Images I can’t get out of my mind

It’s July 4th. Our nation’s great big birthday party day. Yet as much as there is to love about our nation, right now there’s way too much of the other stuff happening. Whatever happened to the American dream?

On 2 July 2018, The New York Times featured an article by Laura M. Holson about Tom Kiefer and his collection of photographs, “El Sueño Americano” (The American Dream). Now retired, Mr. Kiefer worked as a janitor at a border crossing between Mexico and the USA. Holson writes,

There, he collected tens of thousands of items that were confiscated and thrown in the trash by Border Patrol agents from undocumented migrants crossing the border from Mexico into the United States. He began photographing the items in 2007.

“I couldn’t leave them,” he said.

Below is a small selection from his collection of over 600 photographs. Each photo includes Kiefer’s explanation about why these items were routinely confiscated. On one level, they document the stripping away of life-sustaining items from women, children and men crossing the border. They also say something (what is it?) about our nation’s ongoing obsession about ‘them’ and ‘us.’

You can find scores more at Tom Kiefer’s website. I find his contribution to our current conversation about immigrants seeking asylum invaluable. Worth more than written commentaries or debates about the fine points of the law. If you live in Michigan, over 100 of Mr. Kiefer’s photos will go on exhibit in October at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.

Each photo includes Kiefer’s brief explanation about why these items were confiscated. The small toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes at the top were considered potentially lethal non-essential personal property, and disposed of during intake. Mr. Kiefer notes that “while in custody, most migrants will not have access to toothpaste and toothbrushes.”

Here are four other examples. The first two were considered personal items and non-essential. In addition, the combs and brushes were considered potentially lethal.

Next we have cans of tuna. Along with other food items confiscated such as beef jerky, granola bars, dehydrated soup and powdered milk, they were considered contraband and disposed of during intake. Mr. Kiefer notes that tuna is an efficient, compact source of protein, and that this particular brand had a pull-top lid.

Next we have heavy-duty gloves used for many purposes. However, given the desert and mountain terrain of the border, plus sometimes below-freezing winter temperatures, they were invaluable. Yet they, too, were considered non-essential personal property and discarded at intake.

Finally, a photo of an item migrants carried in their bandanas. Non-essential personal property. Discarded.

What’s going on here? I don’t know. But I’ll make my comments in another post, and would love to hear from you as well.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 4 July 2018
Photos found at the New York Times and on Tom Kiefer’s website (see links above)