The patriarchal system that is openly manifested in some Latin American homes is a dark mark in our own history; this particular one is ephemeral, no one hears or sees it. It is forgotten as soon as it is pronounced and disappears to benefit only those who oppress.
For centuries we have fed on this violence, now naturalized, which has permeated our homes like ink on paper. A violence that is so within us that it has poisoned entire families, leaving the most fearsome endings.
My own house was the scene of these forms of violence, and from then on I assumed that it was normal, since everywhere I looked it was the norm. Arriving in Richmond, Virginia in 2017, I had to face this reality that spreads like a plague in the only place where today an undocumented immigrant in the United States can feel safe, their home.
The immigration policies of the United States have created the perfect climate for these stories to remain hidden, as victims are afraid to speak out and report their perpetrators. The unexpected change in US immigration law that removes protections for women who have experienced domestic violence in their country has helped spread the violence. Abusers now use this change in the law to further control their victims. Lying to them that if they speak, no one will listen to them.
Some might say that this argument is close to reality, and that is why some people have decided to remain in the shadows but little by little more people are taking action on their own. These women that I began to document in 2017 and through 2018-19, have been some of those who have not only taken action against their oppressors but also want to be an example to other victims that they are not alone and that within the community there are tools to support them.
This photographic essay aims to highlight a dark part of the intimacy of the Latin American home in the United States; also reflecting how these power dynamics in our homes are getting worse. Power dynamics that have been fueled by changes in immigration laws that give perpetrators more control and how this has impacted the mental health of undocumented immigrants who experience this abuse.
Story got front page in Richmond Magazine | October, 2018 Issue
Part of this body of work won in 2019: Best in Show, Specialty Photography, First Place, Picture Story or Essay and Third Place, Combination-Picture-and-Story, at Virginia Press Association Award,"Within These Walls", Published in Richmond Magazine.
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When facing deportation and the possibility of returning to her native Honduras where the father of her first child had threatened to kill her, Abbie Arevalo-Herrera took sanctuary in the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Richmond, Virginia on June 20, 2018.
In the picture Abbie Arevalo holding her son "Gabriel" and to the right her daughter "Marcela" pose for a portrait at the basement of the First UU church.
Thanks to a "2011" memo during The Obama administration and signed by then ICE director John Morton, stablished different locations as "Sensitives Locations", so that churches or other institutions of worship became places where law enforcement couldn't enforce detentions.
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Abbie's daughter playing with her brother in the nursery area of the church where they have access to toy's and a bigger and more illuminated space.
Even when a sanctuary is a space of protection against oppression, the changes of light manage to discover that this symbol of protection also becomes an invisible prison of which it is not known when Abbie and her children could leave.
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"Marcela" and "Gabriel" at their new room in the basement of the First UU church.
One of the hardest conversations that I had with Abbie was about her kids. Abbie had to leave her younger daughter "Ana" when she crossed the border because of "Ana's" young age she was concerned that she wouldn't make it and taking just one kid with her was hard enough. Abbie also describe it as "I left a part of my soul in Honduras", and for this moment on Abbie said that she will always feel some kind of emptiness until her family is finally reunited.
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"Marcela" in the celebration of the 4th of July watching the fireworks by herself.
That night was hard for everyone, A big number of police officers where around the church and that made everyone at the sanctuary really nervous to be outside but "Marcela" wanted to go and see the fireworks so bad, so Abbie asked me to go with her and for a few seconds we enjoy those lights together.
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Angela Ramirez from Honduras, crosses the US border with the hope that one of her children, who suffers from a heart disease can have the surgery he needs to survive. She is deceived by an acquaintance of her community who promises her that her son will have a better chance of doing it in the United States. After her arrival in the country this man made her live a hell from which she managed to escape after a week of confinement in an apartment in Nashville, TN.
Now she is safe trying to make her new life in Richmond, VA.
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Elsy Osorio from El Salvador has experienced the greatest possible pain. Her 10-year-old daughter was abused by her father who is now a fugitive from justice. Full of courage, She make the decision to denounce him and confront the inhuman American immigration system.
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Maria at the car that will be her only way out of the persecution received by ICE.
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They had to leave almost everything, Maria just leave in a rush putting a few personal belongings and clothing in bags. When she came down Maria was looking and smiling at her partner, like she was in automatic. It was a surreal moment for all of us there.
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Maria about to speak during her press conference where they publicly express that Maria has been accepted into sanctuary by the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church at Charlottesville. At her back Pastors of different religions beliefs and at her side her new lawyer Alina Kilpatrick and activists from the community.
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Maria in her home looks out to the window at the sight of an ICE agent, since her day of deportation is current and could arrive at her door any time.
Maria Chavalan Sut, indigenous woman from Guatemala in her home looking out to the window at the sight of an ICE agent, since her day of deportation is current and ICE could arrive at her door any time. She fled to the United States after individuals threatened to kill her in an effort to usurp her land. The seriousness of the threat is not in question: they set fire to her home in Guatemala City while Maria and her family were inside. They lost all their possessions.
It all started when she had to flee Guatemala for her life and was able to come to Virginia. She has been working multiple jobs in order to send money back home to support her children and to rebuild the home her family lost in the fire. Employers in Guatemala would not hire her because she is an indigenous person. Even still, she taught mathematics to underprivileged children and also worked at a self-publishing company producing materials in her native Keqchikel language to help keep it from dying out.