When I began this project about immigrants, I found a totally different world, where every immigrant had a unique story but in the end had a common objective: reach the American dream, which for many turned into the American nightmare.
Coming from so much misery, where the governments of their native countries have completely forgotten about them and where opportunities don’t exist, they have little choice but to risk taking the train in search of a better life. But for many the only thing they find is bad luck.
Editor’s Note: Eliana Aponte is a highlighted photographer this month on the Reuters website. See an extensive portfolio of her recent work here. Being a photographer is one of the best jobs in the world because when you enjoy what you do it is more a hobby than a job. In our case, it is a hobby with considerable responsibility.As a journalist traveling through different countries, meeting interesting people, or working in inhospitable places, storytelling is a privilege. I have always thought that my eyes are the eyes of many people, and that through them others can see what is happening. When I started as a photographer I always wanted to contribute my bit to make the world a better place. Many of us think that when we are young and full of dreams. As time passes, I realize that the real changes in history are made by the people who are living their own lives. Photographers just document what happens, nothing more.
Reuters photographer Eliana Aponte (2L) is seen while working next to colleagues in the West Bank village of Qabatiya near Jenin, May 15, 2006. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
When I was in Colombia, I spent almost a month in the wildest part of the country where the sun never shines, the sounds of animals never cease and the darkness is neither gray nor black. Reuters was witness to the freeing of 300 policemen and soldiers who had been kidnapped by FARC guerrillas and held in the jungle.It was the hardest experience in my life, both as a photographer and as a human being. I learned there is nothing more degrading than being deprived of freedom in the jungle. I slept, ate and lived like any of the real hostages in those camps. It shocked me to see their blank stares, the paleness on their faces and their hope to walk out of there one day alive; this is what I remember the most. Life in the jungle is an arduous test of mental and physical strength, both of which are necessary to survive. When we arrived at the first camp, everyone wanted to know who we were, and why we were there. To a certain extent our presence there was a confirmation of their freedom but the skepticism in their eyes remained. We told them many times that their captivity was almost over, but they didn’t believe it. We were led to three different camps after long hikes and many hours by boat and vehicle through inhospitable terrain, without the faintest idea of what part of the jungle we were in. As the days passed we reached the conclusion that we were being led in circles around the same area just to throw off our sense of direction. For those who don’t know the jungle, everything is the same, green everywhere.Forty-six Colombian policemen held prisoner by Marxist FARC rebels huddle in a boat June 20, 2001, as they are escorted by guerrillas from behind, near the end of a two-day river journey on their way to being freed in a unilateral release set for June 28. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte The big day arrived and 300 policemen and soldiers recovered their freedom. All local and international media received them as they exited the jungle. The guerrilla leaders called it a humanitarian gesture.
A Marxist FARC rebel crosses over to land as 46 Colombian policemen held prisoner by the group huddle in a boat near the end of a two-day river journey on their way to being freed in a unilateral release set for June 28. The FARC have already freed more than 40 sick policemen and soldiers in return for the government returning 15 sick guerrillas held in state jails. Picture taken on June 20, 2001. REUTERS/Eliana Aponte
The first time I met Angelica I didn’t know how to address him, as a man or a woman. To call him Angelica and then hear his man’s voice was very strange. The first thing I asked was how he wanted to be treated. He said that it depended on how I felt more comfortable. For me she was Angelica. Angelica is an extraordinary person through whose story I began my own in my new country, Mexico. Mexico is enormous and full of contrasts, color, smells and flavors.Angelica has a very unique family. Her daughter Shadra has a pet Egyptian rat. I thought, how can a girl have a pet rat and love it as any child loves a dog. She proudly wanted to show it to me and put it in my hands, but I screamed and told her I was sorry but I just couldn’t hold a rat. I was ashamed to be such a coward. Luckily she understood; she’s an 8-year-old girl with incredible maturity that allows her to accept her father as a man and as a woman at the same time. She respects and doesn’t show shame.Angelica’s wife, Chatall, a lesbian, has always worked to give the best education to their children, Shadra and her other child from a previous marriage, with an open mind that also teaches values and principals. When Chatall realized that she also liked other women, she managed to overcome the barriers and live openly.Throughout the years Angelica has learned to handle well the matter of her double personality. She has even helped others come out of the closet to show their real selves to society. This is her battle.When I first arrived in Mexico four months ago I was alarmed by how much homophobia was on the minds of the people. Gay Pride day was close and I contacted the organizer of the event, who gave me Angelica’s name. I met her family one night and she told me her long story as I tried to understand the differences between the different labels – transgender, transvestite, transsexual. I put together a story plan, starting with visits in which I took no photos and we just spent time together to get them comfortable with my presence.I’ve been a photographer for nearly 16 years, and one of the many marvels that this job offers is the chance to meet people like this, strange for some but wonderful for me, that give me the possibility of experiencing another world.My last stint was three difficult years in Israel. There one sees conflict every day, even in daily life. One of the sayings there is, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And that’s what the Israel experience gave me, strength.What I found in Mexico is a place where there is also conflict, often much bloodier, that shows no sign of ending. As long as drugs are illegal and poverty exists the War will continue. But as a Colombian the subject of drug trafficking, jungle laboratories, coca and land wars is pretty commonplace. That’s why I wanted to begin my life in Mexico with a human story. I wanted to report on something different. The world is not all war, religion or drugs. I wanted to show in some way that in other realities there are happy people, people willing to open their door to show the world how an atypical family lives with mature, respectful and loving children.