Friday, July 19, 2013


The Things They Carried: Jason De Leon's Undocumented Migration Project

Today, the New York Times featured a few photographs from the work of anthropologist Jason De León, who is documenting with tremendous thoughtfulness the detritus of illegal border crossing between the US and Mexico, and in general doing incredible things with the archaeology of the present. He teaches at the University of Michigan, and last semester I took a class in the department and read an article of De León's that knocked me over: he detailed the predatory mini-economies that have sprung up at border towns where these dangerous crossings are staged, the talismanic superstitions that arise around these simple yet life-or-death objects, the water jugs that are black for border patrol camouflage and heat up to 120° each day, the haircuts and cheap new sneakers purchased by border crossers as to "not look poor" upon arrival in the States. More information about De León's Undocumented Migration Project here and here.

Photo credit: Richard Barnes. 

10 Comments / Post A Comment


Oh wow. This is heartbreaking.


Jia, I am too hormonal and stressed out this week to deal with your editorial/curatorial magic.

polka dots vs stripes

The things people put themselves through for just a CHANCE of making it - or their kids making it - in America astounds me. While I believe having a codified immigration system is important, when people disparage illegal immigrants I want them to spend ONE DAY literally walking in their shoes. One day.


@polka dots vs stripes YES. Exactly so.



Faintly Macabre

@polka dots vs stripes My mom works with undocumented immigrants and has just absolutely ridiculous and heartbreaking stories of why people left, how they got here, and what they face when they get here.

A more recent example--a Guatemalan teenage girl whose mother got to America and left her with sexually abusive relatives. One day, she told them she was going to America, and they basically said, "Okay, bye." She illegally went from Guatemala to America all on her own and quickly got caught after crossing. Because she was from Guatemala, they weren't able to just stick her on the bus back to Mexico like the U.S. usually does with kids (yes, kids) caught crossing alone. She's currently going to public school here, and even though she's way behind and gets bullied, she's so excited to get an education that she doesn't mind.

And these crazy stories are the people that make it! When people start ignorantly going on about "We can't just let everybody in" (which I don't think anyone actually advocates) or "Well, they're breaking the law" or building a big fence and surrounding it with guns, it makes me almost speechless.

tin can phone

Thank you for posting this! This is heartbreaking, but incredibly important work. Jia, do you remember the name of the De León article you read?


@tin can phone "better hot than caught." i'll email it to you if you want i found my pdf

tin can phone

@j-i-a Ahh thank you so much! That would be great!!


@tin can phone of course! what is your email??

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