El Cero

short stories

On Reflection

Obviously for anyone working in such fields getting the work published or shown in some way is one of the key objectives. After all of those years of work, all of that personal investment of time and money is rewarded in some small sense. It’s a chance to open the dialogue up and to start the conversation on the topics and the issues you’ve been so engrossed in for such a long time. However, it’s only a moment, and there’s so much to say with very little room to say it.

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I have a core belief, and that is we are products of our circumstances. Everything within our societies grows as part of our societies not apart from it. We do have a certain amount of agency over our lives, and we can certainly make decisions about their direction. But the economic, political and historical structures that shape the context we are born into are completely beyond our control. These bear down on us powerfully and they continue to shape our lives as we grow.

While producing this work I’ve seen the power of individual agency as people make active decisions about their lives. I’ve seen these have both positive and negative outcomes depending on the choice that was made. It’s incredible to see the power of a positive choice. However, I’ve also seen the power external structures have on people’s existence. The way both national and international economies are structured alongside their overriding objectives. The nature of a political culture, shaping and shaped by the primary aims of the politicians that operate within it, and the way this structures the impact politics has on a population and the lives of the ordinary people within it. The intimate intertwining of history with our contemporary reality, and how this plays on our perceptions of issues such as race and class, what is considered good and what is considered bad, what is viewed with suspicion and what is deemed trustworthy. The height of the hurdles we have to jump and the number we have to get over, change significantly depending on the luck of our starting position.

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Ultimately would a country like Mexico have suffered such problems, if it didn’t have such high levels of inequality and poverty? Would it be different, if it hadn’t developed in a world where those with European heritage were seen to be superior than those with Indigenous heritage? Would it be in such a position if one of the pillars of its economy did not demand such a large unskilled and uneducated workforce, and that one of its main competitive advantages was not its ability to keep people’s wages lower than those paid in China? How would it be different, if the primary objective of the political class had consistently been the greatest well being for the greatest number of people, rather than the greatest possible accumulation of personal wealth and power? And what would happen, if The West stopped demanding the cheapest possible product? Products that are normally produced by The Rest, competing with each other in a race to the bottom.

I believe all of these questions, and so many more, are so relevant when considering the circumstances these young men grow up in and the lives that they lead. How to fit it all into a picture and a few hundred words?

Link to work on CNN

Link to my website

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3 responses to “On Reflection

  1. Joel January 5, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    The young men you depict in your photos are an exact opposite reflection of my young 17 year boy. My parents are from a small rural town in Nuevo Leon near General Teran. My mothers sister moved to Monterrey to give her kids a better life. My mother moved to the United States with the same goal in mind. My aunts kids now look and have the same lifestyle as you depict in your images. I am now a Civil Engineer and my son is applying to college. My aunt has since moved back to the rural town to get away from her own children, the kids are now lost to the streets. Amazing that the choices parents make affect what lives there children will live.

    • me January 7, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Hey Joel many thanks for that story, it’s very pertinent. It’s amazing how those two choices, basically for the same reasons, led to such different outcomes.

      Getting to know these young men, I saw a lot of potential, and also a lot of energy. I think it’s a question of focusing it or having it focused in constructive directions. I think it’s also a question of aspiration and being given aspiration, learning self-confidence, knowledge of what opportunities are out there (and having the confidence, aspiration and support to go after them), and just basic trust of the wider world. When I saw people have the opportunity to do something constructive, for example some organisation brought a program (often related to the arts) into this type of neighbourhood, many people jumped at the chance. However, such things only lasted a moment and didn’t come very often.

      I did see the ongoing results of a long-term community project in a marginal community in Tijuana, one that has lasted for years and will go on for years, and the difference it has on the young people is marked. They have the attributes and the ambition you’d always hope to see in young people.

  2. Emily January 9, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    Tom I think you have described perfectly the world that we live in and the effect of the way it is run on so many people. Unfortunately many people who have been born into a world with more opportunity and/or wealth do not understand the privileged position they occupy and believe that any successes they have are due to hard work. Then believing that anyone can do what they have done if only they worked hard enough, so everyone who doesn’t do what they have done must be lazy and doesn’t deserve it. I heard a great message from the Salvation Army one Christmas in response to some people in the community saying homeless people are just lazy and if they just went and got a job they’d be fine. The guy said it’s like saying to a middle income family, what aren’t you millionaires? It’s easy, just work harder. The reality is obviously not like that…

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