Barrerito, childhood on the border

Mercedes Cotoli

2011 - Ongoing

Misiones, Argentina

Barrerito is a long term documentary series that portrays a group of children on the border between Argentina and Brazil.

I visited Barrerito for the first time in 2010. A small rural area in Misiones Province, three kilometers from the coast of the Uruguay River, the border that separates Argentina from Brazil. I was 22 years old.

From the first trip I sleep in the school of the colony. A mattress in the principal's office becomes my home after five in the afternoon. With the sound of the Urutaú (ghost bird) the day ends and with the first voices of the boys who arrive early to class I wake up. A community with two languages ​​like all those that inhabit the borders. The traditions of both countries merge in this place and the boundaries dissolve in a new way that only they share.

With the kids we play, climb trees, harvest "pitangas" (Surinam cherries), we ride oxen, watch the cars that pass along the road. We cross streams on truck wheels, I watch them slaughter a cow they will later sell. The school bell rings and we walk together to their homes, eat some blackberries or medlars from the trees we find on the way. It is almost always hot and it rains. We share breakfasts, school breaks, football matches on the field.

The red soil, the humidity of the jungle. To listen to the sound of water running across the stream. The unexpected rain, always so fierceful. And then the disconcerting sun coming out again and bringing back that humid heat that goes through the wet clothes and skin and penetrates bones.

Barrerito is part of me. A distant home. In these ten years that I have been photographing them we grew up together. I taught them to take pictures and they taught me the freedom to live surrounded by nature.

Together we learned that innocence doesn't last forever.

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  • Leonardo's portrait on my second visit to Barrerito, during the winter of 2011.

  • In 2017 I went to Barrerito and it rained all week. As many of the roads to school usually flood, that week almost no one attended classes. On my last day, I saw Adriana, a girl who lives on the other side of the creek arriving to school. I was surprised to see her because the road to her house was completely flooded. When I asked her how she got to school she told me: "by wheel".

  • After class, I walked with Dali and Luana to their house. His house is the furthest from the school, almost three kilometers away. From the garden you can see the Uruguay River.

  • Every time I go to Barrerito I visit the Díaz family. I have known many of Juanita's children since they were born, and the children of her children.

  • Walter lives with his family near Barrerito, in a small area called Colonia Acaraguá. I met his father, Ivonir, on my first trip to Barrerito in 2010. He taught me everything about tobacco plantations. They grow it, harvest, dry and sell it to tobacco companies. Tobacco cultivation is the most important economic activity in the area.

  • Borges family portrait on one of my first visits to Barrerito in 2011.

  • Dinner time at the colony.

  • Rodrigo's portrait with pig.

  • Leo with his faca (knife) biking across the stream.

  • Luana picking fruit.

  • Leonardo dressed up as a cop on the road in Barrerito.

  • While watching her brothers slaughter a cow, and while his mother finishes making dinner, Bianca sits quietly, inside an abandoned car in the back of her house.

  • Leopoldo carries an ox that helps him in the cassava crops up the hill. It's 2018, Leopoldo is 16 years old and he wakes up very early in the morning to work on the family crops. After lunch he bathes, puts on his school uniform and leaves for school.

  • Dali is trying to pick some fruits from the blackberry tree.

  • Leo slays a cow on request of his father. With his brothers' help they cut it into smaller pieces and weigh each of them. After they separate all the eatable parts they will sell some of the meat to local people.

  • It was a stormy day and only two students attended classes, the Viera sisters. When his mother picked them up at the end of the day, the teacher asked her why she had taken them to school with the storm. "They wanted to wear their new raincoats and their new boots", she replied.

  • Dali waits patiently behind a bed sheet to catch a chicken for dinner.

  • Dali's portrait after class.

  • Luana's portrait.

  • Kids going running home on a rainy day.