As a hispanic with roots that lead back Ecuador, and Spain by way of Puerto Rico, I have always felt a yearning for the countries my family members and ancestors called home. I have always been aware and interested in the stories of people who are part of a diaspora, always curious of their inner thoughts and emotions. My own grandmother came to the US from Ecuador over 50 years ago and had to deal with intense struggles even then, but her resolve helped her find a place to call her home. So every time I visit I dig for more stories, more snapshots into the life she has created.
I discovered a new exhibit called Invisible Migrations at The Alice Austen House museum on Staten Island, and I was immediately intrigued. It features the work of 11 photographers who have documented migration and immigration around the world, and Alice’s own early 20th century photos of U.S. immigrants. Austen was little-known until the 1950s. At that point she had no money, lost her home, and lived in a poorhouse. Long before the birth of photojournalism she was a daring and incredible woman often carrying 50 pounds of equipment with her to Manhattan to photograph “street types” and everyday people. As someone who loves to challenge the status quo, this woman is my new hero.
Howard Chua-Eoan in his introduction on visitor’s guide offers a frankly writes, “The vast movement of peoples around the world in search of security and economic sanctuary are largely detectable. What remains unseen is inner turmoil and personal travail that comes from uprooting and the desperate search for home”
Isn’t that all we want? To make a home, to be happy, safe, and content with our life choices? When people of our country are supportive of a fence along our border, and when deportations are higher than ever, an exhibit such as this is highly relevant. We see the feelings people have towards immigration reform, if you don’t you can check any media outlet, and search the comments section. We see the laws politicians pass and hear the pundits drone on and on about criminal behavior, jobs, money, but it seems to turn individuals into a mass where we are unable to understand that we are them, and they are us.
The photographs bring attention to the people. There is no rhetoric, no political leanings, just people who are looking to find new homes, who are risking their lives for hope. At the exhibit I learned about the migration of illegal workers out of Libya following the start of the civil war in 2011. They were forced to leave the country with no defined destination. One series shows a group of men traveling by train through Central America, intent on finding work, followed by a shot of overcrowded prisons in El Salvador. I could sense the raw emotions, the weakness, and fight on the face of refugee on their first night in America. The photos leave a visceral response of empathy for the trials we endure.
In our youth we are taught that America is the place to make dreams come true and despite any political leanings you may have, this country still holds that promise. As a generation we can make changes, if not legislatively, then personally. Raise awareness. Share your story. Question peoples’ learned beliefs. By challenging our views and thoughts, by acting on the realization that we are all one, we can transform the lives of everyone for the better.
Visit the Alice Austen House to view Invisible Migrations, which is open until August 31st.
Make sure to visit the site to see more work from the artists at http://aliceausten.org/exhibitions/
Photo Source: http://francescogiustiphoto.