A Cruel Exodus documents the horrific social violence that is currently plaguing Guatemala and forcing people to make the decision to leave their homeland for the relative safety and opportunity of the United States.
During the past several years I have made at least four trips to Guatemala to document the social upheaval and its impact on the local population. I have arrived at a murder scene three minutes after a bus driver was fatally shot, witnessing the last bit of life ebb from his body after he was pulled from the bus. Exodus follows the journey that migrants take through the Peten Jungle in Northern Guatemala. The men and women ride on the back of a smuggler’s truck crammed into a steel cage meant to transport livestock. Like the Joad family in John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, these migrants are fleeing the Dust Bowl of their home countries, facing extortion, robbery and death in their journey to the promised land of the United States.
This story is only the beginning of the journey, but my aim is to show the brutal reality from which people are escaping and some of the challenges people face just trying to flee their home countries. Once on the migrant trail it’s every person for themselves. Groups of migrants band together, but ultimately many face serious violence, extortion, sexual assaults and months on the road to get to the ‘promised land’ of the United States. Today, with increasingly punitive anti-immigrant laws being enacted life is ever more difficult for poor and working class migrants as often they become stuck in a new limbo state where they can’t return home and they also are not welcome in their new country.
This story is part of Jon Lowenstein long-term project about immigration: Shadow Lives USA.