More Than a Wall: 30 Years of Life Along the US-Mexico Border

Photos and text © 2019, by David Bacon
The Nation


Mexicali, Baja California – 1996
A worker is deported back into Mexico at the border gate, from a bus that has taken deportees from the detention center in El Centro in the Imperial Valley, on the other side of the fence.

Editors’ note: “If it happened yesterday, we’ve already forgotten.” – an anonymous Nation editor.

What we see and react to in the media conditions us to view the present as a series of immediate crises, and to ignore their roots in the past. For social justice movements, this can be deadly, cutting us off from an ability to weigh and learn from our own history, and to understand how that history shapes the ways we fight for justice today.

In this photo essay, David Bacon reaches into his photographic archive of 30 years, which are now part of the Special Collections of Stanford University’s Green Library. A Nation contributor and former union organizer, Bacon’s photographs and journalism have documented the courage of people struggling for social and economic justice in countries around the world.

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In 1971, Pat Nixon, wife of Republican President Richard Nixon, inaugurated Border Field State Park, where the border meets the Pacific Ocean just south of San Diego. The day she visited, she asked the Border Patrol to cut the barbed wire so she could greet the Mexicans who’d come to see her. She told them, “I hope there won’t be a fence here too much longer.”

Instead, a real fence was built in the early 1990s, made of metal sheets taken from decommissioned aircraft carrier landing platforms. The sheets had holes, so anyone could peek through to the other side. But for the first time, people coming from each side could no longer physically mix together or hug each other. This is how the wall looked when I began photographing it, over 30 years ago.

That old wall still exists in a few places on the Mexican side in Tijuana and elsewhere. But Operation Gatekeeper, the Clinton Administration border enforcement program, sought to push border crossers out of urban areas like San Ysidro, into remote desert regions where crossing was much more difficult and dangerous. To do that, the government had contractors build a series of walls that were harder to cross.

That’s partly how the US-Mexico border became more than mere geography-how it became instead a passage of fire, an ordeal that must be survived in order to send money from work in the US back to a hungry family, to find children and relatives from whom they have been separated by earlier journeys, or to flee an environment that has become too dangerous to bear.

Some do not survive, dying as they try to cross the desert or swim the Rio Bravo. To them the border region has become a land of death. Every year at least 3-400 people die trying to cross, and are buried, often without names, in places like the graveyard in Holtville, in the Imperial Valley.

But the photographs I’ve taken over 30 years also show that the US/Mexico border is a land of the living. Millions of people live and work on Mexico’s side of the border: There are the child laborers who pick the tomatoes and strawberries in Mexicali Valley that line the shelves of grocery stores in the US; there are the workers from across Mexico who staff the massive maquiladoras in Tijuana; And there are thousands who have been deported to Mexico, and who must now somehow survive this passage of fire as well.

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Street Scenes in Manila

Photographs all © 2019, by David Bacon

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Street scene in Manila.

These photographs were taken on the streets of Manila in Ermita, Intramuros and around Rizal Park. People live in the street in Manila much more than in the U.S. – it’s more like a city in Mexico, for instance. Some images show the recruitment of sailors in a shape up next to the park – Filipinos make up a larger percentage of ocean-going sailors than any other nationality. Others show workers laying bricks, or driving jeepneys and pedicabs. People go to church, which is sometimes in the street as well.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Recruiters sign up sailors at an open-air shape up near Rizal Park in Manila.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Street scene in Manila.
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (8-31-19) – Street scene in Manila.

For a full selection of photographs: Click Here

Farmworkers Rise Up Against Trump and Labor Exploitation

By David Bacon,
Truthout August 10, 2019
Link to Truthout Article

BELLINGHAM, WA – 4AUGUST19 – Farm workers and their supporters march to protest the H2-A guestworker program and the death of Honesto Silva, on the anniversary of his death twho years earlier. They also protested recent federal regulations making it more difficult to protect the rights of H-2A and resident farm workers. The march was organized by Community2Community and the new union for Washington farm workers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. © 2019 David Bacon

Washington State today is ground zero in the effort to hold back the massive use of agricultural guest workers by U.S. growers, and to ensure that farmworkers, both those living here and those coming under the H-2A visa program, have their rights respected. For a second year, on August 4 workers and their supporters marched 14 miles in 90-degree heat through berry fields just below the Canadian border, protesting what they charge is widespread abuse of agricultural labor.

“Farmworker families have been living and working in local fields since the early 1950s,” according to Rosalinda Guillen, director of Community to Community, a farm worker organizing and advocacy group in Whatcom County. “But we’ve seen a big increase in growers’ use of the H-2A guest worker program in the last few years, and it’s had a huge impact on working conditions in the fields. We’ve had to feed guest workers who come to us hungry, fight to get them paid their wages, and help them deal with extreme work requirements. At the same time, our local workers find they’re not being hired for jobs they’ve done for many seasons.”

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Link to Full Truthout Article