordon thanks for the welcome-

    jim i agree wholeheartedly that solutions are more needed than displays… but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a zero-sum nature of these two approaches. and for photographers, who by nature ‘document’ reality rather than ‘create’ it, what are they to do when at present there are no solutions to be had (beyond getting a masters degree and solve the problem themselves)?

    i’m sure that this theme must have touched on previously, so i won’t harp on it, but analyzing a problem, understanding its nuances, articulating the specfics (as rodrigo has done in this essay)- wouldn’t this contribute towards a possible solution? i’m sure the ‘experts’ are well aware of the varying underlying issues that central americans face as opposed to mexicans, eastern europeans, chinese, etc., but for the rest of us, isn’t a report like rodrigo’s a great contribution to dialogue, whereupon it is no longer appropriate for any of us to lump the experiences of mexicans and central americans together, as i believe many americans do unwittingly?

  • NATHAN….

    the work here is going to be getting stronger and stronger….i look forward to seeing your essay from Zimbabwe….

    cheers, david

  • Nathan, look forward to seeing your work here!

    Young Tom, don’t you know that we all know this stuff? It’s been done before, ask Jim.

    Seriously, thank God we have Obama in the White House. I know, he’s just a man; but he has a conscience.


  • Mike, yes well it took me all of 30 minutes to get myself a great education because, like all good reporters, I never assume I know a god damn thing.

  • The essay is all over the place at the beginning and only really gets a lift toward the end when the train shots come into play.
    Start with image no 9, 10, 11, 13, 15, 16, then 19 onwards.
    Sometimes it’s better to present part of the narrative not the whole saga itself in order to engage the audience

  • you misrepresented what I wrote and your point is unclear

    Young Tom, in order not to be misrepresented, maybe best avoid writing like this:

    but in the midst of trying to grapple with the issue, should the U.S. be creating GUANTANAMOS (noldlined by me) all over this country and denying basic human rights? ….

    Then you go on telling us it happens already in your neighborood, and of course, it’s the shape of things to come since some bigwig idiot is deciding for all what is the policy towards illegal immigration in this country.

    I do not deny abuses and wrong-headed arm-of-the-law practices, but don’t you think a little balance is what we need most with that particualr problem, rather than the same old lines about US this and US that?


    i anxiously await your essay….it will be a strong one and a different one…many thanks…

    cheers, david

  • David I will send it off to Anton today, I just finalised the licence to the musical score.
    I feel that there is a need to take articulate approach to the essays……….. you have your idea , taken your images now it is important to create your slideshow around your most important image/images. If the idea/narrative skews off to a slight detour so be it it is no use trying to force the images to be something that they aren’t. Plus there is nothing wrong with repeating an image this can help reinforce the intent


    what i saw the first time around was intriguing to say the least…i think you will redefine authorship here on BURN….

  • Imants Good luck, i’m keen to see you distill something out of that mess of images you have ;-)

  • Rodrigo,

    Living in Australia, we are aware of illegal immigration to a point. As there are no borders to cross people flee to us in boats, usually being caught by our somewhat overzealous border control and being detained for months in the desert in a prison.

    Unfortunately a lot of Australians see this process as nessacery to “protect” the country. If only they could see your work maybe they would realise the need to flee for a better life is universal, and finally see a human face to illegal immigration.

    This is a powerfull essay, and although it hs “been done before” ( but what story has not been told in one way or another already) you’re images give me a palpable feeling of desperation from your subjects moreso than a feeling of sadness. And that’s something to be commended.

  • Jim
    I wonder if anyone has ever calculated the positive economic impact of illegal workers.

  • Herve … I believe you are just baiting me. Back to the essay.

  • RODRIGO – very nice essay. yes, i have seen this subject photographed many times – but who cares – you did a very nice job. for one thing – it was not all “on the train” images – you captured the life before and during as well. beautiful black & white work and well edited. Have you seen the new film from Mexico, “Sin Nombre”? – it is exactly about this subject. Also the book, “Enrique’s Journey”. if not – check them both out. Well done!!

  • Gordon, I can’t say nationally, but locally the impact has been negative.

  • Hey Joe …….. all my stuff comes from a ordered mind

  • Wow, beautiful essay. Almost like watching a poetic movie. Only thing missing was more!

    I think stories are stories and deserve to be told, again and again. One of my favorite filmmakers is Satijayat Ray, who tells very simple, almost mundane stories of the common people, and the tragedies that befall them, and those stories take on an epic proportion. Everyone’s story, good or bad, is epic to them. We can’t quantify suffering. That’s why I like this piece, because it has a very personal feel to it. Much more so than the Uganda crisis piece IMO.

    Good work Rodrigo and some stunning compositions as well, perfect yet casual.

  • I agree 100% with Charles above. I also find this piece really cinematic and i felt so much a connection with the people in it i would of liked to of seen more, if possible. The images you use from one scene to another that help it transit work really well in my mind.
    congratulations on a worthwhile body of work.
    My opinion has nothing to do with the politics of immigration as that comes down to personal stories but as Charles mentions it works well as a story in the Satijayat style.
    Interested in seeing more of your work.

  • Rodrigo,

    Classic (hey, classic is OK right?) treatment of the story. It is fair and square, no frills. No headaches. I liked it.

    I am curious to see your movies…


    A beautiful, precise, humane and empathetic essay. What I value most about this heart-felt and important work is that Rodrigo brings to us the lives and the danger and the truth of the the often horrendous journey that these men and women ordeal in order to make enrich and give their life a cross-road step out of poverty. In the finest journalistic tradition, Rodrigo sings their song without judgment and without pomposity, but allows us to connect with them in a simple, and heart-felt way.

    For all the comments and politics that have reared, I wish to turn the attention of the readership to the extraordinary film ‘TThe Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez”…the first man killed in the second Iraq War, who’d been a illegal immigrant from Guatemala and signed up for the war in exchanged for a green card…..and….well……

    if anything, this work (which, like all human stories, MUST BE SEEN AGAIN AND AGAIN AND AGAIN) reminds us that, in the end, we are not separated by borders, nor should we ever be, but by the failure of our imagination and our humanity to recognize our brotherhood with all…

    powerful, authentic and important story.

    Thank you so much Rodrigo for sharing it with us…

    all the best

  • Certainly an impressive essay. I have never travelled down to that region, but just leaving politics aside (as most people focused on) if anything the essay gave me a sense of the immense geography or landscape of that region. I really felt that I was there alongside the subjects. I don’t think that it matters whether this subject material has been replayed many times before, what is important is that the author provides the audience with a fresh take or perspective. Rodrigo has certainly achieved that here.

  • Bob, your romanticism is not a completely accurate representation of many of the people or the situation. You are reading content into the photos that is not objectively there. Perhaps the photos should just stand as good photos without the editorializing and empty of context.

  • Kathleen, while I don’t mind you publishing the URL of one of the newspapers in our group, I don’t quite see what that has to do with my posts here. DAH has noted that there is no requirement to even be a photographer to comment on the photos here. That I am a photographer and newspaper editor has no bearing on my opinions.

    I can only conclude that by posting this URL, you hope to ridicule me in some way. You seem to look down on small towns and consider those who live there unsophisticated rubes. I try to address the photos here. You seem be more concerned with me, personally. Whether I edit a newspaper or dig ditches has no bearing on my opinions, or do certain jobs exclude individuals from commenting here?

    It’s as if you feel by posting the URL that you’ve played some kind of trump card, it standing alone as it is.

    Sorry for the coda, but Kathleen has been playing this game for awhile.

  • please. this thread is not about jim.
    working on longer post about this essay

  • Jim:

    you have to be kidding me. Romanticism…..i haven’t read anything into the photos. I do, however, have friends who have spent the last 5 years of their life photographing and making films about the men and women leaving Central America and traveling this same route. Perhaps, you should bring to the table more knowledge about both the story (photographically and factually) then your personal, political interpretation. I have looked at the essay (several times) and have been fortunate to know other photographers working on this story over the last few years. If you are alluding to my reference to the film “The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez”, i would suggest, newspaper reporter/editor that you are, do the research. Jose Antonio Gutierrez’s life is just one example. Rodrigo’s story is a simple one: people risk life and limb to cross borders to pull themselves and their families from the morass of poverty, including dealing with corrupt police, gangs, drug leaders, dogs, border guards, trains and the vicissitudes of misfortune. I am perplexed as to your reading of my comment as “romanticism.” Purple-prose, yes. Misreading the essay: no.

    Sorry Jim, increasingly your comments reflect your personal agenda rather than an examination of either the work published here, your photographic curiosity/knowledge or your interest into the investigation of documentary presentation.


  • Bob, you must be meeting all the good guys. Here we just have our jail filled with illegals picked up for robbery, assault and pubic intoxication, costing the taxpayers dearly. Clearly, we’re not going to get get anywhere following this discussion any farther.

  • Kathleen Fonseca


    This is a powerful and moving essay and i am very impressed. I want to ask you though, you talk about Central American immigrants making their way to the US border through Mexico from Central America but list only Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. I know scores from Costa Rica who have made the trip. I married one for example when he was an illegal dishwasher and all of his brothers likewise made the trip. Also Nicaragua surely must be represented although many many thousands of citizens from that country have emigrated to Costa Rica as their ¨promised land¨. Can you explain why you have left the rest of Central America from your list?


    This is indeed a complicated issue and there is as much a slant on Rodrigo´s part as there is on Jim´s. While the overwhelming majority of migrants to the US are seeking a better life, that is not always the case. Some are adventure seekers, some are running from legal troubles (not the political refugee type), others are running from domestic situations including support responsibilities, some just go because in some communities you aren´t considered a man until you make it to the USA. But one thing is true, once they get there, there are no handouts. Everyone must work and work like a motherf***er. There are enormous hurdles and discomforts and the trip itself is a horror just as Rodrigo shows here. When i lived in the US we took in scores of new arrivals and to a one they GAVE far more in taxes and labor to the USA then they TOOK. Likewise, since many start working as laborers and often end up owning their own companies, they employ US natives and other immigrants and KEEP ON PAYING THEIR TAXES.

    Immigrants do not necessarily stay in the border states when they arrive. They keep going and work in every corner of the US. And as has been said countless times, it is true that immigrants in general, regardless of the country they go to do the crap jobs that natives won´t touch. It´s true here in Costa Rica also. Nicaraguans are guards, coffee pickers, cane cutters, maids and construction workers. And many Costa Ricans detest these immigrants just as the Costa Ricans are detested in the USA. According to Costa Ricans the Nicaraguans are a drain on the social system and are responsible for all the crime. haha..sound familiar? I´ll bet the Europeons at Burn could say the same thing about immigrants to their countries. These complaints are cliches. Boring, Boring. Boring.

    Also, as was mentioned above…Americans get it out of your heads that America is so great that everyone wants to go be an American. People go there because they can´t stay where they are and when they can, most come back, or want to come back, talk about coming back, save their money to come back. Next time you are in a restauant, ask the bus boy if he had a choice where he´d be. I will tell you for sure, it ain´t Madison, Wisconsin or Woodville, Texas. It´s Tegucigalpa, or San Salvador or San Jose or Managua or Guatemala City.

    It´s complicated, yes, so very, very. But please, if you encounter an immigrant on your travels, be kind, be so very kind. He or she is a long way from home and family and is working late hours, under difficult conditions doing a job you wouldn´t touch with a ten foot pole and then going home to some overcrowded hovel to sleep a few hours before getting up and doing it again. And he or she is paying the same taxes as the rest of us/you. And it is not Jose or Juan or Emma or Vilma´s fault that the immigration issue is complicated. Please don´t take it out on them. They´re just busy taking care of your kids, cutting your lawn, picking your tomatoes, roofing your house and washing your dishes.

    I must compliment every comment in this essay as being considerate, thoughtful, engaged and making great efforts to understand the issues. Bravo, Burnians..bravo Rodrigo…what a wonderful look, see and read!!!

    best to all

    Not all countries from which illegal immigrants hail are Spanish speaking. There are a lot more illegal immigrants in the US collectively who are not Spanish speaking who come here on tourist visas and have their visas expire on purpose. Poverty and seeming hopelessness are the driving forces that they leave their families at the expense of not being able to return to their home country for decades in order to support these families and work abroad. Some are working as nannies, housekeepers, construction workers, custodians, janitors and a lot are overqualified. In their home countries they are lawyers, physicians, school principals, dentists, etc. The sacrifice is there and this should not be romanticized but definitely documented, photographed if you will so we could all empathize with their plight.
    I know personally of people and their experiences. One has swam from Cuba, not once, twice but seven times and now he is a physician here. One a financial planner, peed in his pants while being interviewed for a tourist visa in a consulate. One nun had to sing through the tiny glass opening to prove to the consul she knew her morning routine and she was really a nun. We empathize with what you call a humanizing factor for the physical struggle of going through the border. I do not discount that, not at all. But can you imagine being exposed, embarrassed, desperate, separated from loved ones for decades while working a job you obviously are overqualified to do, in order for your poor family to survive? Such a test of superhuman strength and yet they all deliver.

    The citizens have every single right to protect their own country with whatever measures they deem appropriate to protect the borders. This immigration issue has been used at the expense of the people caught in between from desperation to shape public opinion unfortunately to the gains of said officials and not necessarily directly positively affecting all both sides of the fence. There would be casualties in any conflict. This is our country, it is only natural to protect our side of the fence.

    No matter how much anyone argues, I believe illegal immigrants have no right to expect government to feed them, clothe them, educate them, talk to them in their language. It is a privilege to live in the United States and I, as a legal immigrant, would always be thankful for each day that I am living here as part of your community now. If I were illegal, I should not have any right to drive, borrow money, usurp much needed job opportunities from the city’s citizens. I make my own money and I do not break any laws. I paid over 20 thousand dollars to legalize my immigration. I for one would be the one who would shout the loudest at those who sue the police for ‘manhandling’ them for a truck stop that yields weights of illicit drugs. I think I am a contributing citizen to my community but still I think it is a privilege to be here therefore I try to speak English, I still practice my traditions but I do not ask any more favors more than what I have been given.

  • rodrigo,
    i am looking at your compositions closely because this is what i have to learn. as well as all the comments about your technic. your pictures are hmmm, thought provoking as you can see with my response above.unfortunatly i dont feel anything towards your essay. my bland reactions to this are based on the personal struggle i know.
    thank you though for showing me this.

  • “Bob, you must be meeting all the good guys. Here we just have our jail filled with illegals picked up for robbery, assault and pubic intoxication, costing the taxpayers dearly.”

    Well Jim,

    I just had the pleasure of browsing through some of the back issues in the link Kathleen so
    graciously provided.

    Specifically, there is a section in each issue called ‘jail bookings’ and from what I can see
    from about two months worth of data it seems that there are about 40 entries of All-American
    good old boys for every Spanish name listed. Doesn’t seem to, very convincingly, back up your
    claim unless, of course, all the ‘illegals’ are,in fact, whites coming in from out of State.

  • lovely set of images..
    you have to tell this story..
    thru your eyes…
    strong imagery,
    #2 is everything…
    I feel the audio
    could be stronger..
    I don’t know how..
    changing the audio
    subtitles would really change this piece for me…
    love the imagery….
    these stories
    need to be told,

  • marcin luczkowski

    very good essay.

  • Dear Jim Powers,

    I have checked The Booster and it, to my surprise contains a section for Official Records / Jail Bookings. I have looked at last 5 or 6 issues and all arrests except 2 or 3 were non-Hispanic individual. My question is how come your county jail is filled with illegal intoxicated Hispanics? Do you catch them from the other side of the border and bring ’em in?

    The humor section of Jail Bookings was about fella named Cardrick – he is suffering from chronic arrestitis – 2 weeks in a row? What’s the story? ya been following? you must be …

    I have noticed that I enjoy reading your newspaper and have decided to buy a full year subscription for my next birthday that is coming up on February 30th. I liked the pet of the week section tremendously. Before I pull the trigger, could you please confirm that you do ship the paper to other countries, i.e Califronia?

    Thank you for being who you are – love :)

  • Rodrigo – an awesome essay – you have a very distinct style that I can describe with one word – rich. There is richness in the way you tell the story and richness in each individual image. Thank you.

  • Nice photography I think that the Black and white could look a little better but that just personal taste.

    I would like to see pictures of happy people doing well people in Central America or for that matter Africa, Asia. I know that bad news sells better than good news but there seems to be a very lopsided view every where you look.

    American immigration policy makes me laugh the whole country is so new anyway that it still seems up to grabs to me.

  • just one first look. Agree with John Vink. No headaches,no frills,straight forward. I liked it. I’ll be watching it a few more times.

  • Haik, you don’t, unfortunately, see all the bookings into our jail. We are about to replace the 48 prisoner facility we have now with a 200 prisoner facility ($22 million dollar project) under state mandate because we exceed the legal capacity of the jail daily. Most of our prisoners go to surrounding counties (at great cost) right now. Woodville is also home to the Lewis Unit of the state prison system.

    Actually, Haik, the Obit section is our most popular. And there is no real reason to subscribe from California, the full PDF of the newspaper is up on that web site, only a week old. We have nine newspapers covering eight counties and employ over 100.

  • Oh yeah, Haik, and since you’ve given me this opening, I’ll brag that we’ve just been notified by both the Gulf Coast Press Association and the Texas Press Association that we’ve won awards in both of the competitions this year! I’m betting on that Pet of the Week thing!

  • JIm:

    in fact, no i have met (legal and illegal) both good guys and bad guys. I lived in Florida before i moved to toronto. Had friends who were illegal migrant workers (farms, motels, landscapers, cooks, diswashers) and photographed them…..and had encounters with the bad dudes too (my brother was punched in the face by one in an attack, when i lived in LA, my apartment was (while i was sleeping) broken into and my closet friend in LA was knifed in an attack on La Brea)….it’s not romanticism jim….it’s about seeing people for the totality for who they are….there are some pretty sorry assed folks legal and illegal (my son, for the 2nd time in 1 year, was robbed just this friday, standing on a street corner in Toronto…i guess these dudes suspect his daddy is a humanist)…..


    it is not OUR country, it is A country…and just as you struggled, as my ancestors, as my wife and son struggled, so too all people who wish to better lives….the worst part about making the struggle is that it so often allows for the experience to suggest, i made it, they should do as i…..

    nations….all those barbarians at the gates…and in the dusty jails…in 230+ years we have learned little from history…go figure….

  • Bob, local resources are finite. We are not like the Federal government who can simply print more money when they want to bail out another evil corporation. Those resources in Texas are being carved up into smaller and smaller pieces as a result of this issue. Older folks here who have worked their entire lives in this state and can’t afford to buy medications they need do not understand why illegals and their kids are getting better health care than they are. If we are to take all these folks from other countries in, then we need the money to support the effort. And all we get from the Federal government is unfunded mandates. The issue is far more than just a simple humanitarian one.

  • bb,
    when i said our country, i meant our country as a personal context. just for me
    but you can also apply ‘our country’ as a collective for those countries who are also faced with illegal immigration. they have every right to feel and to protect their borders.

    and yes, everybody looking for a better life wishes for one though not everyone find it.
    would i go back? yes i would, in a heartbeat, but not until i know my children’s future is secure.
    and i do feel i can secure that here. i work hard and harder and i am rewarded. not like before, you work hard and harder and you get singled out, robbed and killed.

    why would i not expect otherwise? they should make it as i did.

  • jim,
    youre right.
    my problem is the attitude. ‘hey, im here. you take care of me’
    why not my own native language be taught in schools?
    the US is my host. respect the hostess.
    it is a privilege to drink wine at the party
    and not at all an excuse to misbehave and ask for more favors
    beyond the invitation.

  • Let me give an example of how this impacts us, here, in our small town.

    At the beginning of the school year, two children of illegals who just arrived in the US were placed in a 7th grade English class. The kids speak no English. The teacher speaks no Spanish. The teacher knows nothing of the kid’s backgrounds, because the schools are not allowed to ask. If you are a US citizen, you have to provide all kinds of documentation to enroll your kids in school in Texas. If you are an illegal, the school has to, by law here in Texas, enroll your kids in school without any kind of documentation. Kind of a don’t ask, don’t tell. The teacher has no way to teach these kids, yet their results on the state mandated TAKS test, which is given in english, will be included in the score that becomes part of her evaluation. In the meantime, the taxpayers in our city are paying for their “education.”

    This actually happened this year. Is it any wonder that folks are ticked off about this?

  • I agree with you Mike R…This is indeed the root of the problem. (see below) Solving it is another issue. I agree that grassroots projects are important, but in many areas where you have corrupt leadership such projects cannot get off the ground. Problems always need to be traced back to the source.

    Someone above mentioned cancer, and I only using this as an example…I’m not a doctor or scientist, but I seriously don’t think that finding a med for cancer is the solution. It’s like putting a band aid on the problem, not solving it. Other areas like nutrition, improving family/social networks, reducing stress etc. etc. are probably just as, if not more important. Then obviously one needs to examine how to improve nutrition and reduce stress etc. These things can be solved through a combination of personal choices and good (sustainable) government leadership.

    “In many parts of the world the migration of the poor in search of a better life is becoming ever more common. The more enlightened among us recognize that people don’t migrate through choice; they migrate because of desperation. If people had jobs and work in their own country they would stay in their own country. Considering the cost of attempting to seal a porous boarder it may be worth a try to build a manufacturing base in Central America with the sole aim of bringing economic stability to the area. The U.S. have done it before; after World War 2 – the Marshall Plan.”

  • Compelling essay and I think you went as deep and narrow as you could with the individuals your were following. I really sensed a time/place relationship and the overall essay has a cinematic feel to it. The last picuture is a real stand out for me – Thanks for sharing.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009

    My Name is Bob Rawls. I have served as Board President of the Colmesneil Independent School District the past six years. During my tenure as Board President of CHS I have had the honor of serving with a Team of Eight that has achieved great things for our district and has helped to make Colmesneil ISD one of the most successful schools of Southeast Texas.

    Financially, our district is in great shape. For the past two years the Texas Education Agency has given our district a “Superior Achievement”, financial rating. The past five years our board has approved a balanced budget and today our district currently has approximately a two million dollar fund balance.

    Sounds like they are in good hands Jim, financially and from a resource perspective. Students equal teachers, teachers equal jobs. Jobs require dollars and there seems to be a surplus of it in Tyler County.

    Jim, no offense, but the issue with black-rights makes this issue look like a blip on the time continuum in comparison and also a crossword puzzle in comparison to the complexity to the challenge of getting blacks to a level playing field in the States.

    Your logic, if wide-spread, would put us back in a truly shameful period of time in American history, I’m certain back then there were people like you that thought only about how ‘injustice’ impacted you personally and thought it was ok to ignore a clear and present human issue.

    I’m only glad, like now, your inhuman attitude was in the minority. And I’m more glad that there are people out there not chasing the next big ‘new’ story, but keep the existing issues in our face until someone can negotiate a mutually beneficial way through them.

    Good Stuff Rodrigo.

  • Joe, you are quoting a school board candidate. What would expect a school board candidate to say? Things are terrible? Good grief.

  • Jim

    Not defending the situation, BUT… Since you are apparently saying that the school board member is not telling the truth in this letter, I am sure your paper must have done a story presenting the real fact? Do they or do they not have a 2 million balance? Did they or did they not get a “Superior Achievement” financial rating?

    Yes we expect the officials to try to paint a rosy picture, but your implying that what he said is untrue. Is it?

  • Pete, what does any of this have to do illegals?

    The school is in a small town north of us. It’s not where they are now and why, it’s where they were the last five years, and why. But all of that is small town politics. And irrelevant to this conversation.

  • Just making a comment on your conversation with Joe above. Just following the conversation.

  • Joe quoted a candidate from another school in our county. I have no information on whether they have illegals or not. None of this is relevant.

  • Well, aside from the Jim Powers show….

    I keep coming back to the image of the man talking on the telephone, probably my favorite one of the essay. It is an amazingly sublime way to tell a part of the story, and I’m talking about the list of countries and their telephone codes on the wall. An easy image to pass over at first and think, huh? But this is an image to be learned from. Great stuff.

  • Children adapt very, very quickly to a new language and academic demands. My children did not know a word of Spanish when they came to Costa Rica. Both were placed at their actual grade level and excelled. Several years later i brought them back to the USA where, though they spoke English, they could neither read nor write the language. Once again they excelled. After a mere two years, i brought them back to Costa Rica again where they went on to finish school without missing a beat. My daughter attends the 6th rated liberal arts college in the US and my son was accepted to a very compeititive free engineering college in CR. And my children are not the exception. My parents adopted a 10 year old Korean girl a long time ago. Nobody spoke Korean for miles around. She caught on just fine starting with the words coca-cola and bathroom. I am betting every one of us knows stories like this. But Jim is perhaps not aware of the exceptional ability of children to learn a new language because he doesn´t have children. In every school you have the achievers and the slower little ones. Those who speak Spanish will be the same. Some exceptional students others that take a little longer.

    Jim, reading your subsequent and very justified words of pride in the Booster´s professional achievments, many of which i have no doubt are the result of the same drive for excellence that we see from you here everyday, it seems that i did you a favor by posting the URL to the Booster. I really had to laugh at the silly things you said to me in your response to my post. Since URL´s are just a google click away and since your the Booster seems to be an exceptional weekly (it certainly wasn´t back in the day that i applied for a job there) i thought you´d be proud to share the result of all your hard work with the rest of us. I was stymied why you´d completely ignore Mike´s request, not even having the decency to decline his request to know more about ¨your¨ newspaper. You impress upon us daily that you are a Pj of some repute so your background is extremely relevant to your comments here. One thing though. You keep mentioning the ¨group¨ of newspapers, are you editor of more than the Booster? I did not see evidence of that but if so, then you must be a very hard working news editor indeed. Congrats.


    I am really quite surprised at your conservative response to other immigrants to the US. But then again, it is the Cuban customs workers at Miami airport who are the most brutal to foreigners entering the US some of whom are turned away and sent back to their countries even with a visa in hand because they do not have what the customs official considers enough money to tour the US in grand style. It is unfortunately the case that those who go through the grueling process of scratching out a niche for themselves in a new land do not want to look back at where they came from or give a hand to those who are similarly struggling. I honestly thought you had more heart so there must be some terribly painful memories that caused you to put up such high emotional walls against the rough and tumble world of immigration. Now, just imagine if you had had to come overland through Mexico instead of comfortably on an airplane. Imagine for a second how THAT would have added to the hardship. Open your heart, Graciekins, look again at these pictures. Dare to remember your own departure, journey and new arrival. Just imagine and i think this essay will move you in more than just a bland fog of indifference to their plight.


  • Herve … I believe you are just baiting me
    Well, I really bit back, and I aopologize.

    Maybe I have a personal stake in wanting to have acknowledged that one way or another, the USA does end up, and will end up “welcoming” immigtants of all sorts, and that even illegals in numbers do find their place, and praise there was such a place to come to. The glass is always half-…. Full! ;-)

    Best I can express it.

  • Haik, “My question is how come your county jail is filled with illegal intoxicated Hispanics? Do you catch them from the other side of the border and bring ‘em in?…”

    You made me laugh out loud! Sure is a long way to go for a Corona.


  • David Bacher, I agree, it’s no use just sending money and hoping for the best. I remember watching a T.V. programme about Fair Trade; a system where the buyers pay the producers a fair price and the consumer pays a little more for the product in the shops. It’s not a charity; it’s a business and makes a profit but the impact of being paid a fair price is enormous to the producers. Children can go to school etc. etc.

    The point I want to make here is that they interviewed a South / Central American farmer who made the point that the area had received huge amounts of aid over the years. “Can you see the results?” he asks, “I cant” he continues, “I don’t know where it all went. If you offer me aid or Fair Trade I’ll take Fair Trade” he concludes.



  • I think this debate shows why there is no solution so far. Most of the arguments are not about making things work but camping out on one’s position, and indict others. I think all points/diagnostics made from each are valid, and inform the situation, not just “opinions”. Yet, I would say, no good point (again, from any “side”) is being made, if it couldn’t be 1)understood by one of these poor guys, with little schooling, crossing the border., then 2) a PRACTICAL solution.

    PS:Also, Bob!!!! please, no more “editorial content” gray stuff, when it’s not strictly about editing techniques. Ah, shit, never mind I am proably the only who noticed…. :-)))

  • HERVE!!!!! ;)))..

    no more. when commenting in Gray (with that, i know, obnoxious headline ‘editorial comment’), i have tried to write about the work…what the work brought to us as content, editorially speaking or to offer a view into the work (for example the long ramble about My Daughter’s Question diptych by Marc Davidson). it’s not only for ‘editing techniques’…for editorial opinion….and i’ve tried to not use the gray stuff when it’s about pesonal ‘discussion’…but, the better decision is this:

    not comment at all under gray…a decision i made last night…i’ll use it one last time when one of the future essays coming up gets published and then, as far as comments, i will try not to write anything, nothing, zero, zilch, etc…unless it’s about an aesthetic impasse…

    by the way, im not using that for some ego, it’s just that i have a login and sometimes forget im in gray…

    but, i shall remain silent and out of the grey zone…please gladly take the gray…until one last personal essay comes up…

    all the best

  • i will try not to write anything, nothing, zero, zilch, etc…

    Trying is good enough, Bob. But do not try too long, OK? Your failing will be impatiently awaited…. :-)

  • kat,
    ‘had to come overland to Mexico and instead of comfortably on an airplane’
    ‘open your heart’

    hmmm… can you also imagine what and how much it took for me and my family to get those plane tickets to start with and my anxiety to be in a foreignland, you have only seen on TV in black and white, hoping that when i get to customs, i will not be turned back. the money you have to show in your bank account that is not even yours but the whole town’s, the preparation, the clothes you have to borrow and cannot buy, and scrounge for especially winter clothes. i had to line up for a visa twelve times fly six times and stay in at the hospital’s wards, (the only thing the embassy was close to that was free – that had some sort of airconditioning) pay for an application for visa about the same as you would same fee.

    horror stories of embarrassment, shame, sacrifice just another aspect of immigration or the desire to and it is even through legal routes.

    ‘comfortably on the airplane’ – least likely

    ‘open your heart’ – how about… open your mind and listen to the plight of the legal immigrants who have had to suffer about as much because of the prejudice and blanket statements addressed to illegals. the illegals too who are well meaning and work hard suffer because of the abuse, assaults, drugs that only a few compared to the massive gush of hopefuls.

    what i am saying, is mutual respect. you are asked to partake of another’s hospitality. i am saying as one who has been given the invitation, i make my hostess proud.

  • The U.S. have done it before; after World War 2 – the Marshall Plan.”

    Yes, but no corrupted governments/spheres-of-power siphoned that money and built an even more stifling (to their country’s econmy and poverty) power base to make sure things stay the same…

    By now, we the West, have probably have spent 10, 1000 times the Marshall P. amount in diverse places. And some to show for it, yet, very little compared with the spending dedication. it often is like scooping one bucket of water out of a boad, while 2 are poured in at the same time.

  • 1000 times! Oops, one too many zero… But then again, maybe?

  • Rodrigo,

    Nice work. You have put time and energy into this and it shows.
    Great topic presented very well. The dialog adds a lot.

  • Kathleen Fonseca


    Chill, sweetie..i know full well how hard it was..every illegal who goes through Mexico stood in line for the infamous Visa ordeal and was turned down one, two, three times before deciding to try the route overland, and yes they have to pay a LOT of money for the privilege of being robbed, starved, subjected to harrowing, life threatening conditions. I have personally seen that look on those American consul employees´ faces. That look of disdain, contempt, indifference and skepticism to any story they are told by the pitiful visa applicants before them. Yes, those consul guys do have a power complex as do the customs officials at the airports. I personally know legals who were turned back at the airport. Legals who scrimped, saved, picked coffee till their hands were bloody, borrowed, lied, stole, anything to get the money for the airfare and then to be turned back!

    Please Gracie, i am not disagreeing with you. You are so close to the memory of it all that you are like a cat with her back up, ready to scratch anyone´s eyes out who seems to be clueless to your sacrifice. Your sacrifice was your sacrifice. Every immigrant who suffers to move to another country has his/her own stories to tell. I think you maybe failed to read my post. I took in so many immigrants and housed them until they could find work and make other living arrangements. I married an illegal dishwasher and we worked side-by-side to scrape out a beginning for ourselves. I suffered terrible abuse from my friends and neighbors for marrying an Hispanic. A friend of mine asked me what he had to get me to do to stay away from ¨that Spic¨. My best friend said my husband was below me and that son would never get to be president of IBM with a name like Juan Carlo. And then i too immigrated to Costa Rica a land where i neither knew the language, customs or anything else. And you cannot begin to know my story either. You simply can´t! my post. What i am asking you is to not be so hard on those who came behind you. They are all making sacrifices, all! And the one big huge difference is that they have a horrifyingly dangerous trip overland to get TO the border. You cannot dispute that difference. These people arrive emaciated, penniless and without any belongings, they are often ill, in shock, exhausted and terrified. And good Lord, let´s think about how many die en route?? Gracie, Gracie, none of this DIMINISHES your struggle. I am so impressed at what you did, your determination, your sacrifice, the perils of the unknown faced with your unique courage and creative solution to problems that came at you from all sides. But i believe your experience has hardened you to the legitimate plight of others and that the few that mis-behave or fail to promptly speak English as well as you have clearly been able to have earned the full dose of your withering contempt.

    I am really sorry you see my words as unsympathetic. I am truly stunned to tell you the truth. I really hope that one day you will soften your perspective on those who fail to live up to your expectations, including me.


  • kat,
    i have seen so many things, heard so many things, dread to see so many more. the worst of the bunch are the ones that report the one good little nanna who is not making any noise to the INS to get mula for their expertise in being rats.
    and so have you… i truly truly see you are as generous of a heart as you are with your words and your integrity.
    i am just stating my observation, my honest opinion regarding this essay. it is sad to say i am indifferent to it now. but to ask me otherwise to feel a different thing is asking too much at least at this time.
    maybe it is i that have fallen and failed to live up to yours.

  • Kathleen Fonseca

    OH GRACIE..far from it!! You have impressed the hell out of me! You are just a few years shy maybe of softening around the edges. I am not concerned about that. Time will heal these still fresh woundsw within you. I adore you! I could tell you stories too..we could have an incredible night telling stories into the wee hours..horror stories, sad stories, but also happy ones, my GOD so happy!! I am so proud of those that lift their families out of poverty. That to me IS the American dream. But they are lifting their own and extended families out of poverty which is even more mind-blowing and i will bet you are doing the same thing!! So kisses, girl, happy kisses for making a difference in this world..for reversing the trend, for proving the naysayers wrong, for DOING IT! You did it! i am PROUD!


  • and so have you…seen and heard many things…. i meant.
    not that you are a rat.
    (goodness, i should ban burn URL from work.)

  • Kathleen Fonseca

    God, this essay is did one HELL of a job..i am moved beyond words to see these pics again and makes so much come alive to connects the missing dots for me, makes the journey so real..the expressions, the body language, the anticipation, the rags, the everything..thank you, thank you, thank you..


  • Kathleen Fonseca

    haha, far from a rat, more like a mouse..and now i am back to work, whiskers and all!

    Got cheese?

  • we posted same time.

    i do feel for them, i can understand the struggle. we have seen so many pictures like these (rodrigo yours though are … goodness — very good.) but if anyone tries to document the struggles of the ones that are trying to be legal, the red tape, the long lines through for the embassy, 12 hours in 115 degree heat in a suit holding your bladder still aiming to impress, the consuls’ faces and disgust, and the tears that are spent after a huge disappointment … honestly it would be all too boring compared to what this essay portrays.

    ‘These people arrive emaciated, penniless and without any belongings, they are often ill, in shock, exhausted and terrified. And good Lord, let´s think about how many die en route?? ‘

    all these enumerations are physical. the human saga has different facets, different aspects. this is my whole point of this damned issue. there is more to this than this culmination of going north to and through the border. we should not forget that the human spirit once broke no stitches can mend.

  • and then when you get to the other side, another story unfolds…
    other people get involved…

  • Throwing out the concept of ‘my country’ and ‘your country’ is an extraordinarily important part of the solution to this humanitarian problem.

    If you are proud of being an American, a Brazilian, a Luxembourgian, a Communist, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew and so on, then you are yourself responsible for the plight of the people in these photographs and so many others. Borders in the mind create borders on land as clearly seen on Rodrigo’s last photograph here, and borders divide people.

    We’ve learned little over the past millennia indeed, but we must keep trying. I like the essay.

  • Simon
    It is discouraging, but I do believe global consciousness is slowly bringing us together. I must dig out McCartneys “Imagine”

  • someone said that borders serve minds that hate.
    cannot remember who..

    this essay flew by too fast.. 2min36 too fast..

    to not seem ungrateful – i thought it was compelling for certain.. and well crafted.. very good..

    i could have watched for a lot longer is all :ø)

  • Just stunning… an unpredictable future, that’s what life brings us…


    aren’t you a Brit??? if so, you should face a firing squad at dawn…”Imagine” was written and performed by John Lennon…

    cheers, david

  • David

    What the heck was I thinking!

  • Gordon

    i saw that but i figured, poor man’s finally lost it..and then i just tip-toed out quietly and shut the door thinking i’d save your pride. But DAH now, he doesn’t give a crap about your pride…no way, in fact he’s got you facing a firing squad at dawn shivering in your, Gordon, dear, think abut what you want for your last meal, i’ll get the minister, you say some prayers and get some sleep..sweet dreams if possible. And when it’s all over, just think..the bad news, i mean the REALLY bad news? Once you get to heaven you have some explaining to do to John. And i would not wanna be you standing there before Da Man At His White Piano, still shivering in your skivvies trying to explain this one. I’d rather face DAH’s firing squad than that, anything but that! ohhh, pooooooor Gordon!

    hugz, Gordie

  • Obladi…OblaDAH….

  • Desperately looking for middle aged responsible adult to help with shipping 1 Gordon Lafleur to City of Angels.

    Sponsored by Imagination Enforcement Agency


  • Kathleen Fonseca



    hahaha..good one!


    *raising my hand then pulling it down at the mention of the requisite ´responsible´*

    you´re a sick puppy, boy..

    hugZ both

  • I blame it all on my brain wiring guys. Pathetic but true, I begin every portrait session by saying “OK, I just want you all to know that every time I speak to you, I will ask for your name, even if I just spoke to you a moment ago.”

    Anyway, I’m ready to pay the price, as long as I get a shot of scotch before hand.
    And I’d like to be shot at 1/250th at f8 please.


    you are off the hook….particularly since i misspelled Louis Armstrong’s name just shortly before (caught by Kathleen who had misspelled my name shortly before that) …oh well, with both long term and short term memory about gone, i live in a state of bliss….you??

    cheers, david

  • David..

    Bliss? yes, absolutely. I continually tell my wonderful wife Martha, I love my life. I am living the best time of my life. I love what I do, I love the people who surround me. I feel blessed to be alive.
    Thankyou for Burn David, it has become a huge part of my day and an inspiration.

    Interesting you mentioning Louis Armstrong. I was just visiting a portrait of Armstrong by Art Kane (one of my longtime heroes) in one of Larry Shillers “Masters of contemporary photography” books.

    I do worry about my memory I’m afraid. I guess it’s the price of approaching geezerhood.

    Gordon L.

  • After reading some of the debates on both sides, I was wondering if the aesthetics/imagery are overshadowed in favor of the politics angle. In some situations, for example this essay which features illegal immigration into the USA, politics and the imagery are inextricably linked. But I think that in this essay the discussion was based a lot on the political aspect, and the photographic elements were ignored to a degree. I found the technique of the photographer to be unique and the strong black and whites were a real treasure.

    But, I guess in having said that, making artistic statements at the expense of the subjects in the photographs who are in a precarious situation, is also open to debate. So, as I’m typing I’m finding my own argument crumbling, because if the politics aren’t discussed then we cannot improve their situation. So, in that aspect I am wrong. Anyway, when I first saw this essay, I was floored, because the artist had such an intuitive sense of timing, composition and empathy. The imagery seems almost dream like, and I hope that one day I excel to this level.

    I hope that made sense.


    P.S Good luck to everyone who entered the EPF competition! I hope that your entries receive the applause that I’m sure they deserve.

  • Johan,

    What a lovely paradox you describe! It feels like a ‘yes…and…’ to me. Yes, it’s great when we find images that we can engage with or disturbs us and so discuss context and meaning… and… we can also appreciate excellent technique, care and attention.

    We will each find our own joy and learning in the images and these excellent conversations – as long as we are able to hold on to the value of our differing perspectives. It’s the certainty that sometimes frightens me!


  • Thanks for the feedback Steve. I think I am exhausted from reading all of the excellent dialogue on this essay. At times intense, but ultimately healthy discussion. As you said, everyone who participates on Burn has different perspectives, and that is ultimately good for Burn in the long run as it leads to a balanced dialogue.

    Thanks again,

  • Johan, IMHO, if a photo is to be window rather than artifact, the subject or situation IS the topic. The situation always trumps the esthetic for me.

  • JOHAN..

    it was interesting to read you go through your own mental process of being pushed and pulled and analyzing the aesthetic vs. the journalistic…do not worry , this should not be a conflict but a symbiotic blend…no need to feel somehow guilty for liking the pictures as pictures and think that you would be somehow ignoring the content..that combo of abilities, editorial sensitivity and the artistic eye, are quite literally what separates so many photographers…few have this….every magazine editor in the world and all of us at the select agencies, are looking for photographers who can do both….or should i say project an idea or a philosophy or represent a social abnormality with aplomb and style…imo the aesthetic will drive you to the content…

    Rodrigo clearly made this combo work…he did it by feeling it, living it, and just flat out understanding it….i look forward to his next work…

    cheers, david

  • David,
    That is an amazing paragraph you have just written, in a very short succinct manner it clears up so many hesitations/queries/conflicts in one fell swoop. I have a tendency to complicate and over analyis things, this gets to the crux of great photojournalism.

  • Jim,

    An interesting perspective and, while I’m not sure where I’m going with this, I’d be interested to hear your views…

    I use photography as a way to prompt conversations about personal and organisational change. One of things that I have noticed is that the images prompt a different quality of dialogue and relationship when compared with a conventional coaching/consulting conversation. So, I imagine that the images are providing an accessible window for us to ‘see’ relational quality and identity…

    And, people LOVE the artifact – a portrait that they can hang on their wall. Bearing in mind that my process here is to improvise with clients – so (eg) they may have shot a self portrait on their phone and I might work from that idea and reshoot or combine images – this means technical quality is variable.

    So I guess I emphasise ‘window’ but ‘artifact’ is high on the client agenda. Maybe there is a different way for me to work or facilitate conversation and thinking.

    I’d be grateful for your thoughts.


  • RODRIGO: Recien vengo de ver tu “essay” in me fui directo a tu web. Mas que excelente. La ultima foto es dura, real, y me dejo pensando un poco… ese muro, lo que cuesta solo llegar hasta ahi, y solamente es el principio de la historia…
    Queria saber si tenes algo/alguien muy de cerca que haya vivido eso, para que estes tan metido en la historia o como dicen por ahi en ese “rollo”. Abrazo argentino, Patricio

  • Pinoy Photogapher

    The last third of the essay are really good.

  • Hola Rodrigo, que maravilla de ensayo, me gustó mucho la edición y el respeto mostrado por los sujetos.
    felicidades, historia encantadora.

Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.