From very early on, we had a clear intention. We wanted to frame the story differently.
In every newspaper and broadcast news, they were all over it. In the spring of 2022, a new wave of migration hit America's shores, and journalists had the spotlight on it.
A quarter of a million people risked their lives to cross the Darién Gap last year. More than a hundred thousand arrived in New York City without shoelaces or bags. Bused from detention centers in the border states, like Texas, many didn't even know where they were going.
The Port Authority was transformed into a welcoming center, a meeting place for city authorities and civil organizations. For almost three months, there was always a camera on the corner of 8th Avenue and 42nd Street. And our camera was one of them.
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Sometimes it felt uncomfortable being one more journalist in the crowd. Squeezing to find a good angle, pointing the camera at the new arrivals, trying very hard to frame a scene.
But from very early on, we had a clear intention. We wanted to frame the story differently: We wanted to be the camera that stayed for the aftermath.
Our interest was to witness what was happening as a point of departure, but the real goal was to follow up in the long term on what happens after the spotlight is turned off.
And that was exactly what I said to the people I approached. Many didn't like the idea of having me around for a long time. But I wanted to be straightforward and find someone completely on board.
Of the many people who arrived in New York, two of them liked my proposal.
Jorge Ojeda and Jeczebel Lopez left Venezuela on September 4, 2022. I met them on October 25; they had just arrived. I didn't have to convince them to give me an interview. I didn't even have to approach them, actually.
A volunteer from a nonprofit organization introduced me to them. I said my name and what I was doing, and then I just listened. Exactly for 44 minutes and 51 seconds, I listened.
The first thing I recorded with them was a voice memo in which they told me all about their crossing, the hardships of the journey, the fights they had along the way, how they stood up for each other at the end, the kids they left behind. . . . They wanted so much to be heard and seen. I wanted so much to hear and see. That's how we connected in the first place.
Jeczebel and Jorge fled Venezuela because they opposed President Maduro's government but could not protest, afraid of retaliation. They were at a point where they weren't able to feed their children, having to choose between breakfast, lunch or dinner. The United States was for them a way out of the economic and political crisis.
For almost a year, we’ve been able to capture verité scenes of their daily lives: the routine inside of a shelter, the loneliness of Christmas apart from their families, the daily video calls to Venezuela, the hard work in the winter, their daughter’s constant need for medical treatment. We achieved intimacy in a way that the camera was not a stranger in the room anymore.
That, I learned, takes time. It means setting ethical boundaries. One of the greatest challenges of this project was establishing the line that separates reporter and source. It is impossible not to emotionally engage with people with whom you live for nearly a year, every week, accompanying them throughout the most difficult situations of their lives. But it is also essential that there be a boundary. Otherwise, we would alter reality.
The mere presence of the camera changes everything. Ours attracted attention on the street and, in some cases, drew in people—and institutions—that ended up helping the couple. But our goal, whenever possible, was to be invisible, without ceasing to be empathetic and sensitive to the difficult moments we were witnessing. There is no recipe or rule that can be written. I only learned my own way of doing this after landing.