Los Caminos de la Vida shares the journeys of migrants in their own voices
Manuel, Paola, Carmen, Carlos, Jesus, Maria, Juan, Gloria, Guadalupe, Claudia and Pedro.
Eleven names of Idahoans represent the 11 million undocumented people living in the US today. That’s the premise of Los Caminos de la Vida, a traveling art exhibit from the ACLU of Idaho showcased at the Flying M in Caldwell.
In families where some members are citizens and others aren’t, talking about immigration status can be tricky. For 26-year-old Eddie, interviewing his aunt Claudia for the exhibit was emotional.
“It's something that I was told not to ask about, not to mention, not to talk about,” he said. “And I understand it's the fear of maybe prosecution, the fear of people looking at you differently.”
Claudia came to the US from Mexico when she was 29. A second mom to Eddie, he had never really heard about her journey and how it shaped her life.
Hers is one of 11 voices of migrants paired with photographs of their shoes. Through first-person accounts, undocumented individuals share the hardships faced on their journeys to Idaho, from crossing long stretches of desert to getting robbed by smugglers and fearing deportation.
Claudia walked across the border 24 years ago and has never been able to go back.
She shared with her nephew the things she misses from her homeland; its traditions, its people and its food.
“Imagine yourself committing to move to a whole different place with a whole new language that you don't have a complete grasp on,” Eddie said. “It's really valuable, I guess, to hear stories and experiences like that.”
Through this project, Eddie learned things he had never had a chance to hear from his aunt before. She told him she was most proud of being able to buy a house for her parents in Mexico with money she earned as a restaurant manager in Boise. The kind of things we associate with the American Dream, Eddie said.
“That made me really happy that she was happy,” he said.
Rosseli Guerrero, an advocacy fellow at the ACLU, put the project together.
“Folks often think that an immigrant looks a certain way or comes from a certain part of the country,” she said. “And it's like, no, we come from all over and, like, in all different skin colors and shapes.”
The name of the exhibit comes from a Colombian song popular across Latin America called Los Caminos de la Vida, or The Walks of Life.
“Los caminos de la vida no son como yo pensaba, como los imaginaba,” the lyrics go. “The paths of life are not what I thought they’d be, not what I imagined.”
Through this project, Guerrero wanted people to think about the many journeys taken by undocumented folks now living in the Gem State.
“And for a moment, just like put themselves in that position and walk in the shoes of what an immigrant person has gone through,” she explained.
Each person interviewed had their shoes photographed, some included objects they hold dear. The images are also paired with a QR code directly linking to audio stories.
One shows two ornate leather cowboy boots with a phone propped between them.
A chubby cheeked baby stares up from the screen on a facetime call.
In the accompanying audio, Manuel says he’s never met his son because he left for the US before his birth.
“Mi niño nació cuando yo estaba aquí y no es lo mismo estar con él que no conocerlo en personal,” he explains in Spanish.
“It’s been hard not being able to see him in person.”
In another interview, Paola talks about the sacrifices her parents made when they moved to the states when she was just a year old and her journey to understand how it impacted her life.
“It gives you a different perspective,” she’s heard saying to her interviewer. “It helps you appreciate things a little more and it gives you that grit to work for it.”
Her picture shows a pair of black high heels, the kind a young person might wear at prom. They’re propped next to a graduation cap decorated with flowers and the words “para mis padres, que cruzaron fronteras para que yo cruzara este escenario.” For my parents, it says, who walked across borders so I could walk across this stage.
Guerrero says she hopes these stories might counter some of the harmful stereotypes residents without papers face daily but also highlight the joys of their lives.
“Oftentimes, we just want to focus on ‘tell me about the really sad part and like, why we should give you papers, but tell me first your story about why I should care?’ And I think that's something that needs to be changed,” she said.
This project also made Eddie realize the power of sharing stories.
“I feel bad that I hadn't been involved earlier. But, you know, I feel like I need to be very vocal and very proud about my history and my lineage.”
He said his conversation with his aunt brought them closer together and he hopes it will lead others to have more compassion for the migrant experience.
The song featured is Los Caminos de la Vida, interpreted by the band Los Diablitos.
A previously aired version incorrectly said the exhibit was headed to the Boise Art Museum, instead of the Idaho State Museum.