Virtual conversation featuring NatGeo photojournalist, Princeton lecturer focuses on migratory crisis in Latin America

Photographer Tomás Ayuso and Amelia Frank-Vitale from Princeton University hosted a virtual event on contemporary migratory crisis from Central America and Mexico to the United States.

Elon University hosted Tomás Ayuso, a photographer for National Geographic, and Amelia Frank-Vitale, postdoctoral research associate and lecturer in Latin American Studies at Princeton University, on Thursday, April 7 for a virtual conversation on documentary photography, storytelling and communities.

In the event, they explored the migratory crisis and ongoing violent conflicts in Latin America, urging a critical reexamination of the human rights situation in the area and the roots of forced displacement. Both speakers have a recognized trajectory in documenting contemporary conflicts and promoting politics of well-being to affected communities.

From extreme poverty to drug wars, underrepresented people remain unprotected by their home states and seek migratory routes to survive. Frank-Vitale shared her experiences with Central American populations, explaining that the main reasons for migration to the U.S. are not only economic but security concerns based from the gang presence in some marginalized communities.

She focused her work on those communities, specifically in the city of San Pedro de Sula, Honduras. She also explained how her activism and solidarity moved her to participate in the immigrant caravans that have sparked international attention in recent years. In one of these caravans, in Tijuana, she met Ayuso, who has held continuous collaborations regarding activism and work with migrant communities.

During the conversation, Ayuso explained the relevance of images to communicate migratory issues to a massive population. He remarked how social media may be used to catch the attention of minor situations in a global context, as happened with underrepresented communities in Honduras.

Ayuso also shared his experience living with Mexican Cartels and the guerrilla army in Colombia, explaining how these challenging contexts impacted his career as a photojournalist by providing a deeper understanding of Latin American conflicts. He opened a pathway to discuss the role photographic documentation and storytelling play in approaching those conflicts.

Through an ongoing publication of his photographs on multiple free access online platforms, Ayuso’s photographs have also promoted knowledge about his home country of Honduras. His work seeks to avoid forgetting the humanitarian crisis that affects the Central American country.

His democratic approach to photography makes a global impact by sharing stories that are not commonly represented by mainstream media, according to Frank-Vitale.

The event was complemented by a presentation by the former director of the North Carolina-based organization Witness for Peace Southeast (WFPSE), Emily Rhyne. The presentation covered the experience of the WFPSE delegation with Ilhan Omar and three other US Congress Representatives in Honduras last March. Rhyne also shared information regarding opportunities to participate in community service with local organizations.

The virtual conversation was sponsored by the Department of World Languages and Cultures, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, Strategic Communications Department, The Department of Sociology and Anthropology, El Centro, Latin American Studies Minor Program, Peace and Conflict Studies, International and Global Studies and Women’s, Gender and Sexualities Studies.