POV

Southern Correspondence with Adriana Zehbrauskas

It’s enough to look at all the fields in California to see who is doing the work there, almost always in horrible living conditions and minimum pay.

Art by Adriana Zehbrauskas Interview by: Teo J Babini

With the (hopefully low) possibility of Trump switching from towers to walls in the near future, Adriana Zehbrauskas has boots on the ground South of the border, shedding some light on the region.

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

Where are you from in Brazil? How did you end up in Mexico City? What are your thoughts about the differences and similarities in living in each?
I’m from São Paulo, a huge, vertical metropolis of twelve million people. Like New York, it’s a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities, having been founded mostly by immigrants. Most people don’t know, for example, that São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan…

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

…I came to Mexico City to accompany my husband Dario Lopez-Mills who took a job as the Chief Photographer for the Associated Press in Mexico and Central America, although my love affair with Mexico had started before.

Mexico City and São Paulo share the same characteristic hugeness, both are immense, sprawling cities with millions of people and terrible traffic problems (Although, it’s still a mystery to me why Mexicans choose to ignore a red light!). Mexico City is greener though, more trees, more parks, overall a more enjoyable place to live. São Paulo is more gray, but has it’s hidden secrets… the food is extraordinary and people are extremely welcoming. I think Brazilians take things a little lighter than Mexicans.

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

In New York there is a general feeling of separation from the culture of a lot of the rest of the US. I have heard similar sentiments about Mexico City as compared to the rest of the country. As someone who has explored and documented both, is their validity to these ideas? What are your thoughts?
The same thing happens in Mexico—people from the rest of the country describe Chilangos (The habitants of Mexico City) as being ruder. Maybe there’s a hint of truth there, since it is a difficult city to live in—you have to be a little tough if you want to get by!

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

This idea of “the three roots” you discuss in regards to the Afromexican and Indian community seems to be very prevalent throughout Latin America. How does this shape the cultures of the region?
Well, Latin America is too big and varied to be put under the same lens—every region is different from the other, with different languages and ethnic compositions, but I think that overall it is safe to say that the history of the Americas has been forged by three cultures: indigenous, European and African.
The African presence was normally associated with the slave trade and Mexico was a key entry port for the slave ships, but because of the racial mix, that presence is now more strongly felt in the states of Veracruz, Guerrero and Oaxaca (that were also the main entry ports).

In Brazil, the African heritage is stronger and more evident than in Mexico and it is a driving force in many aspects of our culture, like music and religion.

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

Mexico has been in the US headlines a lot lately, mostly because of our Republican presidential debates discussion of illegal immigration. Two things I would like to address. The first is this idea about hordes of Mexican criminals invading the country, which is obviously ridiculous, but strikes me because in your coverage of the “drug war” you talk about the US being the major buyer, essentially creating crime south of our own borders. Can you expand on this dynamic? Another thing I found interesting is your coverage of illegal migrants coming into Mexico from other Central and South American countries. Is Mexico their desired destination or do they use it as the path to the US? What kind of issues does this create for Mexico?
I can only give my own personal opinion here, as I’m no expert: the US depends on illegal immigration—it has always done so. It’s enough to look at all the fields in California to see who is doing the work there, almost always in horrible living conditions and minimum pay. It is also not a secret to anyone that the US is the largest consumer of drugs, legal or illegal, and we don’t see many stories about what happens to all the drugs when they reach the US border. So, of course, if there’s a demand there’s a market, and in this case a very profitable one…

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

..But, we can’t paint it all in black or white, there are many shades in between. The ideal would be to improve things domestically in Mexico so there wouldn’t be the need to cross the border to find a half decent job, in the case of the migrants, or to cater to that market, in the case of the drug trafficking…

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

…The same goes for all the countries in Central America that are suffering from extreme violence prompting people to leave just to have a chance to LIVE. Almost all the people from Central American countries that arrive in Mexico are on their way to the US. It’s a dangerous trip and they also fall pray to violence in Mexico, making an already difficult journey even more so.

More of Adriana’s work can be seen here: http://azpix.com.br/site/    and on her IG: https://www.instagram.com/adrianazehbrauskas/

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

©Adriana Zehbrauskas

BIO

Adriana Zehbrauskas is a Brazilian documentary photographer based in Mexico City, covering mainly issues related to migration, religion and the violence resulting from the drug wars in Mexico and Central America. She contributes regularly top the The New York Times, BuzzFeed News and The Washington Post.
Her work has been featured in Leica Fotografie International, National Geographic Brazil, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and Le Monde, among others.

Adriana is one of the three photographers profiled in the documentary “Beyond Assignment” (USA, 2011) and was recently awarded as one of the recipients of the first Getty Images Instagram Grant.
Represented by Polaris Images in NY.

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