Endangered species

If you’re like most people, you’d probably rather not think about Mexico or illegal immigration. The issue is like a door that hinges on racism: Open it, and you enter a room of overwhelming and seemingly unsolvable social, economic and political problems.

The usual solution is denial. Just forget about it. Meanwhile, the tired, the poor and the huddled masses continue to pour over the border in ever-increasing numbers. I think we all know by now that we can’t ignore that door much longer.
 On Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 1 p.m. in the Ragan Theater, we’ll have a chance to see what we’ve been afraid to look at. Julián Cardona is a photojournalist from Juárez, Mexico who’s been documenting illegal immigration for longer than a decade. He’s going to show a collection of his photos and talk about what’s he’s seen.

I should warn you that it’s not a pretty picture. The government of Mexico essentially no longer performs any social, economic or political function. The country survives on money made from the sale of illegal drugs to the United States, and from the remittances sent home by those who have crossed over illegally.

No one in Mexico now doubts that military forces of drug cartels are stronger than their own army. The court system is a mockery of justice. Judges are paid to let people out of jail; police get paid to kill people; journalists are paid for what they don’t report. And this is just the beginning of a long list of horror stories.

It’s no wonder mothers are willing to walk for days, carrying their babies across the Sonoran Desert in order to give them a chance at life in America. They simply can’t survive at home anymore.

This is part of the picture that Julián Cardona will present to us. We need to see it. We need to know what’s happening and why; or for sure, we’ll pay the price of our ignorance.
 The first thing you should know about Julián Cardona is that he sees his camera as a weapon.

In the place where he comes from, Juárez, Chihuahua, many people carry guns and knives, and many people are murdered every year.  It’s a place without a rule of law, where now even the police refuse to go to work for fear of being killed.

But Julián chooses to stay there, in the house where he grew up; and whenever he leaves his house, he has his camera at his side, his weapon for fighting injustice. He uses it to document the effects of power — photographing the dead bodies, the factory workers, the fleeing immigrants on their trek to America.

He could leave Juárez anytime. He could go to another city in Mexico, or he could get a green card and move to the United States. He stays because to leave would be deserting his people, his country and what he sees as his calling in life.

I’ve met a lot of journalists in my life, some of them very successful and famous, but I respect none more than Julián Cardona. And his photos are like testaments, rock-solid evidence of his first-hand experience in the trenches of globalization. If I look at just one of them, I can hear a distinctive voice, like a scream. If I look at 50, I have to lie down and recover from a beating. Cardona is simply among the best photojournalists in the world today, and I feel honored that he’s agreed to come speak at our school.

You may not be interested in Mexico or illegal immigration; but if you have a pulse at all, you should be able to recognize the value of meeting someone who’s risking his own life to tell the truth to the rest of us.

Julián Cardona is a hero in a world where heroes are an endangered species. Don’t pass up a chance to see what one looks and feels like.

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