A hell that haunts him
Victor Peña is a photojournalist from El Salvador who explores issues such as violence, gender, migration, or human rights from the newspaper El Faro. Currently, he is also working on Afro-descendant identities and on how people with low-income fight “against the monster of chronic kidney failure”. He began digging into the story after his father received that diagnosis.
Was La Caravana Migrante a before and after in the region?
Despite El Salvador’s long history of migration, the phenomenon had remained clandestine. Starting in 2018, when we see the first caravan of Honduran migrants that dragged almost 9,000 people into Mexico, a snowball began.
We believe that “migration” is not only the people who leave but also the reasons why people do it, the journey, the situations migrants face. But also where is migration going, what happens when they arrive in the United States: discrimination, cultural adaptation, racism, harassment by immigration authorities, lack of access to a job due to not having documents. The people who are trapped in the villages along the way, those who return, those who disappear, those who look for their relatives along the way, the disappeared. We try to cover these very complex edges.
How is it psychologically to cover this type of phenomenon?
In 2018 when the caravan left, I learned the story of Dani (Un niño huye de la muerte). He was a child who had his father deceased, he had belonged to the gang, and his mother was imprisoned. In his town, he had received threats because a gang accused him of being on the other side. He had no choice but to run away with a friend he called “uncle” and who had practically adopted him. They traveled together to the United States.
He told me his story, and I came back badly beaten. Every time I saw a photograph of him, I would cry. I couldn’t understand that a human being had to face all those challenges at his age. A child his age deserves an education, a family that would support him. Imagine a 12-year-old who is thinking about committing suicide. I believe that behind his life many hells haunt him.
In a recent coverage, I was on the US-Mexico border, I counted 800 people who entered the Rio Grande. I just became a dad, my daughter is 10 months old. Once, late at night on the riverbank, a girl was crying when she was passing on the raft. She was the same age as my daughter. The fear, the cold, the strong wind blewing on the river bank. It hit me a lot, it was very devastating that this girl did not have the same opportunities as my daughter.
Work also leads you to think that we are telling things from a very privileged point of view, but that allows us to bring them to the public. It is an internal therapy that we do all our lives so as not to end up so beaten.