The Undocumented Migration Project: Documenting belongings left behind while crossing the border (Video)
January 20, 2012
Not many people consider the human side of immigration, let alone take the time document the belongings of those left behind by the migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Worn sneakers, dirty backpacks and empty water bottles fill the Sonoran desert. Each object tells a story of struggle, hope and determination and it wasn’t until recently that they were collected for anthropologists hoping to study the science behind migration phenomenon.
“This is not garbage” said Jason De Leon, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, “The goal of the project is to rigorously and systematically collect data on the social phenomenon of border crossing using the lens of anthropology to provide insight into the realities of this process.”
Since 2008, The Undocumented Migration Project, directed by De Leon, has collected what has become the largest assemblage of migrant artifacts in the country.
In addition to clothing and water bottles, personal possessions such as letters, photos and prayer cards have also been collected. The artifacts are organized in boxes and meticulously numbered, just as a typical museum collection would do. De Leon had his heart set on studying archaeology but then decided to change sub-disciplines and pursue his ethnographic interests in Latino migration.
“I could no longer continue to sit in excavation units in Mexico and listen passively as people told me about the suffering and violence that they had endured in the U.S. in order to make a decent living wage,” explains De Leon to HuffPost.
Even though there is a some evidence that the numbers of migrants attempting to cross the border from Mexico has decreased, there are still approximately one-half million immigrants attempting to cross the border in southern Arizona each year. Of those, 90 percent are Mexican, while 10 percent come from Central and South American countries. An estimated 200 people die each year from causes incurred during border crossing, including hyperthermia, according to De Leon.
There are emotional and physical challenges in documenting the sites that people consider “garbarge.”
“Trying to document violence and suffering in Southern Arizona and in Northern Mexico can be emotionally taxing,” De Leon said to HuffPost. He is constantly racing against the clock to find sites and collect information before they are cleaned up and gone forever. Working in the middle of the summer during times when temperatures can reach 115 degrees can also be physically exhausting.
Interestingly enough, while documenting, De Leon has encountered migrants in the desert but works hard to avoid them out of fear of putting them into danger. He doesn’t seek them out and works during the hottest part of the day when people are hiding in the desert shadows to avoid the heat.
Read the full story at the Huffington Post
anthropology • Border crossing • Central America • Comprehensive Immigration Reform • DREAM Act • garbage • Mexico • social phenomenon • South America • Undocumented Immigrants • Undocumented Migration Project