Reportage

Being Seen. Being Heard: Ride Slow, Take Photos – 1200 Miles Of Conversations Along the Butterfield Overland Mail Route


On November 1st, 2018 I rolled out to cover 1200 miles of the old Butterfield Overland Mail Route from San Francisco to Tucson, AZ. For almost a year prior the headlines had been dominated by news of things happening along America’s southern border. Child Separations. Immigration Caravans. National Guard deployments. On social media channels the rhetoric from all sides, which had already been getting increasingly strident, ramped up to a fever pitch. Normal conversations spiraled completely out of control. I found myself caught up in it all, furious at family members, friends, and strangers alike.

Photo Credit: “Ride Slow, Take Photos”, Adobe Create

So I decided to unplug, punch out, take a ride and spend some time talking with people. Was it possible to meet with strangers and have conversations about the economy, homelessness, immigration, racism, the environment, and history? Would there be threads in what they said which pointed to common ground, or would everyone be so wildly divergent that there would be no hope of ever meeting in the middle? Was the real world becoming more like the virtual one, or was it the other way around?

Over the course of the next 19 days, riding a Rawland Ravn and taking photographs with a 50’s era Speed Graphic camera and a camera lens I made myself, I traversed paved, sand, gravel, and dirt roads while interviewing over 15 people. They included an immigration lawyer, US Border Patrol officers, a fish rancher, a Zen Buddhist minister, artists, Native Americans, a older woman who was born and raised in a Dust Bowl era Works Administration Camp as well as the young woman who manages the migrant labor housing unit that same location is used for today.

In the end, what I found was people. Not statistics or angry online ranters but just people who simply wanted to talk to someone, be heard and then listen in return. It was an incredible experience that I cannot recommend enough…

 

the Stories Behind the Photos

Daryl Barnes, Photographer and homeless advocate, Oakland, CA
11/1/2018

Kodak Ektascan B/RA X-Ray film (50 asa rated, 3.25×4.25)

“I grew up in and out of homelessness. We didn’t have alot of money but I loved photography so I’d get disposable cameras when I could afford them. That’s how I learned how to shoot. Here in the Bay Area the problem (homelessness) is getting worse and worse. Developers are changing neighborhoods into high income housing in places where low income used to be. So the only option you have is to move into a tent or a car.”

Katie Annand, Lead Attorney, Kids In Need of Defense Northern California, San Francisco, CA
11/1/2018

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“Immigration courts are an administrative system under the DOJ. There is no right to counsel. You can have one but it’s not a right. At the initial docket over half of the unaccompanied minors don’t have an attorney. They are often completely alone, speak no English and are unsure what is happening until the court interpreter arrives. They’ll often defer to the judge or the government attorney thinking that will help their case but the exact opposite happens. 90% of all unrepresented minors are ordered deported, whereas an unrepresented minor with counsel is 5x more likely to get protection.

KIND focuses on family unification, keeping families together, and the basic civil rights and human rights that are often denied to these kids. They are often fleeing violence and death in their home country.”

Pet Cemetery, Colma, CA
11/1/2018

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Koda Farms, South Dos Palos, CA
11/3/2018

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Founded in the 1920’s by Japanese immigrant Keisaburo Koda, Koda Farms is one of the oldest Japanese rice farms in the United States. The Koda family lost everything due to a relocation to a Japanese American internment camp located in Colorado during WWII. After the war Keisaburo and his sons, Edward and William, restarted their farm and eventually bought back the original property.

After the war, Keisaburo became highly active in Japanese American civil rights. A supporter and active member of JACL (Japanese American Citizens League), he launched the People’s Rights Protection Association to lobby against the notorious Alien Land Law (declared unconstitutional in 1948). In 1947, he organized the Naturalization Rights League and served as president. In the same era, he helped start a Japanese American-owned and operated insurance company to provide full coverage to Americans of Japanese descent. Recognizing a need for fair treatment in banking, Keisaburo was instrumental in opening Bank of Tokyo’s first California branch, becoming a director in 1952.

Vacation Cabin Rental Ad, Panoche Creek River Ranch, Fresno, CA
11/3/2018

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A vacation cabin mounted on stilts acts as an advertisement for vacation rentals at Panoche Creek River Ranch outside of Fresno, CA.

Private reservoir, Almond farm, Delano, CA
11/4/2018

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Roadside memorial after Dia De Los Muertos, Delano, CA
11/5/2018

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Days after Dia De Los Muertos the roadside memorials in the central valley are all graced with gifts for those they represent.

Sharon Garrison, Weedpatch, CA
11/7/2018

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Sharon Garrison was born in the Sunset Camp and lived there until she was 7 when it was shut down. Sunset Camp was a migrant labor camp during the Dust Bowl and the setting for the Grapes of Wrath. The book itself leaned heavily on the camp administrators notes.

“There wasn’t alot of privacy. None, really. When you used the toilet it was just a pair of trenches, your knees would touch the person across from you. But we had a community here that came to work hard, try to reclaim their lives (from the Dust Bowl). There was alot of discrimination. People would call us “Dirty Okies”, put out signs telling us we weren’t wanted, to use a separate line or sit in the back.”

Mia Sara Perez, Arvin Farm Labor Center, Weedpatch, CA
11/7/2018

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Mia Sara Perez is the manager of the Arvin Farm Labor Center housing units that are located on the grounds of the original Dust Bowl era camp. Born and raised in the area she started working in the fields when she was 14.

Her Grandmother, with whom Mia is extraordinarily close, has been a field worker her whole life. In her 70’s, Mia’s Grandmother still works in the fields. “The workers that come here, this is what they do. Some of them came with their parents when they were kids, and now they are parents bringing their kids. The workers come from Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Coachella…all they want is to make an honest living so they can support their families. It’s incredibly hard work. Some of the crops require you to be on your knees, all day, when you pick. Nobody else is willing to take these jobs.”

Historical building, Arvin Federal Government Camp, Weedpatch, CA
11/7/2018

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Arvin Federal Government Camp, also known as Weedpatch Camp, was one of several Federal Works Progress Administration camps created in the Central Valley of California during the Great Depression. It was the real world setting for the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and remains in use as a migrant labor housing camp under control of the Kern County Housing Authority.

Dust Bowl era beds, Arvin Federal Government Camp, Weedpatch, CA
11/7/2018

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The interior of a Dust Bowl era housing unit at Arvin Federal Government Camp, also known as Weedpatch Camp.

Sunrise Over The Hills, Gorman, CA
11/7/2018

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The morning sunrise throws deep shadows in the fields and hills of Gorman, CA on the descent into Antelope Valley.

Fireline, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, CA
11/7/2018

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A prescribed burn fire line ending at a road in Antelope Valley, CA.

Shot 4: Los Angeles Power Plant 2, Santa Clarita, CA., CA
11/7/2018

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Beale’s Cut, Santa Clarita, CA
11/7/2018

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Prior to the creation of the highway system Beale’s Cut was a 90ft gap cut into the side of Newhall Pass. Mail wagons from the Butterfield Overland Mail Route were pulled up and lowered down the other side as they made their way to San Francisco. After it was closed Beale’s Cut was still used in silent movies for many years. Stuntmen jumping over the gap on horses were a common sight in many Westerns. In the 1994 Northridge Earthquake it suffered a partial collapse, and now is about 30 feet deep.

Fox, Indian Alley, Los Angeles, CA
11/8/2018

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Indian Alley is the unofficial name given to a stretch of an alley in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, so designated for the significance the area held for indigent American Indians from the 1970s to the 1990s. Since 2011 the alley has become a notable site for Los Angeles street art hosting murals and sculptures that commemorate its historical significance to Skid Row’s American Indian community.

Jaque Fragua, Pima Tribal Member, Painter & Greenpeace Activist, Indian Alley, Los Angeles, CA
11/8/2018

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Indian Alley is the unofficial name given to a stretch of an alley in the Skid Row area of downtown Los Angeles, so designated for the significance the area held for indigent American Indians from the 1970s to the 1990s. Since 2011 the alley has become a notable site for Los Angeles street art hosting murals and sculptures that commemorate its historical significance to Skid Row’s American Indian community. Jaque Fragua was one of the first artists invited to paint a mural on its walls.

“Through the relocation programs, a lot of natives were going to different industrial cities because they were promised jobs. It was another form of training or assimilating into Western culture. The government thought, “Instead of killing them off, because they tried that and that didn’t work, we’ll take their identity out of them and then make them a cog in the wheel.”

“But when they got there the jobs didn’t exist. A lot of natives fall into substance abuse and homelessness. This alley became a place that was a de facto reservation space, because of all the people who came to this treatment center. They came here to get some kind of help.”

Los Angeles River, Los Angeles, CA
11/8/2018

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Hayden Kirkman, Director of Operations, Primal Pastures, Temecula, CA
11/10/2018

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“We want to change the conversation about food. It shouldn’t be dollars per pound. It should be dollars per nutrient. People should also know where their food really comes from. We welcome all visitors to come to see us, see our coops, see our pastures, see how we treat our animals. Tyson and other big ag corporations, they won’t do that.”

Ronnie Dean, RD’s Log Cabin, Warner Springs, CA
11/11/2018

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“I retired 27 years ago. 2 days later I bought this place and I’ve been here ever since. On any given day we get 1 to 1,000 people. We aren’t cooking anything yet, but here…have a cup of coffee. Do you like sweets? The guys come by every morning with pastries for me. Have one! Anyways, the secret is…be happy today, and then work a little harder to be happier tomorrow.” – Ronny Dean, owner, RD’s Log Cabin.

Great Southern Overland Stage Route Road, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, CA
11/12/2018

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Going to school, Calexico, CA
11/13/2018

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Border Patrol Officers, Calexico, CA
11/13/2018

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Border Patrol officers Justin Castrejon, Jose Enriquez, and Justin Zaffuto. When asked what people could do if they wanted to talk about current Border Patrol policies, Office Enriquez said, “There are a lot of misunderstandings about what the Border Patrol does or doesn’t do. I’d say, please, come talk to us. Tell me what you’re thinking. I don’t mind. I’ll listen and I’ll talk to you in return. Some of the stuff we will talk about could be ugly. But talking through the ugly stuff is where change happens.”

Tire “Drag”, US-Mexico Border, CA
11/13/2018

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The Border Patrol calls this a “drag”. They use it to create long, smooth sections of sand along roads so that anyone who crosses it leaves prints.

The Border Wall, US-Mexico Border, Gordon Wells, CA
11/13/2018

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The border wall between Calexico, CA and Yuma, AZ. This section of the US border is one of the most heavily patrolled in the entire country.

Sand Rail, Imperial Sand Dunes, US-Mexico Border, CA
11/13/2018

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What is now known as the Imperial Sand Dunes is the reason that the Butterfield Overland Mail Route went south of the US-Mexico border. The wagons, pulled by horses and laden down with mail and passengers, were incapable of passing through the deep sand.

Angel Chavez, Cesar Chavez family home (ruins), Yuma, CA
11/14/2018

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Labor icon Cesar Chavez was born in a modest two-room adobe house outside of Yuma, AZ. The family moved to San Jose, CA when he was 8 and the home slowly fell into ruin. “Would Cesar have been successful now? It’s hard to say. There would have been more people from the outside that environment who would have come in to help, I think. But it’s like we talked earlier. What do you do when you don’t know? You just go ahead and do it. I think he would have just gone ahead and done it no matter what.”

Cesar Chavez family home (ruins), Yuma, CA
11/14/2018

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Labor icon Cesar Chavez was born in a modest two-room adobe house outside of Yuma, AZ. The family moved to San Jose, CA when he was 8 and the home slowly fell into ruin.

Tark Rush, Desert Springs Tilapia, Dateland, AZ
11/15/2018

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“Why aren’t Americans working in the fields picking lettuce for $15 an hour? Because they don’t want to.”

“They should give those (immigrants in hold) to farmers. ‘You can get out of here (jail) but you’re going to work on this farm and you’re going to make $15 an hour. Let the farmer employ them as their paperwork goes through. Because to just hold somebody in a frickin’ cell that aren’t bad people, you know what I mean? You hold them for nothing, you know?”

“I’m a Republican, but I like change. So I like Republican, Democrat, Republican, Democrat, Republican, Democrat. ‘Cause one goes one way and the other goes the other way. You get too many Republicans in a row they screw everything up. Too many Democrats in a row and they screw everything up. It’s always better to have that chaos and let it work its way in the middle. I think 50% of the people will go, either way, you know what I mean? I’ll vote Democratic if I like the person. I’m not going to vote Republican all the time.”

Petroglyphs, Painted Rock Petroglyph Site and Campground (BLM), Dateland, AZ
11/16/2018

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With over 800 ancient petroglyphs Painted Rock is the largest collection of Hohokam rock carvings in existence. There are also inscriptions from Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1775-1776 expedition, the Mormon Battalion in the 1840s, the Butterfield Overland Mail, and countless numbers of pioneers.

Irrigation Watergates, Gila Bend, AZ
11/16/2018

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In the Central Valley of California and also throughout Arizona water is everything. Irrigation canals line the landscape and flooded fields in the middle of otherwise arid environments are common. Paul Molina, of the Gila River Indian tribe, said to me, “It’s becoming more and more rare to find anyone who has actually seen the Gila River flow. It used to be a mile or more wide in some places. Now it’s all used up for crops or cities.”

Lucinda Hinojos, Artist & Immigration Activist, Phoenix, AZ
11/17/2018

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Lucinda Hinojos in front of her Dreamers mural in Phoenix, AZ. “Other artists in Arizona…they don’t paint regarding political topics, it’s just art. The only way I know how to engage is doing this, and doing in a space that needs it the most. And that’s Phoenix. That’s Arizona. Phoenix is the front line (of the immigration debate). This is it. Right here. My work as an activist fuels my art.”

Michael Tang, Zen Buddhist Minister, Arizona Buddhist Temple, Phoenix, AZ
11/17/2018

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Michael Tang’s Grandfather served in the US military intelligence service during WWII. At the same time as the rest of his family was interned in the Gila River Relocation Camp south of Phoenix. His Grandfather maintained the memorial for the camp until he passed away. Mike grew up going out to the memorial with his Grandfather. The two were very close. He is now an assistant minister at the Arizona Buddhist Temple. “Grandfather was a huge proponent of making sure people knew what happened to the Japanese Americans during the war. He thought that those who forgot the past are doomed to repeat it. He would have been appalled at what is happening now. But his reaction would be to use education and compassion to talk to people. Not hate or anger.”

From the Buddhist perspective, everyone is equal. No one is above another person. And that commonality is the number one thing you go into a conversation with. All people are equal. All people die. All people suffer. And that commonality is the beginning of any kind of dialogue that we have. When there is no one left to yell at there’s nothing to do but change.”

Quinceañera Portrait, Phoenix Indian School, Phoenix, AZ
11/17/2018

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One of many such institutions, the Indian School in Phoenix took kids from American Indian reservations and stripped them of their history and culture. Kids were not allowed to be in dorms near members of their own tribes. They were punished for speaking their native language. The schools themselves often became a source of cheap labor for local businesses and were rife with abuse. Once the kids “graduated” they still weren’t accepted in American society but they no longer fit into their cultural homes on the reservations.

Gila River War Relocation Center (ruins), Gila River, AZ
11/18/2018
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Built 30 miles southeast of Phoenix, AZ on Gila River Indian Community tribal land the Gila River War Relocation center housed 13,348 Japanese Americans at its peak. The camp operated from 1942 to 1945. Originally built to house 10,000 the overpopulation forced people to live in the mess hall and recreation buildings.

Paul Molina, co-founder of 7 Layer Army, Gila River Indian Community skatepark, Sacaton, AZ
11/18/2018

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Paul Molina, co-founder of Seven Layer Army, at the Sacaton Skatepark. He co-founded Seven Layer Army (a skateboard company) for the sole purpose of giving back to his community and creating a future for his family.

“For me, it was all about giving back to the community. I wanted to help these kids have something I didn’t have when I was growing up. I also wanted to lay a foundation for my family, for my children.”

“There’s a lot of stuff going on right now (at the border). There’s an issue with the Tohono O’odham people that do live down there in Tucson, close to the border. The government wants to build a wall there and people are really against that, especially because it cuts through the reservation that’s there. Why should we build this wall across our reservation when it’s not our war? You know? Why would we divide each other from ourselves?”

Gila River Indian Community skatepark, Sacaton, AZ
11/18/2018

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Paul Molina, co-founder of Seven Layer Army, at the Sacaton Skatepark. He co-founded Seven Layer Army (a skateboard company) for the sole purpose of giving back to his community and creating a future for his family. One of their goals is to get a skatepark built in every district of the Gila River Indian Community, seven in total.

Wayne Martin Belger, Tucson, AZ
11/19/2018

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A trained machinist and self-taught pinhole photographer, Wayne has never owned a “real” camera. Nor has he ever bought a pinhole camera. All of his cameras are handmade, special, for each project. Laden with symbolism and fanatic attention to details each is a work of art into itself.

His latest project, “Us vs. Them”, focuses on the artificial constructs that governments create to divide people from each other for the sake of power. “Are we really so different from the Syrian refugees fleeing to Greece? Or the water protectors protesting the building of an oil pipeline through their land, in the water they need to drink from and grow food with? I will spend weeks with a community before I take one photograph. I want to know them and for them to know me. I have a huge problem with photographers who come in for a day, take thousands of rapid-fire images, and then leave. One Syrian refugee told me that in Syria he distrusted and feared two things: Guns and cameras. Both would take away and never give back.”

Federal Honor Camp (WWII prison camp) Ruins, Gordon Hirabayashi Campground, Tucson, AZ
11/20/2018

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Gordon Hirabayashi was a senior at the University of Washington in 1942. He challenged the constitutionality of internment based on race or ancestry. He turned himself in to the FBI rather than report for relocation. His case went to the Supreme Court in 1943 where he was convicted and sentenced to serve at the Federal Honor Camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

In 1987 Peter Irons, a political science professor from the University of California, San Diego, had uncovered documents that clearly showed evidence of government misconduct in 1942—evidence that the government knew there was no military reason for the exclusion order but withheld that information from the United States Supreme Court. With this new information, Hirabayashi’s case was reheard by the federal courts, and in 1987 the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned his criminal conviction. In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan, which acknowledged the injustice and apologized for the internment.