The People of Clouds
High in the Mixteca mountains of southern Mexico, an exodus is unfolding. In the birthplace of corn cultivation, where farmers first coaxed maize from the earth nearly 9,000 years ago, an ancient way of life is crumbling as land degradation and erosion cripple the soil and as migration tears families apart.
Named the "Place of the Cloud People" by the Aztecs, the Mixteca is home to one of the oldest and largest indigenous cultures in the Americas. Rugged and remote, the isolated region sheltered a pre-Colombian way of life that largely vanished from the rest of Mexico in the aftermath of the conquest. At its heart, it's a culture of the land, and corn. Along the region's hillsides, it is still possible to glimpse ancient terraces, canals, and runoff channels that protected the Mixteca's rich but fragile soil, and nourished its inhabitants, for thousands of years.
But today, these ancient farming traditions have been lost, replaced by chemical fertilizers, hybrid seeds, and herbicides, the trifecta of modern agriculture heavily promoted in indigenous communities by the Mexican government and international charities as part of the "Green Revolution" of the 1960s. When combined with slash and burn farming, the Mixteca's steep terrain, and the loss of other indigenous soil-preserving traditions like multi-cropping, these imported industrial agricultural techniques have turned Mixtec corn farming, one of the world's oldest and most perfectly integrated agricultural systems, into a soil-eating machine.
Today, much of the Mixteca has been declared an "Ecological Disaster Zone," the result of unchecked erosion, deforestation, and soil exhaustion. Per capita maize consumption is less than ten ounces per day, 90% below US rates, and fewer than a third of children under the age of five show normal growth by weight and height. Ranked on the UN's Human Development Index (HDI), the Mixteca's poverty is deeper than nearly all of Latin America's, comparable only to areas of Africa, India, and the Gaza Strip. Far from sparking a Green Revolution, the industrial farming techniques prescribed to the Mixtecs have resulted in their becoming unable to even keep themselves fed.
Nearly a quarter million Mixtecs have emigrated to the US. Some villages have lost as much as 80% of their population and have become little more than ghost towns. "I only think about dying," one elderly man told me. "My only worry is how my funeral will be."
I am seeking your support to help tell this important story. Your pledge to this campaign, a collaboration between Orion Magazine, the nation's premier environmental journal, and Daylight Multimedia, a leading pioneer of online documentary work, will enable me to create an in-depth chronicle of this modern day, man-made Dust Bowl and document the profound social repercussions left in its wake.
How the funds will be used:
• Reporting the story: travel, logistics, film, developing, printing, scanning, and transcription of recorded interviews.
What it will result in:
• An in-depth photo essay, an accompanying written story, and a multimedia piece incorporating audio, video, and still images.
What is the goal:
• To enrich the public debate by increasing understanding of the forces driving contemporary migration; to help put a face on immigrants and a context to their presence in the United States.
The story will be completed in 2012 and appear in:
• Print: a photo-essay and article published in Orion Magazine.
• Multimedia: a video podcast in collaboration with Daylight Multimedia.
• Web: internet distribution via the project's website.
• Social Media: updates and news via the project's Facebook page.
This work will also be included in The People of Clouds traveling exhibition which is scheduled to begin visiting cities in the US and Mexico starting in 2013.
I have been photographing the migration of people from the Mixteca, in both the US and Mexico, for over a decade. This past work includes Oaxacan Exodus, an exploration of life among migrants in the US; The Face of the Mountain, a documentation of the post-migration social fabric in one Mixtec village; The Third Root, chronicling the Mixteca's disappearing Afro-Mexican population, and The People of Clouds: Exodus, a multimedia exploration of the social impact of migration.
Why this project is on Kickstarter:
This story is being produced completely non-commercially, with two non-profit organizations, Orion Magazine and Daylight Multimedia. Your contribution will be channeled 100% into producing the story and the resulting work will be presented in an environment completely free of advertising.
If pledges are received in excess of the project's goal, they will be used to extend the depth and duration of the reporting.
Thank you for your interest and support.
- (90 days)