Picks and Pans Review: Illegal
A photo essay on illegal aliens who cross into the U.S. in the Brownsville, Texas, area, this book is remarkable for two reasons.
One is that it calls attention to the life-defining plight of thousands of people—most of them Central Americans, many of them children, teenage and younger—whose attempts to seek refuge in the U.S. usually meet with arrest and eventual rejection.
The other is the fact that the book's photographs and text are the work of two Rye, N.Y., high school students. Anastos is the son of a New York City TV news anchorman; French's father, Dick, is a printing executive. Having influential parents clearly didn't hurt the boys' ability to gain access to U.S. Border Patrol facilities or detention camps where illegal aliens are held while their cases are processed. (Most are deported to their home countries.)
On the other hand, there are worse things that teenagers with influential parents can do with their time. Anastos and French spent 10 days in south Texas compiling this book in summer 1989, photographing the "illegals" and the border patrol agents who hunt them, interviewing American officials and the illegals themselves.
While U.S. government policy presumes these refugees are "overwhelmingly economic migrants"—people coming to the U.S. in search of better jobs—the refugees mostly say they are fleeing military service in such places as Nicaragua and El Salvador.
The photographs, while often striking, are obviously not the work of seasoned professionals. In his foreword, ex—White House photographer David Hume Kennerly says, "One of the ironies of this book is that one doesn't have to travel the world to produce dramatic photos of human suffering.... They can be taken right here in our own backyard." Yet few of these pictures show any evident suffering.
Too little patience and timing went into the photos. Many of the subjects were caught at not quite the right moment—a patrol officer seems to be smiling cheerily as he makes an arrest, a woman in a detention center appears to be on a pleasant vacation.
There is, still, a lot to learn here. The book is instructive not only about the illegals' dilemma but about how much two teenage boys can accomplish when they set their minds to it. (Rizzoli, paper, $19.95)