Karen’s Blog

Thoughts on a changing profession and life

Making Eye Contact

with 2 comments

CRS Rice Bowl photography shoot with a group of women from a village near Matehuala called Ejido Hidalgo, they have created a cactus business with the help of Respuesta Alternative and a student group, Enactus, from UM, Vera Cruez. They have made a sale to Walmart for mothers day. Women: Basilia Lugo Martinez, 75. She has lost 5 of her 12 adult children, the most recently last year her eldest son who was 58 died. She heads up this endeavor. Her sisters: Maria Nieve Lugo, red cap and brown stripped shirt 70 Petra Lugo Martines, 65, white shirt with pink pants,Maria de la Luz Lugo Martinez, 56, paisely shirt. Also Blue shirt watering the yellow cati, Maria Salome, 47, cousin to Basilia, in white cap, Maria Elena Casillas Lugo, 59, also cousin of Basilia, both women were also in the doorway talking. Marie was looking under the boxes too Visit Petra with her goats she milks and her deaf granddaughter, Wendy, Afterwards visited Basilia Lugo Martinez home with her husband Francisco Garcia and her deaf daughter, Rafaela. Also on the wall is a portrait of her son, 30 yrs old who was murdered in Houston Texas. He was a construction worker, probably illegal. Contact person for this group is Sanjuana Rodriquez Molina, organizer for Respuesto Alternative, can get id's on the various women. juany2105@yahoo.es

Basilia, the eldest of four sisters who belong to las rosas del ejido saving club, examines one of the many cacti containers they hope to sell in Mexico City.

I’m disturbed by the divisive language being thrown around in the presidential primaries. We’re hearing that Mexicans are murderers and rapists, or that Muslims should be banned from our country.

As a photojournalist I have the privilege of meeting people that many Americans might not encounter. In my last blog I wrote about visiting Syrian refugee girls who studied at schools underwritten by UNICEF, International Relief and the Malala Fund.

Two weeks ago an NGO sent me to Mexico to photograph community economic project. I worked in a small village outside of Matehuala, an area in the province of St. Luis. Although this region is dry and desert-like, a rich underground aquifer allows large agribusinesses to thrive.

Four sisters who belong to their village's local savings club and women's group.

Four sisters who belong to their village’s local savings club and women’s group.

The people living in Matehuala are poor. I spent three intense days in a small village photographing hard working women who provided for their families. They had no medical or dental care. Nearly all the women over a certain age were missing their front teeth. Accidents and injuries are common. I met four sisters who had all lost adult children. The eldest, a 75-year-old woman of great inner strength, lost five of her ten children, including her oldest son when he fell and hit his head on a rock the previous year. Uncontrollable tears rolled down her checks as she told this story.

Every family I worked with in the small village had sons, husbands or daughters who had migrated to the US to make money. Wives and children left behind lived with parents or grandparents until those in the US sent home enough money to build a house. Throughout the village, half built homes were testimony to this slow transfer of money.

Child runs in front of an opening of an unfinished room. It's construction is paid for by money sent back home from the US.

Child runs in front of a window of an unfinished room. The construction is paid for by money sent back home from the US.

In recent years, large agribusiness moved into this region, building massive greenhouses so Americans can have their strawberries and tomatoes all winter. But agribusiness can tip the delicate balance of nature in this desert region. Drawing from the local aquifers causes water closer to the surface—the ones the smaller farmers draw on—to become highly salty. As a result, the government had to provide desalination plants for drinking water.

Sun sets behind the greenhouse where the women's group, las rosas del ejido, grow cacti.

Sun sets behind the greenhouse where the women’s group, las rosas del ejido, grow cacti.

Agribusiness provides a few seasonal jobs. The locals have become migrant farm workers in their own country. On the main highway connecting this region to Mexico City to the south and Monterrey to the north, it is common to pass cars overloaded with entire families, farming tools and household items.

Pig purchases for a child's third birthday fiesta is tied to a tree. A breed pig annoys it. The unfinished house in the background belongs to one of the sons in this family. He works in the US and sends money back to his mother to support his wife and children, plus slowly build the house he hopes to eventually live in.

Pig purchased for a child’s third birthday fiesta is tied to a tree. A breeding pig annoys it. The unfinished house in the background belongs to one of the sons in this family. He works in the US and sends money back to his mother to support his wife and children, plus, slowly build the house he hopes to eventually live in.

Children here grow up without their fathers because the men fear they couldn’t return to the States again. One family I met had two sons in the US. Their wives live with the sons’ mother. Grandma was going to throw her granddaughter a big party to honor her third birthday. With the money her son sent back from the States, she bought a large pig to roast for the community, along with balloons and a clown hired to entertain the guests. It seemed poignant to me that the money earned by her son would be used for party for a three-year-old whose memory of it will come from the few photos that might be taken. But this party seemed important to this family, the entire village was going to be invited.

Member of the local women's group looks at the boxes of cacti they hope to see to a store in Mexico City.

Member of the local women’s group looks at the boxes of cacti they hope to sell to a store in Mexico City.

The group of women I photographed called themselves, las rosas del ejido. They are trying to start a saving club in addition to a business of growing and selling cacti. A university student group managed to secure a one-time sale of these plants to a large chain store in Mexico City. It’s a start. Most importantly the women have confidence they can start a business. If the cacti sale doesn’t work, they have other ideas.

So, sorry Donald Trump, I did not see any murderers or rapists in this village.

Bill Foege, a wonderful doctor, the former head of The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, once said if only we can make eye contact with people, then we would start to care for them. I feel there is great truth in that. If only people can get to know their perceived enemies, perhaps they’ll see there is nothing to fear.

Written by kasmauski

May 24, 2016 at 2:39 am

2 Responses

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  1. Love your images. And especially love the CDC doc’s comments. When my students come out of the exam room with their physical exams complete and ready to present the case, I often ask, “what color were your patient’s eyes?” When they cannot tell me, they understand that they had not “seen” their patient and next time are often better observers. Miss you, my friend.

    susan cooley

    May 24, 2016 at 3:26 am

  2. Beautiful work, Karen! Good for you. Hugs, Alex

    Alexandra Avakian

    May 24, 2016 at 3:29 pm


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