Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Don Bartletti stimulated the minds and emotions of gallery visitors about the issues of undocumented immigrants at the “Uneasy Neighbors: The Causes and Consequences of Undocumented Migration to the United States” exhibit reception Sept. 18 in the Irene Carlson Gallery.
His photographs tell the stories of real people in our society. These undocumented immigrants risk their lives dreaming of a better future in the US. Many of them ride on top of speeding trains, holding on to a very small, but still a glimpse of hope.
“It’s kind of crazy to think about this because my family came from Mexico, not this way, but to think about what people have to go through to get a better life is just crazy,” said sophomore psychology major Caitlin Villegas.
“Hearing a story is different than seeing these actual photos,” she said. “A lot of people don’t make it to the U.S., and they end up getting deported but they continue to have hope for a better life and reunite with family in the U.S. The stories are very sad,” Villegas said.
Some photographs portray the brighter side to the theme, such as the 2006 photograph, “New American,” in which Wilfredo Ramirez, a formal undocumented agricultural migrant is pictured smiling while waving the American flag during a naturalization ceremony. He qualified to become an American citizen due to a 1986 law enabling him to work legally in the country.
Sophomore biology major Traci Ramirez was impressed by the subject of the 2010 photograph, “Denis in San Diego.” It depicts the then 21-year-old Denis Contreras doing landscape maintenance on a suburban house. He fled from Honduras to find his mother, learned English and started a family. However, he was later deported at 25.
“This guy is still smiling and working hard,” Traci Ramirez said. “I think more people should be like this. Just to go through all that must have been hard, but he’s still smiling.”
“Mother’s Regret” is a 2003 photograph of Maria Georgina Nunez crying over a photograph of her son on a speeding train in Mexico. She left him as a baby to work in the U.S. but he is currently having trouble with his immigration status. Ramirez said the photograph makes her appreciate family more.
Other photographs portray darker subjects such as “Death Corridor,” taken in 2013. A mortician is at a route parallel to Texas Highway 281 recording details of an unidentified body, one of many who die of hypothermia or hyperthermia. The route is known as “Death Corridor” due to the deaths of as many as 129 bodies in 2012.
“I felt really sad, it was kind of crazy how people can get into situations like this, hypothermia in the cold and hyperthermia in the heat,” Ramirez said.
“It reminds me of ‘127 Hours’ and how you should have someone know where you are 24/7,” she said.
“I think that they’re very real and moving,” said sophomore chemistry major Isabelle Alvarez.
“It’s sad to think this (issue) is a thing. I felt that there are things that we can do about it and I think not enough people know the severity of it,” she said.
“If more people see these photos then they would understand better.”
Although some of the photographs on undocumented immigrants date back to as early as the 1980s, Bartletti does not get involved with the situations.
“(Bartletti) was really professional and he didn’t interfere with people’s lives,” Alvarez said.
“He just documented it. He’s also really compassionate,” she said.
Faculty reflection essays by Assistant Professor of Psychology Nadine M. Nakamura and Assistant Professor of Public Administration Adrian Velazquez Vazquez are also featured in the gallery.
The exhibit is open to the public and will run until Oct. 10.
Cody Luk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.