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La Espera

The Waiting. Waiting was the common situation for all those I met while working on this project in Mexico. Waiting for their visas to be approved. For the good weather that would allow them to cross the desert. For the expiration of the sentences that deported them. For the messages of their loved ones.

Migration and human displacement had always been a subject I’d been interested on; in our world we are all shaped in one way or another by migration. The difficulties to find work. The constant look for a place to call home. The cultural differences in the new country. The idea of all of it being temporary. The deep feeling that all would be better in the future.

While richer nations are implementing stronger border policies to prevent migrants and asylum seekers to arrive, this only forces them to take longer and more dangerous routes. And increasingly, these routes converge in Mexico, a country that used to be a transit one for those fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, but is now where global migration routes converge on their final stretch before the United States.

Seemingly distant and disconnected events converge here: the deepening of the economic crisis in Brazil, for instance, pushed many of the Haitians who settled there years ago -after a hurricane devastated their country- to seek better luck in the US only to find the gates closed after the administation  revoked their humanitarian visas in 2016. Together with Cubans they found themselves stranded at the border. Cameroonians escaping conflict in the anglophone region flew to visa-free Ecuador and continued by land up to Mexico walking thousands of kilometres of unbelievable difficulty. Nepalese, Eritreans, Bangladeshis, all followed similar routes, dreaming of setting foot one day in the US.

As the US effectively outsources their border policies to Mexico, these groups find themselves stuck on their final stretch. Added to those, a growing number of US residents are being deported back to Mexico, a country some left as toddlers. They remain in limbo, often at the mercy of the organised crime that controls the territory and preys on them.

La Espera focuses on the realities for migrants, refugees and deportees as they seek for shelter across Mexico. Realities forced upon by other countries’ economic situation and border policies.

A woman from Congo cooks and sells breakfast to the residents of the makeshift camp set up in front of migratory station “Siglo XXI” since August 2019, after Mexico stopped issuing transit visas following Washington’s pressure to tighten migratory control in the country. Currently some 300 African nationals live on the camp, waiting for Mexican authorities to allow them to continue with their journey. Most of them flew to Brazil, Ecuador or other countries in South America and then moved north overland. 

A woman from Angola holds some hair to be used to make braids. Since August 2019, after Mexico stopped issuing transit visas following Washington’s pressure to tighten migratory control in the country, some 300 African nationals live a makeshift camp in front of migratory station “Siglo XXI”. It is common to see women from different African countries as well as from Haiti in the streets of Tapachula offering to make braids to local women, sometimes offering different styles aided by a printed panel with photos of the different options. 

Landry Makembo from Angola holds his son-in-law near the small one-bedroom apartment he lives with his sister and her husband and kids for which they pay about 150 usd per month. Landry has been stuck in the border city for four months and is hoping to reach Mexico City once the situation unlocks. Since the U.S. government pressured Mexico to tighten the migratory control in July 2019, the situation at the border city had gone from bad to worse, as migrants had been virtually locked in the city unable to move to other parts of the country nor go anywhere else. 

Jamie Luna shows a little wallet with memories of his time in the US, including some dollars, IDs, his Social Security card and photos of his daughters, who are still in the US. Jamie lived in Arizona most of his life but got deported five years ago, and for the last three years has been on a one-bedroom apartment in the poor and overcrowded borough of Iztapalapa, on the south of Mexico City. He struggled when arriving, as didn’t speak spanish, and state how difficult it was to find a job. Currently he works as an english teacher at two different companies, combining two full time jobs which are 6 days a week each, leaving him without a single full day off a week, and has in mind to move closer to the US border, to be close to his girlfriend and family and in the meantime tries to decorate his apartment with stuff brought from the US. 

Alvaro Perez, 34, photographed at his house in Ecatepec, a notorious area of the larger Mexico City. He went on his own to California at the age of 14 and after having some “bad companies” and joining the local gangs he eventually got imprisoned for a felony and deported at age 24. He has two kids in the US and another one in Mexico, from a different relationship. Because of his face tatoos, which he got while on the gangs in the US, he is finding it hard to find work, and currently works selling sweets on the streets of Ecatepec, while combining it with work as a stunt for audiovisual productions. He has worked on movies, series and music videos, in which he appears together with friends who also got deported and sport also face tatoos. He states the discrimination and exlusion was harder when he moved back to Mexico, than when he was in the US, something other deportees have also expressed. 

Enrique Contreras is seen on the background on the hotel room he temporary lives in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo. He left his native Venezuela and lived in Argentina for 6 years, but decided to head for the U.S. fearing an economic crisis arising, and hoping to meet his wife who already lives there. 

Terrified of the organised crime groups operating in the city, who already extorted him, Enrique barely leaves the hotel, spending the days indoors looking after his granddaughter while his son-in-law works, as they are waiting for their asylum hearings in the U.S. He would like to move to another safer city in Mexico but is scared to even go to the bus station for fear of being kidnapped, as it’s known gangsters prey on families with young kids. 

Oscar (fictional name), a migrant from El Salvador in front of a safe house for migrants in Sonoyta where he spends his days since arriving several weeks before with the idea of crossing to the USA, where he had already been but got deported. Having his wife and kids already in California, Oscar is determined to do the perilous journey again, which can take up to a week walking through the desert. Since he had no money to afford the costs of a coyote -a human smuggler-, he got offered by the local gangs a “free” journey in exchange for carrying a 20kg bag-pack full of Marijuana, which he did a couple of weeks after this photo was taken.

The Sonoran Desert in Arizona photographed during a search and rescue operation of a missing migrants. On that day the group found some human remains at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, some 5 miles from the Mexican border, believed to be of two migrants who died seeking to cross the Sonoran desert, which reaches extreme temperatures at this time of year. 

A group of men from Mauritania cover from the morning sun as they queue in front of National Institute of Migration’s “Siglo XXI” station in Tapachula in order to present their papers and start their migratory process. The situation at the border city had worsened since the U.S. government pressured Mexico to tighten the migratory control in July 2019, sparking protests over the following months and the creation of a makeshift camp in front of the station where some 300 african nationals currently live. 

© Jordi Ruiz Cirera 2022 All Rights Reserved

© everyone+everything festival 2022

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