Walking in the Shoes of a Refugee: MEXICO Week 2

Hola chicas! Cómo estás? As you can tell, my Spanish is going quite well! My stomach on the other hand, not quite. Our 2nd week in Mexico City has been equally full on as our first week (if you missed what happened, you can catch up here). We’ve learnt a lot, visited numerous museums and cultural sites and had one of the scariest nights of my life. Let’s have a look at what we got up to this week!

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Free Day

Woo! We finally got a day off which meant an epic sleep in. Most of us used this day to relax and reset ourselves in preparation for the crazy week ahead of us. I used this day to remember my time in Mexico City forever! I got a TATTOO! Victoria and I headed to ‘Soul Flower’ in La Condesa to get some ink. The guy who gave us our tattoo was so awesome! His name was Jorge and he was from Honduras. He owns his own tattoo shop in Costa Rica where he now lives, and is currently travelling around to tattoo conventions in Mexico and Guatemala. After everything I’ve learnt about Honduras, I was really glad to have a part of his story with me.

 

 

There seems to be a fair few birthdays this month! And this week we celebrated two! One Monday night we went out for tapas and lots of wine, making it the perfect way to wind down after our hectic first week.

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Cultural Visits

This week we experienced A LOT of Mexican culture! Our first visit was on Tuesday afternoon to the Blue House (also known as the house of Friday Kahlo and Diego Rivera – two of the most renowned Mexican artists). If you haven’t already – watch the movie Frida on Netflix. It’s pretty much where I learnt the most about Frida and her life. Then getting to wander the corridors where she lived, see her artwork, her garden and bedroom was absolutely incredible!

After the Blue House, we went around the corner to visit the house where Leon Trotsky lived and was killed. For those of you who don’t know (don’t worry, I learnt this information at the house itself), Trotsky was a part of the Russian opposition government during the time of Stalin. When Stalin took power, it made Trotsky an enemy of the state so him and his wife fled to Mexico. They moved to Mexico because Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo supported the Mexican Communist party and thus their connection. After Kahlo and Trotsky had an affair, Trotsky moved to a different house. There was an attempted murder where one of Stalin’s guys stabbed him with an ice pick but he survived. He then appointed guards to his house and basically lived in a fortress. Yet that was no stopping Stalin as he was later killed by gunshot which sprayed his entire room. You can still see those bullet marks in the wall today. And there you go, some Russian history in the streets of Mexico City.

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Tula

On Saturday we visited the archeological site of Tula. It’s funny because you almost get used to thinking ‘oh, another ancient pyramid.’ Nonetheless, we explored, climbed it and learnt about how in Tula, they forbid human sacrifice to the Gods, so it seems it was quite a progressive society.

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Ballet

On Sunday night we were treated to a night at the ballet! A group of us, along with our professional tour guide, Arnaldo, headed downtown to the Opera House. This is an ABSOLUTE MUST for anyone going to Mexico City. It’s a mix of ballet and Mexican folk dance and it was simply stunning – we couldn’t wipe the smile off of our face!

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Floating Markets

Sunday we went to the incredible Floating Markets. Think Venetian gondola meets Mexican fiesta! We all boarded the little boat with a few beers in hand and we floated through the canals and around markets. In all honesty, it’s a bit difficult to describe, so I made this vlog instead!

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Class

Class this week was equally as intensive. One of my favourite days was taught by an incredible woman, Frida Espinosa who spoke to us about gender, health and migration. I could really feel my previous thoughts and ideas being challenged, evolving and honestly learning a lot. It was such a great class because it’s a perspective that is not often taken in the discussion of migration.

Next week we also have presentations so we started working out what groups we wanted to be in and brainstorming some ideas.

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Professional Site Visits

The site visit on Friday to the Transit Migrant Shelter called Casa del Samaritano in Hidalgo, was definitely a group highlight. This shelter is located on the train line for migrants taking ‘La Bestia’ (The Beast – the notorious train that migrants are known for climbing onto). It is a safe place for them to have a warm meal, call their loved ones, get new clothing if needed, and then head back off on their journey.

The general consensus of our group was that we felt that we actually did something productive and useful to help these people. People helped in the kitchen, helped clean our some of the shelter and I was on phone duty. Helping the migrants dial their respective countries, where they could make a 3minute phone call. Despite the language barrier, we were still able to converse quite well and find out information about their lives and reasons why they were migrating. All of the migrants were males from Honduras, aged between 17 and 64. One young man, aged 22, had actually been living in Utah with his wife and two children when he was caught without documents and deported back to Honduras. So it was his second time attempting to cross the border.

As we were leaving so were the migrants as they headed along the train tracks. A train ripped by our bus and the migrants, when they started running. We saw one young man grab a ladder of a carriage and get pulled along until he could finally jump onto the carriage, leaving his new found friends behind and taking his chances on The Beast. The rest of the group continued walking along the train tracks. That is an image that is etched into my mind and I don’t think I could ever forget those brave young men.

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That evening we did one of the craziest things I’ve ever done in my entire life. At the Alberto Eco Park, they run simulation border crossings and we were signed up. We were forewarned to wear clothes that we didn’t mind getting dirty and sturdy shoes. At approximately 9:30pm, when it was pitch black, a man in a balaclava pulled up in his ute and started screaming at us to gather together. He called our names and we were led into the bush. And thus began the next 3.5hours of running, hiding from ‘border force,’ bandits, drug dealers, crossing swinging bridges, climbing through dark tunnels, trudging through thick mud, hiding in a group on the ground, accidentally falling into cacti, and worst of all, having blanks being shot at us. It was terrifying, thrilling, exciting, scary and an experience we’ll never forget.

We finished at about 1am where a man talked to us about why he decided to create this experience. He said he wanted people to physically attempt to walk a mile in a migrants shoes and at the end of the day, you know it’s not real and you can go back to your comfortable bed and sleep peacefully. These migrants and refugees do not have such privilege and there’s no escaping the reality of violence and fear. It was extremely touching and incredibly motivating to each of us. It reminded us why we were here studying immigration and made us all the more passionate and motivated to make a difference.

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Week 2 was quite crazy indeed, but it was nothing short of incredible! I can’t believe we’re heading into our last week this week! I can’t wait to see what’s in store for us!

The Little Red Shirt That Captured The World’s Attention For All Of The Wrong Reasons

Aylan Kurdi’s body was found on a beach in Turkey in September 2015. Lifeless, his innocent body was dressed in a little red shirt and boots. At just three years old, Aylan Kurdi brought immediate light to a crisis previously ignored by the mainstream media and the rest of the world. When I first saw this image in September 2015, I remember staring blankly at my computer screen with tears rolling down my cheeks. I wasn’t sad or angry, I felt numb and empty. I remember being mesmerised by his little red shirt. There is no denying the overwhelming sadness this image brings us. However, there are certain questions and issues around this image that are important for us to address as we look through a lens at people and a world far from us.

 

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Refugees rescued from the coast of Libya. Source

Why this image?

Thousands of photos have been captured documenting the enormous movement of people since the beginning of the refugee crisis during the Arab Spring. The photo above is an example of a photo that would typically be used by the media to sensationalize and dehumanize refugees and their threat to our way of life (Klocker & Dunn, 2003).

‘Images of children suffering form the ultimate emotional argument, compelling us to move from sentiment to action, from the particular to the universal, from passivity to engagement’ (Kennicott, 2013). People around the world reacted to this image. It may not have been for the right reasons, but they saw shame and horror that they couldn’t ignore. (Sontag, 2003).

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Cover of the Independent showing the body of Aylan Kurdi. Source

To look or not to look? To publish or not to publish?

A debate which arose following the publication of the photograph of Aylan’s body was whether or not to show the image, and whether or not we should be looking. Channel 10’s The Project stated that they would not show the image as it was ‘too distressing for viewers’ (Ting, 2015), followed by host, Carrie Bickmore, breaking down expressing ‘I am lucky that I and my children live in Australia’ (Ting, 2015).

“A picture of a dead child is one of the golden rules of what you never published.” (Laurent, 2015)

What is interesting is that the network’s primary concern is the wellbeing of its viewers. That they’re doing their audience a favour by not subjecting them to such horror of the reality of this migrant crisis. What about Aylan? His father? His Aunty? What about their distress and suffering?

A view that some may share with Sontag, is that by capturing images of suffering, ‘where news has been converted into entertainment for a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, is that everyone becomes a spectator, suggesting that there is no real suffering in the world’ (Richard, 2010). Richard then goes on to suggest that we as ‘consumers of globalized media should refuse to look at photographs of suffering because suffering’s urgency is thereby diminished’ (Richard, 2010).

 ‘Perhaps the only people with the right to look at images of suffering, are those who could do something to alleviate it.’ (Sontag, 2003, pp. 37)

The Independent (as illustrated above) took another stance by putting Aylan on the front cover. By doing this, they are refusing to igrnore this issue and reaching out to those with the right to look who can do something about this suffering. And is that something that we as global citizens should be doing? Educating ourselves about what is happening in the world, and being motivated to do something about it.

The West vs. The Rest

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One of the many cartoons that emerged after the image was published. Source

Laurent expresses that the child’s ethnicity played a critical part of the photo’s reception. He explains that ‘dozens of African kids have been washed up on the beaches of Libya and were photographed and it didn’t have the same impact’ (Laurent, 2015). This is then illustrated by Carrie Bickmore and the world’s reaction thinking that could be my child. Ethnocentrism is a key issue in mainstream media, why do we only pay attention when there are terrorist attacks in Paris but not Aleppo? Is it up to us as global citizens to seek global news, or should we sit back in our beach chairs and wait for it to be handed to us on the front page of a newspaper?

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‘Hope for a New Life’ Warren Richardson. Source 

Other significant images of struggle and suffering

Whilst the image of Aylan Kurdi’s body is one whose importance will linger, there are many other significant photographs which capture the struggle and suffering of refugees. The image above ‘Hope for a New Life’ was captured by Australian photographer Warren Richardson in August 2015. A baby is being passed through the border from Serbia in to Hungary (World Press Photo, 2016). This image won the World Press Photo of the Year, a highly prestigious title in the name of visual journalism. And looking back over the past winners, there have been many which carry a similar theme. Where an audience sits at their computer screen, flicking through winning photographs of people subjected to torture, abuse and suffering absolutely unimaginable.

Moving On

We have two options. The first is to look away. We can ignore this little boy, face down on a beach, and lay on our beach chairs and carry on with our lives. Something the Australian government would prefer to do. Or we can choose to look, we can choose to be upset, confronted or angry. And we can choose to do something about it.

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When I went to the ‘Let Them Stay’ rally in Wollongong on the 20th March 2016.

 

Further Information

You can see, what I regard, the most important photo of 2015, Aylan Kurdi found on the Turkish beach, here.

You can see the Project’s take on reporting this news here. 

References

Klocker, N & Dunn, K. M 2003, Who’s driving the asylum debate? Newspaper and government representation of asylum seekers, ‘Media International Australia incorporating media and policy’, No.109, pp. 71-92

Laurent, O 2015, ‘What the image of Aylan Kurdi says about the power of photography’, Time, 4 September, viewed 19 March 2016, http://time.com/4022765/aylan-kurdi-photo/

Kennicott, P 2013, ‘Why Syria’s images of people suffering haven’t moved us’, The Washington Post, 13 September, viewed 20th March 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-syrias-images-of-suffering-havent-moved-us/2013/09/13/30407f98-1bb3-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_story.html

Richard, F 2010, ‘The Thin Artefact: On Photography and Suffering’, The Nation, 23 November, viewed 19 March 2016, http://www.thenation.com/article/thin-artifact-photography-and-suffering/

Sontag, S 2003, Regarding the Pain of Others, Chapter 3, Hamish Hamilton, London, England, pp. 36-52

Ting, I 2015, ‘The Project’s Carrie Bickmore breaks down over image of drowned Syrian toddler’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 September, viewed 19 March 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/the-projects-carrie-bickmore-breaks-down-over-image-of-drowned-syrian-toddler-20150904-gjetma.html

World Press Photo, 2016, ‘World Press Photo of the Year’, World Press Photo, 28 August 2015, http://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/2016/spot-news/warren-richardson