"Nothing is more Tijuanse than not being from Tijuana," says a fresco painted on the wall that separates the Mexican city from its American twin in San Diego. And, in fact, the metropolis of the Pacific coast has developed according to the different waves of migrations, which have helped to shape the identity of the city. A city which is now in the center of the news since the election of Donald Trump and his policy of firm migration.
>> Read also: America at the wall
A regular visitor, photographer Kelly Dassault publishes "Zona norte", a book of photographs illustrating the daily life of exiles from the border town. Since 2014, she has been going there every year to photograph and document the daily lives of migrants, who are desperately trying to reach the United States to find new life.
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2019 was good, can you imagine how incredible 2020 will be? 2019 saw my third exhibition, as a photographer, and my first book, with my own publishing company! Can you guess what is my next project? Thank you my dear friends, it's great to feel loved. ♥ ️ @ editions27films 🙏🏼
A publication shared by Kelly Dassault (@kellydassault) on Jan. 7, 2020 at 12:04 PST
France 24: Why did you choose to photograph the migrants from Tijuana?
Tijuana is a mine of potential subjects, which can sometimes be dangerous. My basic idea was to photograph prostitution in the city, but the girls themselves told me that it was a bad idea.
I then met Father Chava whose association serves breakfasts and started to photograph the people who came to this soup kitchen. For the most part, these people came from the rest of Latin America and were either trying to reach the United States or had just been expelled from it.
Tijuana is a city of migrants. © Kelly Dassault
Did the situation there change between your first trip in 2014 and your last one in 2019, especially with the election of Donald Trump?
Paradoxically, things have rather moved in the right direction. In 2014, problems were managed only with local resources. Since the election of Donald Trump, however, American associations have looked into the subject mainly because of the media coverage linked to the promise of the American president to build a wall there. A wall that already exists elsewhere in Tijuana and was built by a democrat [in 1994 under the Clinton administration, note]. Donald Trump's ongoing communication has created interest in this area.
The wall that separates Tijuana and San Diego was built long before the election of Donald Trump. © Kelly Dassault
Now there are a lot of American NGOs coming from the neighboring border town of San Diego, from Los Angeles to help locals, vaccinate people, treat children, give legal advice ... And, I also the impression that there are fewer women and children on the street.
What stories have particularly marked you?
The stories that surprised me the most were those of the deportees. These people who have lived in the United States for years, who have paid their taxes there, who have founded a family there, and who today find themselves expelled and stranded in Tijuana because they are undocumented Americans.
I notably met a mother, Maria. His children were born in the United States therefore American citizens thanks to the right of the ground. She has been deported and to survive she is obliged to ask them to help her financially.
Maria lived most of her life in the United States before being deported to Mexico. © Kelly Dassault
More generally, I realized by talking with the people I photographed that the simple fact of being a woman on the street was a double punishment. A man can always urinate in the street ... For a woman, it's more complicated ... A woman has her period every month and migrant women in precarious situations find it difficult to afford hygienic protections. A lot of daily problems that as a young European woman, I was a far cry from imagining myself. A man in the street is dramatic, a woman is even worse.
Have you also experienced the arrival of one of the migrant caravans in the city?
The young girls from the caravan that arrived in Tijuana in January 2019 also left a lasting impression on me. And for once, the press was present in large numbers to take an interest in the event. There was a girl I hadn't photographed because I was trying to help her. She was 19 years old, two children of two different fathers of whom she had no news. Contraception is difficult in these countries, abortion is prohibited and we end up with this type of situation.
I still have news from her. She is now in the United States with her children and supported by associations. I wish I could say that it is wonderful but we do not know what future will be hers, if she can study as she wishes. In any case, in Honduras, she feared for her life in her village. Today, in the United States, it is safe and sound, that's the main thing.
What do these migrants hope to find in the United States?
I met a lot of stuck Africans in Tijuana. They were about thirty years old like me. Many have this almost unusual dream of starting studies in the United States. It is not impossible but I know from personal experience that you have to have a solid financial back to do it. When I hear them talk about this, I really wonder if it's going to be possible for them.
As the daughter of immigrants, I know that immigration means chasing a dream. When my parents arrived in France, they did not think of becoming a worker or a cleaning lady. In the United States, we see that for motivated people there is work. But this is not necessarily what those who emigrate expect. These are often rather thankless and precarious trades.
In Tijuana, many migrants can contemplate their unachievable American dream. © Kelly Dassault
But for these migrants, this dream is not for them but for their children. Parents are ready to sacrifice everything, so that children have the opportunity to study. They don't stay for them. They stay for their children.
Whether it is us in Europe or the Americans in the United States, we have to welcome these people. If they leave with their children under their arms, it is because they suffer unimaginable things. They do not come to take advantage of social security or benefits. They come because their house is burning. No one exposes their children to danger out of gaiety.
Many migrants are families desperately fleeing danger. © Kelly Dassault
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