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Alejandro Cegarra’s haunting photos of migrants in Mexico: 2024 World Press photo contest winner

A migrant himself, Alejandro left his home in Venezuela for Mexico in 2017. After that, he began photographing migrant caravans the following year as a photojournalist for the New York Times. The project titled Los Dos Muros or The Two Walls signifies the first wall in the south of Mexico along the border with Guatemala. The second wall signifies the one most popular in people’s imaginations: the U.S. border wall.

  • 2 weeks ago
  • July 10, 2024
7 min read
Migrant children play with bubbles in the midst of being displaced in Mexico. | Photo by Alejandro Segarra Migrant children play with bubbles in the midst of being displaced in Mexico. | Photo by Alejandro Segarra
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SAMALAYUCA, Mexico — Alejandro Cegarra is a Venezuelan photographer who migrated to Mexico City in 2017. His work explores the essence of belonging, the search for a home, and the denunciation of human rights violations in Venezuela and Mexico. His photos of migrants in Mexico won the 2024 World Press photo contest. With permission from Alejandro, some of the photos from the Los Dos Muros or The Two Walls are republished below. Read Alejandro’s full first-person news story here. Thank you to Orato journalist Maru Laksman for bringing this gallery to Orato through Alejandro.

Alejandro Cegarra won the 2024 World Press photo contest for the best long-term project of the year amidst a global pool of competition. His project entitled Los Dos Muros or The Two Walls documents the vulnerability of migrant communities attempting to make it to the United States across the Mexico border, illustrating the front line of the global migration crisis. One of Alejandro’s first photos in the project included a large mass of people crossing the river that separates Guatemala from Mexico on foot.

Marisol Sivira, a Venezuelan migrant, holds her son Yonkeiver Sivira in the El Chamizal Federal Public Park in Ciudad Juárez. The five-year-old boy suffers from constant convulsions caused by an undiagnosed syndrome. A migrant himself, Alejandro left his home in Venezuela for Mexico in 2017. After that, he began photographing migrant caravans the following year as a photojournalist for the New York Times. The project titled Los Dos Muros or The Two Walls signifies the first wall in the south of Mexico along the border with Guatemala. The second wall signifies the one most popular in people’s imaginations: the U.S. border wall.

According to Alejandro, the wall between Mexico and Guatemala is highly militarized, while the wall to the U.S. poses the greatest administrative challenge. Migrants face difficulty at the U.S. border wall getting a residence permit or humanitarian visa and those who qualify may wait for months. Wherever they are, they cannot leave, move on, work, or do anything. They become like third-class citizens. One wall uses physical force while the other uses bureaucracy. Both are designed to break the migrant psychologically, and to make them stop moving forward.

2024 World Press photo contest winning photographs of migrants in Mexico

Eddie, Carolina, and their four-year-old daughter Valentina hide behind the wall of an abandoned and destroyed house on the last stretch of land before the U.S.-Mexico border. Throughout his journey, Alejandro witnessed a human tide. He recalls feeling very shocked and experiencing difficulty processing everything he experienced. He saw people rejected and returned to their countries by people who looked just like them. In Mexico City, he discovered a significant wave of migrants arrived in Juarez City, so he bought tickets and flew there. He worked with a local to avoid trouble and the gaze of the narcos. Photographing migrants, he says safety is the number one issue.

With taxis acting as the first set of eyes for narcos, Alejandro hired a car to get around. He went to place where groups of migrants gathered and pulled out his camera. For several days, he rode a train called La Bestia or The Beast. In the carriage he encountered a large group of Venezuelans – people from the same country he fled. Their faces reflected fatigue after days in the desert. He shared his water and biscuits with them. Being Venezuelan himself, they opened up to him.

Alejandro told his own story, and the migrants told him theirs. Photographing gave him a sense of human embrace that both enveloped him and made him feel small. Not only did Alejandro share a seat with the migrants, but land and blood as well. From the train car, you could see the border line on the horizon. With it in view, people celebrated, smiled, and woke up from their lethargy.

Alejandro encountered many children. One 10-year-old named Caroline traveled with family to meet her mother, awaiting in New York. At one point, she approached the barbed wire wall and began crying. Approaching the little girl, who was dirty and exhausted, she said she would not be able to cross. “I am very tired and I want my mother,” she continued.

Venezuelan photojournalist Alejandro Segarra accompanies migrants throughout Mexico

Alejandro has many more images and taken part in so many stories, where thousands of people migrating fall victim to extortion, rape, kidnapping, or robbery orchestrated by drug cartels or corrupt authorities at various stops along the train route. In that walk together, he has carried their backpacks because their shoulders hurt. Tired and broken, he has given them his water and food, hoping to alleviate some of their burden of hunger and thirst. He sees these people are his brothers and sisters.

Rosa Bello and Rubén Soto sat on the roof of one of the train carriages. They met during their trip and fell in love. On the road, they shared sparkling glances. The photo became a gateway people could identify with. While not everyone has experienced the anguish of migration, most have experienced love in some form.

Alejandro says the project proved to be a long and hard process with moments of great loneliness. There were times he wanted to give up, when months went by without taking a single image. However, he grew closer to the process as more and more Venezuelans arrived, making it more personal to him. This was the point when he says the project turned around.

In this final photo, a migrant walks on La Bestia in Piedras Negras, Mexico, despite the danger of falling, being maimed, or losing his life. This and the many other photos from Los Dos Muros (The Two Walls) broadened Alejandro’s mind in ways he never imagined. He calls his camera a passport to the world. Alejandro intends to continue his important work by portraying human movement, the origins of restrictions, colonial relations, and the ways in which we control the movements of others. He has a particular passion for the movement of Venezuelan people.

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