The Salvadoran Town with a Transnational Identity
In their collaborative project Welcome to Intipucá City, photographers Anita Pouchard Serra and Koral Carballo explore the story of a small town in southern El Salvador where immigration to the United States has become a rooted part of the community’s beliefs and customs.
Migration to the United States has been a tradition in Intipucá since 1968. As a result of shifts in international migration policy over the years and the circular nature of migration between Central America and the United States, the structure of families in Intipucá has taken on a transnational identity. The United States has become something close and present, despite being geographically distant.
Welcome to Intipucá City is a collaborative project by photographers Anita Pouchard Serra and Koral Carballo, produced together with journalist, Jéssica Ávalos. Through a combination of portraits, interviews, and hand-written family trees, the series encourages viewers to reflect upon the drivers and consequences of migration for individuals and their families.
Is this the first time you have collaborated? How did you begin working together and why was it important to produce this body of work?
Yes, it is the first time. We met in October of 2016 in Mexico, when we went as students to a photographers camp. It was very a interesting moment to come into contact since we were both in a process of discovery within our own creative development. We both came from the world of photojournalism, yet we were not happy with the form we were taking. At the time Anita was working on her story Latent Urbanities in France and I was in the middle of forming Mala Hora in Mexico, which challenges the visual representations of migration and violence.
So, there we said that we would have to do something together. In June of 2017 we decided to start with Intipucá, and it was a natural fit from the beginning as Anita has a personal history with the subject, and for me it was necessary to get some distance (at least for a moment) from the violence. Then our tools, our questions, and needs were combined to see the migration from the starting point where the decision to leave is made. From home.
© Anita Pouchard Serra and Koral Carballo, from the series, Welcome to Intipucá City. Claudia is a doctor. She went to the United States with her parents during the civil war in El Salvador. She finally decided to return alone to El Salvador, leaving her sons with their grandparents in Washington DC.
Neither of you are from El Salvador - how did you find that this was an important story to share?
We discovered Intipucá through a Salvadoran friend. I remember that once we were talking about how the country's cities were becoming uninhabitable, and I told him about what was happening in the north of Veracruz where I made my project Mala Hora, where after a certain hour the cities turn into ghost towns due to the threat of violence. I remember that he told me that in El Salvador there was a town in the south that had become deserted because most of the inhabitants had decided to go to the United States as a result of the various security and economic crises.
That conversation stayed in my memory for a while, until one day Anita and I were looking to tell a story about El Salvador and I remembered Intipucá. Together we began to investigate without ever having gone - we were, and are, fascinated by the story. Then we came across many people in anguish: it was an unquestionable exodus. We identified in some way with our own family histories and we decided that we wanted to portray what is happening, with all its nuances and all its difficulties.
© Anita Pouchard Serra and Koral Carballo, from the series Welcome to Intipucá City. Tradional architecture in the Intipuca Town. A small and colourful house, one floor. Intipuca is located close to the Pacific coast, in South Salvador.
Why do you think it is important to address this migration in today's political climate between Central America and the United States?
Because of empathy. We are convinced that the representations of the media, instead of approaching the stories, take us away. They increasingly encourage us to have negative judgements or opinions about people who portray us as alien. Then, in the company of Jéssica Ávalos (written journalist) we were ready to approach the subject.
Every time we hear or see these stories up close, we are convinced that we are so similar, that although they want to divide us by borders, there is something so universal that it falls into the human condition. Many times migration is shown from the perspective of "the spectacular" or from the idea of the crowd. We want to return to a sum of individuals and the stories that mean we have to migrate and understand from within, involving migration from cultural, psychological, and emotional reasons etc... So, little by little, we will stop seeing the migrant as a distant person, and begin to think that these life decisions and the journeys that they take could be ours and even that of an ancestor. A task that seems very important to us in the current context of Central American migration to the United States, where media, political and physical violence is increasingly greater towards the migrant community, which is about to arrive or is already part of the United States territory.
© Anita Pouchard Serra and Koral Carballo, from the series, Welcome to Intipuca City. Fernando, after a life in the United States, decided to come back to Intipuca, to retire. His sons, all except one, stayed in the United States.
The project was recently exhibited at the Moving Walls exhibition at Open Society Foundation in New York. Can you talk about how the project was received by the public in the United States?
To have the opportunity to show the project in an exhibition is the best format to share it with others - to understand how the message and the stories that we thought about in the field came to fruition. To present it in the United States was an unexpected experience because despite the project connecting to the country, all images were taken in El Salvador.
There were many journalists at the exhibition opening and this made it really interesting. We realised that when questions were raised about the project, they ended up talking about their own personal stories. Looking at the family trees, they connected it to a grandparent, great grandparent, etc… The journalists moved from asking us questions to questioning themselves, and this is precisely our objective.
Presenting the work in different locations such as Argentina and Mexico as a projection and talk, we received many messages from people, sometimes with experience migrating, who felt empowered by our project, even if they had no connection with El Salvador. Two important objectives for us, to create a conversation with the general public as well as with those who have migrated.
Anita Pouchard Serra is a documentary photographer living between Paris and Buenos Aires. Her work revolves around questions connected with current societal problems including identity, migration, empowerment and territory. Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
Koral Carballo is a Mexican photographer currently exploring new visual narratives related to identity and violence. She is interested in expanding the frontiers of photography from journalism, the visual arts and documentary. Follow her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
This article is part of In Focus: Latin American Female Photographers, a monthly series curated by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo focusing on the works of female visual storytellers working and living in Latin America