Abuelas: Documenting the Invisible Grandmothers
I am photographing the daily lives of four Mexican women who migrated to New York City in their youth and, over time, became grandmothers and the elders of their community and families. The project started in Octuber, 2016.
Some of them have children and grandchildren on both sides of the border. However, after living in the United States for two or more decades, they haven't been able to adjust their immigration status and remain undocumented. These women are: Irma Verduzco, 66, of Zacapo Michoacán, Gisela Bravo, 70, of the Town of San Bernardino Acatlán of Osorio, Puebla, Dionisia Guadalupe, 56, and Juanita, 54, both originating of Atencingo, Puebla.
Juanita, Irma, Gisela and Dionisia are the first generation of women in their families to migrate to New York City and settled in the neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where they have lived since the early 1990s. All of them crossed the border with their children in search of a better economic future.
Although these women are fully established in New York City, they remain the targets of discrimination and racism, hold jobs that are underpaid, unstable and are subject to exploitation. Due to their age they are not usually hired to perform typical jobs for immigrant women like house cleaning or childcare.
However, they create their own sources of income through self-employment, whether collecting plastic or metal bottles on the streets like Irma, or selling second-hand clothing at the flea markets like Juanita, in order to continue to contribute economically to their homes and at the same time help with the education of their grandchildren.
These women, in turn, suffer from health problems with chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and kidney failure without health insurance or public benefits. Dionisia Guadalupe has kidney failure and needs a kidney transplant. Because of her illness, she had to quit her job and start selling sweets outside of Public School 503 on 60th Street in her neighborhood, because she could find no job where she was allowed to be absent for hours to receive her dialysis treatment.
In November 2016, due to economic and health problems with her kidneys and bronchi, Gisela Bravo decided to return to her home in Mexico after 30 years in the United States. "In the factory where i worked sewing i didn’t earn much, because they pay for piecework and an old woman like me is slow; at most I get paid $ 200 a week for daily shifts from 8 am. to 5 p.m. That's why I decided to return to my town" says Gisela.
In such a harsh social and political environment today in United States, marked by racism and xenophobia against immigrants - especially Mexicans- I think it is pertinent to carry out a visual project about grandmothers, those women who have grown older as undocumented immigrants in this country, working, paying their taxes without any social benefits in return and who today are facing Donald Trump’s administration’s threats of deportation despite their long, deep and significant roots in their communities in this country.
From a photographic perspective, little attention has been devoted to documenting the elderly first-generation migrant women who are the pillars of these transnational families and who have grown old in the shadows of a legal punitive, police enforcement limbo.
My interest is to tell their stories through a series of intimate images. I want to represent them in their own processes of resilience, to show how despite suffering serious illness or an uncertain future these women lead a normal life taking care of their grandchildren, cooking, working or singing amid a dehumanizing, humanitarian crisis that has for decades rendered them invisible.
I will continue to carry out this documentary photography project in collaboration with Dionisia, Juanita and Irma - since Gisela has returned to her town - with the intention of being able to incorporate the stories of other Mexican grandmothers living in New York City. The objective is to create a photographic essay that reveals a holistic and complete view of the lives of undocumented Mexican grandmothers in this country.