CULTURE & ARTS

Migrant Caravan Photographer Saw Heart-Wrenching Scenes Through Her Lens

Ada Trillo began following the Central American caravan after hearing Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric, calling her art a form of "peaceful protest."
<i>Laura and Her Daughter</i><br>In late October 2018, after a nearly 500-mile trek, Laura and her daughter Erika crossed int
Laura and Her Daughter
In late October 2018, after a nearly 500-mile trek, Laura and her daughter Erika crossed into Mexico from Honduras via the Suchiate River. Laura, age 19, had been carrying her daughter the entire journey and sometimes resorted to drinking water with sugar to fill their empty stomachs.

The Central American caravan became a fear-mongering cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric last year as he claimed it was a vehicle for crime riddled with gang members that presented a national emergency to the U.S. 

However, that was a far cry from what Ada Trillo witnessed through the lens of her camera.

The Philadelphia-based photographer opened her “Chasing Freedom” exhibition at the city’s University of the Arts this month, where until Thursday, she is showcasing a series of portraits taken during her time traveling with the caravan in October 2018. 

Speaking to HuffPost last week, Trillo pointed to one image in particular among the collection of black-and-white shots ― an 8-year-old girl named Diana who stands before a tent of migrants in her stocking feet wearing a shimmering dress and a grin.

Trillo titled the photo “The Princess.”

<i>The Princess, Benito Juarez Shelter</i><br>Ana rests against her tent inside Benito Juaez, a massive shelter in Tijuana, M
The Princess, Benito Juarez Shelter
Ana rests against her tent inside Benito Juaez, a massive shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Ana and her parents traveled from Honduras hoping to cross into the United States, but amidst the chaos at the border, they sought refuge at the shelter.

It was taken at the Benito Juarez shelter in the border city of Tijuana just after clothing was distributed there. Diana made sure she grabbed the item as the pieces were offered up one by one.

“That day they had very little to eat,” Trillo recalled, adding that portable restrooms had begun to leak.

“Very little food, awful smell, kids with no shoes walking through there, but she was smiling because she got this tiny little thing, which was the dress, and that reminds us that we’re humans, that we have the ability to smile, that we have the ability to have small joys, that we have the ability to have hope.”

Last year, Trillo made the decision to photograph migrants’ journeys after reflecting on Trump’s June 2015 speech where he announced his run for the White House.

For Trillo, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and spent her childhood in the nearby Mexican city of Juarez, the remarks the then-candidate delivered on immigration weren’t just political; they were personal.

“When Trump made his comment that Mexicans are rapists and murderers and that they don’t bring their best, I was extremely offended because growing up on the border, I knew that that was not true,” Trillo said.

For several weeks, Trillo traveled with migrants, documenting their experiences and offering a glimpse at their humanity.

Still, she believes tensions surrounding immigration issues has only intensified.

“I feel that this president has divided the country extremely and it’s a shame,” she said. “I see a lot of people very, very angry on both sides — I’ve never seen it as bad as I see it now. The situation on the border is absurd.”

<i>A Mother and Her Son in Tijuana</i><br>Javi, who has Down syndrome, hugs his mother Maria Lucia Cardinas in the Benito Jur
A Mother and Her Son in Tijuana
Javi, who has Down syndrome, hugs his mother Maria Lucia Cardinas in the Benito Juraez shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. They left Honduras after Maria’s two brothers were murdered and their house was burned down. Maria and Javi were allowed entry into the U.S. while their asylum case is under review. They received support from the Minority Humanitarian Foundation and currently reside in San Diego, California.

Now, Trillo worries that Trump’s retaliatory effort to cut U.S. aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will backfire by worsening conditions in the so-called “Northern Triangle” countries, prompting more citizens to flee their homes.

The photographer’s work on the border isn’t over. She is currently seeking grants to return this summer to continue her mission and follow up with subjects with whom she’s kept in touch.

“This is my way of saying, ‘No, this is not what I think is right,’” she said. “This is my way of a peaceful protest ― through art.”

View more of Trillo’s photographs in the slideshow below.

  • La Boda
    Mar is a member of the migrant caravan from Honduras and participated in an LGBTQ wedding in Tijuana, Mexico. Same-sex marria
    Ada Trillo
    Mar is a member of the migrant caravan from Honduras and participated in an LGBTQ wedding in Tijuana, Mexico. Same-sex marriage is illegal in Honduras.
  • Ana at the Benito Juraez Shelter
    Ana rests against her tent inside Benito Juraez, a massive shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Ana and her parents traveled from Hond
    Ada Trillo
    Ana rests against her tent inside Benito Juraez, a massive shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. Ana and her parents traveled from Honduras hoping to cross into the United States, but amidst the chaos at the border, they sought refuge at the shelter.
  • Migrants Board a Bus in Navojoa
    Migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatamala, also known as &ldquo;The Northern Triangle,&rdquo; get on a bus in Navojoa
    Ada Trillo
    Migrants from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatamala, also known as “The Northern Triangle,” get on a bus in Navojoa headed for Tijuana. The Mexican government stepped in to provide safe passage across the Narco States of Sonora and Sinaloa after 100 migrants were kidnapped in the state of Puebla.
  • Concención at the Border Wall in Tijuana
    Concenci&oacute;n, a 45-year-old migrant from Honduras, lost his leg on the infamous La Bestia, otherwise known as &ldquo;The
    Ada Trillo
    Concención, a 45-year-old migrant from Honduras, lost his leg on the infamous La Bestia, otherwise known as “The Train of Death.” Utilized by U.S.-bound migrants to traverse Mexico quickly, the trains transport hundreds of thousands of migrants annually.
  • Kevin at the Border Wall in Tijuana
    Kevin, also known as Giselle, joined an LGBTQ community group that turned themselves in at a point of entry on the U.S. borde
    Ada Trillo
    Kevin, also known as Giselle, joined an LGBTQ community group that turned themselves in at a point of entry on the U.S. border to seek asylum.
  • Maria Fernanda on the Road in Chiapas
    Maria, 15, is dressed as a boy to protect herself during her journey. As many as three out of five women and girls are raped
    Ada Trillo
    Maria, 15, is dressed as a boy to protect herself during her journey. As many as three out of five women and girls are raped during migrant journeys according to Amnesty International.
  • Maria and Her Son, Tapachula, Chiapas Mexico
    Maria and her son fled Honduras to escape the M13 gang when she was unable to pay her monthly extortion fees.  As a result, g
    Ada Trillo
    Maria and her son fled Honduras to escape the M13 gang when she was unable to pay her monthly extortion fees. As a result, gang members robbed her house and attempted to recruit her son.
  • Seeking Asylum
    A mother and her child rest after traveling over 2,700 miles from Honduras. Attempting to present themselves as asylum seeker
    Ada Trillo
    A mother and her child rest after traveling over 2,700 miles from Honduras. Attempting to present themselves as asylum seekers to the U.S. immigration authorities, they were blocked by a human barrier formed by Mexican police just 500 feet from the border.
  • Reinforcing the Wall
    Workers line the top of the border wall with coils of barbed wire in Tijuana, Mexico.
    Ada Trillo
    Workers line the top of the border wall with coils of barbed wire in Tijuana, Mexico.
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