When we consider the question of migration, we must not underestimate the stereotypes and preconceptions that surround it. In fact, this (and many other) topics are often treated in the media in a dismissive and disrespectful manner that gives the impression that they are not based on true facts. When we speak of migrants, we already may have several preconceived ideas in mind. We visualize boats sailing across the seas, walls and barbed wire, back-breaking walks, weariness and pain; and we remember what we saw or read in the media.
In general, we recall articles about crimes committed by immigrants, about their work and the inhuman conditions in which they often find themselves. In today's society, dominated by social media, this kind of communication creates a stereotype that objectifies the person, who thus can be instrumentalized politically in a cynical and cowardly way.
Even when caused by war or catastrophe, migration may be perceived by the receiving country in terms of slogans like "They are coming to take our jobs" or "They are sending all their money home." These slogans are often used in racist propaganda that opposes migration in order to propose such "solutions" as "Let's help them go back home." These are negative and demeaning messages, which put helpers and helped, rich and poor, on two different levels: the former who, from their pedestals, want to keep the second at arm's length. In this context, the "helpers" are willing to give up a part of their accumulated wealth...but not too much of course. The division between "them and us" is clear.
I believe that the most underestimated aspect of this whole affair is, when we speak of migrants, we are not speaking of a homogenous group of people driven by similar objectives and ideas. Migrants are not united by an ideology. We are, in fact, referring to millions of human stories, millions of people with dreams, fears, ideas, hopes, feelings. The people who decide to migrate can be men, women, children, old people, people with disabilities; people who are fleeing political threats, natural disasters or an environment that discriminates against them because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or their socio-economic and/or political status, among other factors. However, each one of them is migrating for a different reason; each one is different and carries with him or her the baggage of their personal lives.
To depersonalize their stories in this way is a violation of their human dignity. As indicated above, the media play an important role in creating the imagery. When we discuss this issue, our minds are programmed to absorb a certain kind of communication. We expect a certain type of image and reporting that moves us to compassion or speaks of social redemption. But if we were to ask migrants why they find themselves thousands of kilometers from their homelands and how they see themselves, the image that they would give us might be very different from what we imagine. It would be a snapshot of themselves in front of their own homes, or with their families, or maybe at their workplaces.
They would speak about their jobs with pride because their work has been the route by which they found their places in society. They would mention what they would like to improve in their working conditions in order to ensure a better future. They would wish to be seen as persons, not as migrants. They would ask us to see them in a way that does not give rise to further stereotypes, to be seen simply as persons like all the other millions of people on this planet. They would ask us to respect their dignity as human beings.
They would tell of their love for their families, the difficulty of life in their homelands and the reasons for their decision to leave for another, unknown land. They would help us to understand the depth of the love that motivates them to face the sea without knowing how to swim, the desert without the certainty of water. They would tell us that they faced guns and violence, that they hid from armed gangs and the police for weeks, that they confronted dangers and experiences that will mark them forever -- in order to find a job that would enable them to make a living. And all this for the love of their families, of their children, and for their hopes for their children's future.
Perhaps changing our approach and countering the stereotypes surrounding migration would reveal another side of things: the love that unites us as human beings. Perhaps in this way, we could also contribute to changing perceptions in the workplace and to the acceptance of this phenomenon in society as a whole, thus contributing to putting all human beings, whether they are migrants or not, on an equal footing.
The subjects of these photographs have chosen to rely on the fact that these pictures, linked to their words, are the best way to tell their story without sensationalism.