US/Mexico Border Stories Through Kids’ Eyes

By Rachel Bruton, National Geographic Staff

National Geographic Emerging Explorer Jason de León is on a mission: Take 30 kids from the Arivaca community in southern Arizona and team them up with National Geographic photographers to tell the story of life on the US/Mexico border. The students will come from underserved communities that have grown up with the realities of migration issues. Jason plans to help fund the students’ expenses for this National Geographic Photo Camp using the power of crowdfunding through the Kickstarter platform.

Students that attend the Photo Camp will learn the basics of photography from National Geographic photographers. (Photo by Jim Webb, NGPC staff)
Students that attend the Photo Camp will learn the basics of photography from National Geographic photographers. (Photo by Jim Webb, NGPC staff)

This project is near and dear to Jason’s heart. Jason is an anthropologist, but his work is unconventional. He directs the Undocumented Migration Project, which is co-sponsoring the Photo Camp along with National Geographic. He uses archaeology to tell migrants’ stories along the US and Mexico border. Where many might see bottles and backpacks as trash along the side of the road, Jason sees them as artifacts of individuals’ lives. These provide glimpses of the untold journey of the people who migrate across the Mexican border.

Items left behind tell a rich migration story. (Photo by Michael Wells)
Items left behind tell a rich migration story. (Photo by Michael Wells)

Jason wants to give kids living in these border towns a chance to share their stories and provide a positive perspective on a region that often only receives negative press. When asked what motivated him to host a Photo Camp this June, Jason answered, “Arivaca is an amazing community. This project is a way for local kids to tell their stories, provide an insider’s perspective and open up dialogues about the cultural richness of border communities.” He continued, “Arivaca has become my second home. They have welcomed me like a family member and supported my research since 2009.”

With the support of Kickstarter backers, the kids who participate in the workshop will be able to attend for free. Attendees from southern Arizona border towns will then have the opportunity to learn the basics of photography from world-renowned National Geographic photographers and editors.

The project has already received attention from one celebrity follower, actor Dax Shepard from the TV series “Parenthood”. While not a fan of the paparazzi, Dax seems to know photography can also be used as an empowering educational tool and shared his support in a recent tweet.

Parenthood's Dax Shepard showed his support for the Photo camp in a recent tweet.
Dax Shepard from NBC’s “Parenthood” showed his support for the Photo Camp in a recent tweet.

In the end, Jason and the Undocumented Migration Project hope the Photo Camp will bring topics of undocumented migration and federal border enforcement into the public eye. Not only will 30 kids better understand their community and upbringing but everyone will have the opportunity to see life in the border zone through the eyes of the kids that live there.

Learn more about Jason de León’s project and consider supporting it yourself on Kickstarter.

Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of nationalgeographic.com for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.

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