Photo Story Explores Dangers of Transnationalism

For my set of images, I chose this series of photos taken by Don Bartletti for the Los Angeles Times, for which he received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in feature photography. The photo story chronicles the experiences of Central American youth as they travel north to the United States, often risking their lives in the process. Here are a few of the images Bartletti took that I found particularly striking:





Essentially, Bartletti’s prize-winning photo story is an encapsulation of literal transnationalism via the escape of one country to the promise of an idealized other. The photos depict this transnational movement as one fraught with extreme danger and discomfort. In this case, Bartletti’s subjects are children born into transnational families — many of their parents have already moved to America, and so their lives are defined by the attempt to reunite across borders. But the consequences of these attempts can be dire, such as in the case of Carlos (the subject of the third photo in this post) who lost his left leg while attempting to climb aboard a freight train loaded with the promise of America. This insatiable desire for an imagined reality is what drives these children to put themselves in so much danger, so in a way, Bartletti reveals the literal danger of transnationalism as a process. The question remains: was the journey worth it?

Luckily for us, Don Bartletti published an article on August 22 of 2014, in which he catches up with one of the subjects of his photo story, Denis, and asks him that very question:

I held the back door open and Denis jumped in. “What would you say to those thousands of kids who want to ride the trains to the North now?”

“I would tell them to stay,” he said. “They might get a better life, but if God wanted them to be born in the United States, he would have done that. He decided for us to live right here.”

For Denis, the transnational migration was not an escape, it was an unnatural, irreversible transition that scarred his life permanently.

– Joe Joseph

2 thoughts on “Photo Story Explores Dangers of Transnationalism”

  1. Thanks Joe. These are striking images. Powerful reminders that transnational space isn’t fostered merely by aesthetic or cultural practice but also, more often, by the brutal realities of global inequality.



  2. Joe, this was really intriguing. I found these images especially striking for what they suggested not only about the despair that accompanies a real, boots on the ground understanding of transnational movement, but also for how they allow us to visualize transnational space as an interstice, or perhaps a treacherous “gulf”, between one nation’s boundaries and another. These migratory youths have first hand exposure to the kind of dangers and horrors that make up the dark regions between countries of various economic positions; regions which are so often imperceptible to many Americans and other stagnant populaces. The above photos, by shining a light onto the nature of border crossings, illuminate a harsh and inhospitable landscape, and bring attention to those who populate/move through it on their way to (purportedly) more fertile ground.

    -Tayryn Edwards


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