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In 2023, the world witnessed a historic milestone as the number of displaced individuals globally surpassed 100 million, a figure not seen since the aftermath of the Second World War. This global crisis was particularly felt in the United States, which experienced a significant surge in migration, largely driven by an influx of Venezuelans escaping poverty, violence, and political persecution.

The United States' immigration system, already strained, virtually collapsed under the weight of this influx, placing a growing humanitarian burden on communities across the nation. The current situation underscores the pressing need for immigration policy reform.



 

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Historically, those most affected by displacement and migration are often excluded from the conversations that determine their future. BordersCruzadas is a response to this critical issue. Through collaborative documentary photography, the project actively involves people on-the-move in shaping the narrative of their lives and experiences. By focusing on the lived experiences of individuals in this context, BordersCruzadas seeks to celebrate nuance in discussions of immigration.

 

As the 2024 general election approaches, migration has emerged as a contentious political issue, with xenophobia being exploited as a potent political weapon. In this charged atmosphere, BordersCruzadas aims to leverage the universal power of photography and storytelling to foster a more inclusive and empathetic public discourse on immigration. By engaging and amplifying the experiences of those directly affected, BordersCruzadas aspires to create a tool for understanding and empathy in an increasingly divided world.

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WORKSHOP:

Como te vieron?

Como me veo?

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Como te vieron? Como me veo? is a documentary photography workshop designed specifically for individuals who have migrated to or sought asylum in the United States. This unique workshop empowers participants to harness the creative potential of photography as a means to explore and express their own personal migration journeys. Participants are encouraged to share, process, and reflect on the challenges, traumas, dreams, and successes that have shaped their lives. The workshop offers a supportive environment where personal narratives are honored and celebrated.

One of the central elements of this workshop is the exploration of the impact of stereotypes and discrimination on the lives of people on-the-move. Through portraiture, participants delve into the ways in which society may have perceived them and examine how they see themselves. This powerful visual storytelling approach allows individuals to challenge preconceived notions, break down stereotypes, and highlight their unique, multifaceted identities.

Operating from the Pueblos Unidos gallery space in Chicago and with the valued support of Centro Romero, "Como te vieron? Como me veo?" encourages mutual understanding and solidarity among participants. This workshop serves as a space for healing, self-expression, and the celebration of the rich and diverse experiences of those who have embarked on remarkable journeys in pursuit of a better life. Through the lens of documentary photography, this workshop invites participants to reclaim their narratives, challenge stereotypes, and share their stories with the world.

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EXHIBITS AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT:

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BordersCruzadas is a dynamic and evolving project, and we understand that showcasing our work is key to making a meaningful impact. Over the past year, we have held two exhibitions of a work-in-progress, but our mission extends far beyond the walls of a gallery. Here's a detailed look at our plans for community engagement and future exhibits:

  • Final Exhibit in June 2024: We are eagerly preparing for our exhibit at the Glass Curtain Gallery in Chicago in June 2024. This exhibit will bring together the culmination of our documentary work, providing a compelling and authentic narrative of the experiences and stories of folks on-the-move. 

  • Community-Focused Public Exhibits: Our ambition is to extend the reach of BordersCruzadas by taking our work directly to the communities that need to hear these stories. We are planning public exhibits in the Chicago Parks District, making the visuals and narratives accessible to a diverse audience.

  • Community Discussions: In tandem with our public exhibits, we will host community discussions around immigration, the role of documentary photography, and the potential impact of collaborative journalism. 

  • Collaboration with Columbia College Chicago: Our Diane Dammeyer Fellowship at Columbia College Chicago is a significant step towards nurturing the next generation of visual storytellers. We’ve been able to present our work to current photography students at Columbia College Chicago. We’ve focused these presentations on the influence of documentary photography in raising awareness and instigating change. Additionally, we work directly with a handful of students interested in pursuing careers in documentary photography and photojournalism. As ambassadors of the project, these students are getting hands-on experience, while also learning important lessons about the importance of ethics and journalistic accountability.

  • Collaboration with Local Publications: We are actively developing collaborations with various Chicago-based publications to build a coordinated reporting effort. This initiative seeks to leverage a merger of the local knowledge of journalists working in Chicago with the broader reporting we have conducted. The goal is to create a series of in-depth articles, videos, and photo reportage that effectively document the current migration crisis in Chicago. 

BordersCruzadas understands that true change requires reaching both hearts and minds. By bringing our work to communities, educating future storytellers, and partnering with local publications, we are taking decisive steps toward fostering a more empathetic and informed society. Our aim is to cut through the falsehoods and biases, replacing them with a deeper understanding and respect for the stories of those affected by migration.

THINK GLOBALLY, ACT CHICAGO. INFORMING LOCAL POLICY:

Chicago stands at a critical crossroads in the current U.S. migration crisis, its historical legacy of racialized segregation and municipal neglect adding layers of complexity to the ongoing struggle for public resources. The recent influx of migrants has laid bare the unpreparedness of Chicago and many other cities, as evidenced by the stark reality of tent encampments outside police stations. As winter approaches, the urgent need for humanitarian aid for arriving migrants, asylum seekers, and the existing homeless population becomes more pronounced.

 

Challenges and Critiques: City Hall's response, criticized for lacking transparency and coordinated resource administration, compounds the challenges. In a media environment saturated with migrant stereotypes, the situation becomes toxic, leading to uninformed discussions where migrants' experiences are often absent. This is evident in the surge of anti-shelter protests and a heated debate in the city council over Chicago's sanctuary city status.

Opportunities for Progress: While federal immigration policy debates seem gridlocked, a glimmer of opportunity for progress may emerge at the local level. Proposed solutions, such as localized work permits, call for a thoughtful and inclusive response to address historical inequities. Anticipating the inevitable arrival of more people on-the-move in the coming months, BordersCruzadas is poised to influence public discourse and potential policy decisions.

Current Initiatives: We are actively networking with local stakeholders familiar with Chicago's history of segregation to develop strategies that leverage our public engagement. Through collaborative efforts with community leaders, politicians, organizers, and humanitarian groups, we aspire to bridge divides and shape policies that reflect the nuanced realities of migration in Chicago.

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CONTINUED SUPPORT FROM:

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OSCAR B. CASTILLO

Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Oscar B. Castillo embarked on a journey of self-discovery and exploration that would ultimately shape his life's work. After completing his studies in psychology at Venezuelan Central University, a profound curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for adventure led him across the vast landscapes of Europe. It was during these years of meandering through the intricate streets of foreign cities that Oscar found his true calling in the art of photography, which eventually drew him back into formal education in the captivating city of Barcelona, Catalonia.

Throughout his professional career as a photographer, Oscar's focus has been resolutely dedicated to capturing social subjects that serve as catalysts for ideas of solidarity, tolerance, and respect. Simultaneously, his work challenges the established structures of economic and political power, as well as his own role within the photography industry and society as a whole, fostering a deeper and more meaningful discourse.

Oscar's photographic journey has taken him to diverse corners of the world, including Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Cuba, Guyane, Greece, France, Spain, and many other countries. Oscar's work has been widely exhibited in prestigious venues in France, Italy, Austria, Cambodia, Bosnia, Colombia, Ecuador, and more. His compelling images have graced the pages of renowned publications such as Le Monde, New York Times, L.A. Times, The Wall Street Journal, Days Japan, Der Spiegel, NZZ, and Time Magazine.

Notably, Oscar's dedication to using photography as a tool for social change has earned him recognition from esteemed organizations including a fellowship with the Magnum Foundation, where he focused on youth, incarceration, and reinsertion in Venezuela. Oscar's achievements include receiving the Eugene Smith Award, the Tim Hetherington Foundation Grant, and the Picture of the Year LatAm, among other honors and accolades.

In parallel with his photographic pursuits, Oscar has developed a profound passion for teaching. He firmly believes that photography is not only an art form but also a powerful tool for education, inclusion, and social progress. As an instructor and teacher, Oscar has engaged in participatory photographic workshops with marginalized children in Mexico, young individuals in IDPs camps in post-earthquake Haiti, and inmates within Venezuelan prisons. Additionally, he has provided formal educational programs in countries such as Colombia, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico, and Oscar's native Venezuela, all with the goal of empowering individuals through the transformative art of photography.

Oscar is currently based in Brooklyn, New York. 

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WIL SANDS

Wil Sands, born in Nairobi, Kenya, to American parents, experienced a diverse upbringing that shaped his understanding of the world around him and would later define his storytelling. His formative years took him from the vibrant city of David, Panama, to rural landscapes in eastern Pennsylvania, eventually leading him to the sprawling suburbs of Chicago.

Wil pursued his higher education at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, during which time he became actively engaged in student organizing efforts, particularly around prison abolition. This pivotal experience laid the foundation for his enduring dedication to social justice.

After college, Wil made the life-changing move to Barcelona, Spain, where he immersed himself in political subcultures, finding resonance in the city's vibrant squat community. This experience fostered a deep commitment to community, radical solidarity, and mutual aid. It was during this period that he crossed paths with his close friend Oscar B. Castillo. Simultaneously, Wil discovered photography and delved into the rich history of documentary work that compelled society to confront some of its most unsettling truths. This love for the art form and the potential of journalism as a catalyst for change ignited a passion that would shape his future endeavors.

As a journalist and photographer, Wil is steadfastly guided by the belief that journalism's pivotal role is to "hold truth(s) to power." As a photographer, he fervently seeks out stories that add nuance and complexity to public discourse, consistently challenging reductionist narratives that perpetuate the status quo.

In 2011, Wil, alongside Guillaume Darribau, co-founded the Fractures Collective, an innovative platform focused on documenting the growing fractures at the intersections of economic, social, political, and environmental systems. This cooperative, characterized by a horizontal organizing structure, served a critical purpose of promoting each other's documentary photography in the competitive market of journalism.

Recipient of multiple Pulitzer Center reporting grants, Wil has dedicated his career to long-format investigative reporting and documentary work. His work has found its way into prestigious publications such as The Washington Post, Harper's, Wired Magazine, Mother Jones, CNN, Newsweek, The Times of London, Liberation, L'Obs, and many others.

In a remarkable and challenging turn of events in 2020, while covering the Black Lives Matter protests outside the White House, Wil was shot in the face with a less-lethal crowd dispersal munition. The injury resulted in permanent damage to the vision in his right eye, which he affectionately calls his "photographic eye." In the face of this trauma, Wil chose to expand his journalistic repertoire, leading him to explore writing more actively.

Wil Sands is the proud father of two beautiful, polyglot children and the devoted partner of a powerful woman who shares his commitment to social justice. His life's work is a testament to his unwavering dedication to transformative storytelling and his relentless pursuit of a more informed, empathetic, and just world.

Wil splits his time between Mexico City, Mexico, and the family farm in rural western Virginia. 

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