Social Issues

Mexican photographer portrays life of migrants in US through quinceañeras

By Manuel Ayala

Tijuana, Mexico, Aug 15 (EFE).- Mexican migrants in the United States use quinceañeras to strengthen their community ties, according to artist Angélica Escoto from the Tijuana border, who has photographed the parties for almost 10 years and now presents the exhibition “Ellas No Bailan Solas” (They Don’t Dance Alone).

The exhibition, at Tijuana Cultural Center (Cecut) near the border port of San Ysidro, consists of 57 photographs that recreate and give life to these parties that are traditional in Mexico and Latin America to celebrate young women turning 15.

Escoto told EFE on Monday that “They Don’t Dance Alone” is a documentary photo series “about the daughters of migrants who crossed through the Zapata canyon and through ‘El Borde’ in the eighties and who stayed to live in San Diego.”

According to a study by El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, the Zapata Canyon was a border area of Tijuana where migrants crossed during the 1980s.

The artist recounts that in 2006 she placed an ad in the San Diego newspaper “El Latino” to offer video and photo services, with which she began to work with these communities.

“It was my business, that’s when I started going to parties. They talked to me and I realized that the people who asked for me the most were migrants from Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoacán,” she said.

After the three years that Escoto had been immersed only in that subject matter, a photographer colleague suggested that her work could be used for an exhibition about how she saw this tradition, and so she gathered her photos.

The exhibition comes amid a record migration flow to the United States, whose Customs and Border Protection office has detected more than 1.7 million undocumented immigrants so far in fiscal year 2022, which began in October.

Escoto said these traditional parties, beyond the implicit gender context, are “an act of love, and this is a documentary and is a record of it.”

Working with this community, she noticed how families come together to throw a $15,000 party, for example, “which is not easy, because the girls’ mothers work cleaning houses, in a McDonald’s, in restaurants, and the fathers in gardening or construction, but there are so many of them and the community is so great that, between the neighbor, the cousin and the brother, they all collaborate,” she said.

The most important thing, said the artist, is that for migrants “it is an excuse to be together, to see each other, to dance, because dance is like some kind of ‘performance’ where you can free yourself, stop worrying and stop thinking that you are in another country.”

“When you arrive at a party, you only think about being able to have a good time. Quinceañeras are an excuse for that, to once again feel that there is collaboration and that it is a community that is not in their country, but they support each other and show solidarity in the face of adversity,” she said.

Escoto recalled that during the period that she photographed social events it was very difficult due to the schedules and the dynamics of crossing the border almost daily.

“These are events that do not happen again and you have to be very attentive to everything,” she said.

That’s why she now respects the work of social media photographers, who have been stigmatized because their work is not considered artistic or journalistic.

“It is very difficult to take photos of social events because it depends a lot on the taste of the person who hires them. Event photographers are very respectable people because they work a lot. They have been underestimated for taking party photos, but it is actually a very difficult task. You have to do it very well in order to always get hired,” she said.

“They Don’t Dance Alone” will be exhibited for six months at Cecut and later in the Manuel Álvarez Bravo Museum in Oaxaca. EFE


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