EL PASO / CIUDAD JUAREZ     




EL PASO / CIUDAD JUAREZ


What a difference a borderline can make! El Paso, Texas is considered one of the safest cities in America, but head across the international bridge, enter Ciudad Juarez, and you're in the murder capital of the world.

Perhaps it goes without saying that after Hope and I arrived in El Paso, parked our car in a paid lot, and walked across the bridge to meet Poncho, a friend who teaches at a university in Ciudad Juarez, we were more than a little nervous. But when he arrived at the bridge, many of our fears dissolved in a matter of seconds.

That afternoon, Poncho introduced us to a variety of organizations working with migrants and farmworkers. A few days later, after we had participated in a conference on immigration at his university, Poncho took us to meet nearly 200 ex-Bracero workers who had worked on U.S. farms between the late 1940s and the early 1960s.

Mostly octogenarians now, these were some of the bravest people we've ever met.

They gather in a park every Sunday in a city known for its violence and corruption and they quietly protest.

They ask for justice, for someone to remember their sacrifices, and demand the retirement benefits promised to them when they were young and working in the fields. We were perhaps the only U.S. citizens who'd ever attended their vigil.

As Poncho introduced us to this venerable group, I took a few random photographs with permission, and suddenly it seemed that everyone wanted portraits made and a long line formed.

I ended up taking dozens of portraits of people exactly as they wanted to be pictured. When we returned the next year at Poncho's invitation and were able to distribute those photos to the participants, the Braceros applauded.

Though photographs taken by a gringo in no way replace the retirement benefits or recognition these people demand and deserve, they do say that someone has noticed.

Hopefully they serve as a token of our thanks on behalf of all Americans, to whom the Braceros gave their best years, and further their call for justice.