House of Light - PhMuseum

House of Light

Tara Pixley

2019 - Ongoing

I first began photographing Central American asylees in 2018 at the El Barretal shelter, a makeshift open-air space that was housing approximately 2,000 migrants. I documented a group of dancers as they brought donations, money, and dance to refugees. Seeing how communal dance seemed to bring joy, laughter, and a sense of community — something equally as crucial as material resources — evoked the idea that the refuge of community is an important story. Later, when I began photographing Central American migrants and asylees living at Casa de Luz (CDL), a shelter for LGBTQ+ folks and families with young children, I focused on documenting the network of activists/advocates collaborating to build community and provide resources to refugees fleeing violence, political instability, and deadly homophobia.

As asylees faced closed borders and unsympathetic American refugee policies, networked community care was especially integral in the survival of LGBTQ+ individuals and families traveling with children. Casa de Luz is one of few shelters catering to these two groups collectively. While it is certainly not a solution for the anti-refugee policies of the American government or a solution to the rampant homophobia faced by LGBTQ migrants, it is a remedy to the physical and mental dangers of surviving such tribulations alone.

The residents of Casa de Luz find acceptance, sustenance, connection, physical safety, community care, and a home. They also pool legal and financial resources as they navigate the asylum process. The importance of access to such resources alongside fostering belonging, confirming identity, providing a safe space for people to be themselves, and a safe space in the migrant and pandemic crisis can’t be overstated. Ultimately, my project has become about this — the vital importance of building community in the face of systemic injustice.

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  • TIJUANA, Mexico — A refugee from Honduras holds up an American flag she found when protesting at the Tijuana/San Diego border. Los Angeles-based dance company Contra Tiempo brought acro yoga and other dance styles to asylum-seeking Central American migrants being held at El Barretal warehouse in Tijuana on Dec. 2, 2018. Contra Tiempo also provided several thousand dollars in cash and two carloads of donated clothes and supplies for the migrants.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Priests at the El Barretal shelter in Tijuana watch as several asylees try acro-yoga for the first time. Los Angeles-based dance company Contra Tiempo brought acro yoga and other dance styles to asylum-seeking Central American migrants being held at El Barretal warehouse in Tijuana on Dec. 2, 2018. Contra Tiempo also provided several thousand dollars in cash and two carloads of donated clothes and supplies for the migrants.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Sofia Bravo, a transwoman from El Salvador, has lived in Mexico for five years but says she found a home at Casa de Luz. CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum. Oct. 24, 2020

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Marjori (center) dressed up for the pasada festivities on Dec. 18, 2019. Dozens of Casa de Luz (CDL) residents celebrated the Christmas season with a pasada that included families and LGBTQ+ individuals across three Tijuana shelters. Several activists, advocates, translators, benefactors, and guests frequent the shelter, especially during times of celebration. Casa de Luz is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Kataleya posed with a transgender pride flag at Casa de Luz (CDL) on Feb. 29, 2020 as one of the resident children played behind her. CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — The communal kitchen at migrant shelter Casa de Luz was once a large space for sharing food, spending time together, children working, etc. During COVID, the landlord of the building has taken back hundreds of square feet from the CDL space to build new apartments. The kitchen is now only a small hallway near the communal bathroom.

    On Dec. 18, 2019 dozens of Casa de Luz residents celebrated the Christmas season with a posada that included families and LGBTQ+ individuals across three Tijuana shelters. Casa de Luz is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Paola, 8, and Renata, 2, climb the roof of Casa de Luz (CDL) with their mother Lulu on Oct. 24, 2020. CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, trans women, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Sofia Bravo, a trans woman from El Salvador and current resident of Casa de Luz, pauses for a selfie in the neighborhood around her home on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, trans women, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Irving Mondragon hangs out in the communal kitchen at migrant shelter Casa de Luz, once a large space for sharing food, spending time together, children working, etc. During COVID, the landlord of the building has taken back hundreds of square feet from the CDL space to build new apartments. The kitchen is now only a small hallway near the communal bathroom.
    Photographed 2.29.20.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Marjori wraps herself in her mariposa (butterfly) wings at Casa de Luz (CDL) on Feb. 29, 2020. CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Farid, 12, and Carlos, 23, playfully climb the roof of Casa de Luz on Oct. 24, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Irving and Renata, 2, walk through the surrounding neighborhoods of the playas area near their home to the beach for portraits with other residents of Casa de Luz on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Several current residents of migrant shelter Casa de Luz (CDL) took the seven children of CDL on a walk and bike ride to the nearby beach, carrying two frames with them to take portraits at sunset on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, trans women, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Several current residents of migrant shelter Casa de Luz carried two frames down to the beach to take photos with it on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Waiting for her friend Marjori to finish her makeup in the room they share at Casa de Luz (CDL) on Feb. 29, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, trans women, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Sofia Bravo, a trans woman from El Salvador and current resident of Casa de Luz, pauses for a selfie in the neighborhood around her home on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, trans women, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Sofia Bravo, a trans woman from El Salvador, prepares for portraits at Casa de Luz on Oct. 24, 2020 with the help of Gloria, who holds 2-year-old Renata while she fixes Sofia's clothes.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Farid, 12 (left), and Jabes, 10, (center) both of Honduras, ride their bikes through the surrounding neighborhoods of the playas area near their home to the beach for portraits with other residents of Casa de Luz on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Residents of Casa de Luz took a walk to the nearby beach to give the children time outside and to take photos of the sunset on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.

  • TIJUANA, Mexico — Several current residents of migrant shelter Casa de Luz carried two frames down to the beach to take photos with it on Dec. 11, 2020.

    CDL is an independently run shelter that houses single mothers, children, transwomen, and other LGBTQ+ individuals together where they can build community and give each other different kinds of support. Many current residents of CDL arrived in the city via the Central American migrant caravans of 2018 and most are trying to gain entry to the USA via asylum.


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