JANUARY 2023, NORTH OF IRELAND—We traveled to Derry City to present the photographic exhibition of “What Remains” as part of the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday. Meeting with local community leaders, artists and survivors of conflict, we discovered a shared experience of militarized borders and a common vision of solidarity between communities. Standing on the River Foyle, an enduring symbol of division, we began to understand the connections between the history of our surroundings and the situation unfolding on the banks of our own river, back home on the Rio Grande. (Photographs of La Trenza by Paola Rojo.)
We carefully braided the rescued toys, shoes, clothes and bags, all tied together, supporting each other in unity and strength, a braid of told and untold stories, of lost dreams. This is What Remains, this is what we braided. We braided and braided…till after sunset.
(Left to right) Siddhartha Joag, Declan McLaughlin, Mike Ryan, Adriana Alvarez, Mabel Weber, Julio Morales, Monica Lozano, Michael Marinez and Iris Morales.
MAY 8, 2023, CIUDAD JUAREZ-EL PASO BORDER—Title 42, the World War II era law that granted Presidents Trump and Biden the authority to prevent citizens of foreign countries where communicable diseases are prevalent from entering the United States, was about to expire and the immigrant crisis was intensifying by the minute. Scenes became even more raw and inhumane than they had previously and a heightened sense of anxiety and desperation was felt by many people waiting at the border.
I arrived at the wall that Monday after dropping off my boys at school. I grabbed my camera and drove along the U.S. side of the wall near El Paso, TX, where I found a mountain of disposed objects.Distorted questions came raging to my mind as I photographed the scene, simultaneously trying to protect myself behind my camera. I was not prepared to see what was about to unfold in front of my eyes.A gate in the wall opened unexpectedly and a crew of Border Patrol agents and National Guardsmen led a small group of people through. I stayed motionless and completely silent, photographing this historic moment while trying to understand what I was witnessing. Every 20 minutes, the gate opened allowing a small group of people to pass through, before it was quickly closed and relocked with a thick metal chain. I heard applause coming from the other side of the wall, but little did I know the scenario that was actually playing out on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Border Patrol agents escorted the new arrivals to a white bus that was waiting for them.After an hour painstakingly documenting the scene, a Border Patrol agent came up to me and politely said, “This is nothing compared to what is happening on the other side, inside the river. Do you want to see?” Of course, I said yes, and I followed him to the gate, where he asked a fellow agent to let me through. “Go ahead,” he instructed. “Go down to the river and get close.” I did…and then I just stood there, as I had on the other side of the wall, with my feet sinking in the sand. I couldn’t see any faces, I only saw horror. What must reality be like back home for this to be a better life for all these people?I witnessed humankind in a state of desperation that I was not prepared to see. Although I know it exists right across the wall from my home, during moments like this—when we found the cemetery of objects in the middle of the desert, for example—the first thing I do is disassociate from myself from my surroundings in order to be able to physically stand there and photograph the apocalyptic, holocaustic reality before me. Here it is, history happening in front of our eyes. We bear witness to what it means to say…“Come hell or high water.”