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Capturing the Humanity of a Migrant Family

LocalCapturing the Humanity of a Migrant Family


Good morning. It’s Tuesday. Today we’ll look at what a migrant family endured to get to New York City and talk to the visual journalist who helped chronicle their odyssey.

They slept in a tent in Mexico City. They trudged past bodies in a jungle. They braved the crowds in Times Square.

The Aguilar Ortega family — Henry and Leivy, and their children, ages 6, 10 and 11 — were among the thousands of migrants who made their way through Latin America to New York City last year. The journey was both dangerous and joyous, and the turbulence did not end after they reached their destination.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní, a New York Times immigration reporter, and Juan Arredondo, a visual journalist, reported from Mexico, Texas, New York and Connecticut to chronicle the family’s 5,000-mile migration.

Mr. Arredondo, 46, has traveled the world for his reporting over the past 15 years and is now based in New York City. I emailed with him recently to discuss his reporting for this story and his decision to focus on human rights issues throughout his career.

The story is available in English and Spanish.

This has been condensed and lightly edited.

How did you come to meet the Aguilar Ortega family?

I met the Aguilar Ortega family in Mexico City while reporting on Mayor Eric Adams’s trip through Latin America last October with the reporter Andy Newman. One of the mayor’s purposes for this trip was to persuade new immigrants not to make New York City their final destination.

We visited the Northern Bus Station in Mexico City, where thousands of migrants catch rides and buses to Chihuahua, Monterrey and northern destinations. The Aguilar Ortega family’s determination was evident.

They were stranded in the city, the father tirelessly seeking work to gather enough money for five bus tickets. They offered to share videos and photos of their journey, which would be invaluable for the story. Once the family made it to Chihuahua and secured an appointment at the border to seek asylum, I proposed to my editor, Eve Edelheit, to follow the family and document their journey from the border to New York City.

Why have you chosen to focus on social inequality and human rights issues in your work?

I grew up in Colombia at the height of the drug wars of the 1980s and ’90s. I witnessed car bombings and drive-by shootings, and lost childhood friends in that narco-dystopia. I later moved to the United States and experienced some of the hardships and challenges of new immigrants. I eventually took up photography to explore this new country through the eyes of an immigrant.

I began to find my sense of belonging and identity. I ultimately took an interest in reconnecting with Colombia, the people and its complex past, its internal armed conflict and how it affected my family and Colombians. That is where I started to focus on human rights issues, such as internally displaced people, armed conflict, child soldiers and social inequity. I continue to report on the Venezuelan diaspora in Colombia and other social issues in Latin America and the United States.

I enjoyed how you captured the Aguilar Ortega family’s small, intimate moments. How do you get people, especially children, to be comfortable enough to be natural when you’re around?

With a story of this length, there is a lot of downtime to hang out. I visited them many times over nine months, texting, calling and sharing videos, photos of important moments. It draws you closer to their life.

By spending more time with them, I got to know them, and they got to know me better, and we built trust. Over time, the family was invested in telling their story, allowing me to be in very intimate moments of their journey without me becoming a distraction to them as they were dealing with very difficult circumstances and decisions. In these intimate moments, I hoped to capture their humanity.

Does any particular portion of the journey stand out to you? Why?

The one I remember the most is when the family visited Times Square for the first time. The parents had promised the children they would get there one day, and that is what the parents used to motivate them throughout their journey. But it was also a difficult portion of their journey because they had set New York as their final destination and where they hoped to start anew, but it was difficult for them to find work and settle in the city.

Another part that stands out for me was seeing the family cross the border and be given a chance to seek asylum and seeing relief on their faces.

What was the most challenging part of this story?

As a visual journalist, the biggest challenge for me is the unpredictability. The nature of this story revolves around a family on the move, facing often dangerous circumstances.

My initial challenge was to stay in touch with the family, ensuring we did not lose communication. It often happens that they sell their cellphones for food or to pay for transportation, and their phones are taken away by authorities or smugglers. The second challenge was to get the family to participate in the story and keep me updated on their journey for the moments when I couldn’t be there with them.

What is something you think the average person doesn’t fully understand about what it takes to do a project like this?

There are many moving pieces involved in producing and reporting a story like this one. It includes challenges in reporting, staying in touch with the family, and learning about their plans and decisions without being judgmental or interfering. It also requires patience, waiting for days, weeks or even months to document the family’s transition to a new country and city. There is also the emotional aspect of reporting on a story of this length; at some point, it starts to get to me as a reporter. You want everything to go well for children and the parents, but at times, it doesn’t, and it affects you.


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Expect a partly sunny day with a chance of showers and temperatures in the low 90s. At night, showers continue with temperatures in the low 70s.

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Dear Diary:

hip-hop is all up

& down the street

i hear a kid to his girlfriend,

sitting on a low step

— i hear him say wu-tang

just released a new album,

i think that’s what he says,

this is bleecker street, & its

50 years of hip-hop weekend,

just passed a guy w/a yellow

t- the green print reads:

“hip-hop” & he’s saying

there’s lots of hip-hop stuff

this weekend

& i say to the kid on the step

do you like wu-tang

& he says: a little bit

Eve Packer

Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.




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