/14 Portraits

Michelle Frankfurter


Meaning both “destination” and “destiny” in Spanish, Destino portrays the perilous journey of undocumented Central American migrants along the network of freight trains lurching inexorably across Mexico, towards the hope of finding work in the United States. It is the odyssey of a generation of exiles across a landscape that is becoming increasingly dangerous, heading towards a precarious future as an option of last resorts. The unprecedented wave of Central American migration began a full century after Mexican immigration to the U.S., the consequence of bloody civil wars, US cold war intervention and crippling international trade policies. Such conflicts left a legacy of drug and gang related violence, rampant domestic abuse and unrelenting poverty. In Mexico, where racism towards Central Americans is prevalent, undocumented migrants are vulnerable to a multitude of dangers that have escalated dramatically in recent years: the police who routinely rob and beat them, corrupt immigration officials who detain and deport them, and bandits and gang members who prey upon them along the train route. Many have been injured or killed falling off moving trains. Heightened security along the nearly three thousand-mile stretch of U.S. border has made the crossing more dangerous than ever, as smugglers lead migrants through increasingly isolated terrain in order to avoid detection. Los Zetas, a renegade battalion of a Mexican military unit initially deployed to combat drug trafficking has established a kidnapping ring targeting Central American migrants. From these many adversities, migrants find respite in a loose system of shelters run by Catholic priests and through the benevolence of sympathetic Mexicans in the towns and villages along the way. Despite an economic recession, anti-immigrant sentiment, and harsh legislation in the United States, Central American migration continues. As an issue, migration is current; the story of migration, however, is timeless. I grew up on the adventure tales of Jack London and Mark Twain, and then later on Cormac McCarthy’s border stories. There is no storyline more compelling to me than one involving a youthful odyssey across a hostile wilderness. With a singularity of purpose and a kind of brazen resilience, migrants traverse deadly terrain, relying mostly on their wits and the occasional kindness of strangers, much like the anti-hero protagonists of the adventure tales I grew up reading. In documenting a journey both concrete and figurative, I convey the experience of individuals who struggle to control their own destiny.