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)

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.
  • Mary Sandifer

    A very moving post. Thank heavens NG is covering a subject like this. So close to home and heart. So young. So crucial.

    Changing the world is all – one step at a time. Delighted to see this major step by humans who care.

  • B. Yenior

    This made me smile. My plan is to take my daughter out this spring and summer and let her explore her world through a lens. Start them young!

  • Kate Hewitt

    Jason, this is amazing. What a way to humanize the topic of our borders. We see so many stories told with statistics and aerial photography. This project has a chance to bring the focus literally to ground level, from the perspective of a child: full of wonder, reality and potential and without politics.

    Thank you.

  • VJ Ross

    While I like the idea of getting kids involved in photography and storytelling, I’m really not comfortable in teaching “undocumented” kids that it’s ok to enter a county illegally. It might not be politically correct to raise the issue this way, but “undocumented” is illegal – and American taxpayers have to pay the price.

  • David Kane

    Drafted in 66 and did time in Ft. Hood Tx. Border towns (Piedras Negras, Laredo, Juarez were safe and G.I.’s had some fun times down there. We all know the ramifications of illegal border crossing; but it’s been going on for ages and I don’t think it can ever be stopped. It’s a derogatory term; but if you’re a fan of Sons of Anarchy and hear the term “wetbacks”, crossing the Rio Grande is where it came from.

  • Gini Knox

    Hi Jason. My husband and I own 80 acres of undeveloped land on the papallote wash in arivaca which is one of the main crossing sites. You are welcome to take the children there if you like. We also own the rv park and would be happy to make arrangements if you need a place to stay.

  • Loretta Edwards

    Hey Jason, when you are finished with that project, I challenge you to take those kids on a fact finding mission as they study the lives of families who have lost everything and are living in cars or on the streets with their kids because their parents have lost their jobs to “undocumented workers”. Let me see how much your heart bleeds for legal, American children and their families who are the new street fodder because of the surplus of undocumented workers taking American jobs. I’m sure I’m the one who’s crazy here but has anyone ever stopped to think that there are consequences for breaking the law? The Northern people don’t care how many undocumented Mexicans come into America because they are in the North. They are not the ones that are dealing with the increased crime, loss of jobs, the economic burden placed on the cities that are being flooded by undocumented workers, etc., etc., etc.

  • Disabled veteran

    Why is it almost every other country have strict (& limited) immigration policies but when we try to limit ours we’re seen as unfair, racist or worse? Why is it wrong to try to feed our own citizens when we are running out of money for our elderly, children & yes, our veterans. We have millions of veterans in need of medical, psychiatric help, & even food & housing. Not to mention jobs. Is it wrong to not put illegal immigration in a status now of anthropology & call it what it is? Is it wrong to take care of our own obligations without hanging a welcome sign above my fellow veterans who are homeless & hungry? Just a thought….

  • Jasmine Syedda

    I love this poem! BTW for others: I may not know that much about illegal immigration but your views just UGH! My father works in court told me that people who had those types of opinions went out to play a game where if they think a person is an illegal immigrant they try to see if they can knock them out! Know why he heard it in court: Because some people were killed! And the victims were just trying to earn money to feed their poor families! So think about that!

  • Prem Gopal Duggal

    My main interest is bird watching.
    My experience is that fans for suchlike nature- watch are very easy to inspire.
    This forum is absolutely charming.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media