Griselda San Martin’s exhibit in Kooyumjian Gallery chronicles resilience of families separated by the border

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Families once held strongly together, now fractured by a fence. Their hands once intertwined, now with metal filling the space. This is the reality of many migrant families living in the United States and Mexico. 

Griselda San Martin poses in front of photos in her exhibition. Photo by Emme Goelz

Through the lens of her camera, photojournalist Griselda San Martin portrays the lives of families left separated by the border and their resilience through it all. Her exhibit “Alternative Perspectives” can be viewed in the Kooyumjian Gallery until April 24. 

San Martin was born and raised in Barcelona, Spain. She moved to Mexico when she was in her early twenties. San Martin has spent time living in Colorado, the United Kingdom and New York, and she now resides in Mexico City. She has always photographed and taken pictures of things in her life, but she shared that it was in 2013 that she began taking photography seriously. 

“With photography I feel I can express myself, I can talk about important things in a different way. Important issues such as immigration. I won’t be giving a political speech ever because that is not me. Through photography I feel I can contribute to the conversation.” San Martin said.

San Martin arrived in Boulder, Colorado to begin working towards a master’s degree in Journalism at The University of Colorado Boulder. She immediately noticed that the area she had entered was a predominately white space. There she began to build her first connections for her projects. She was able to connect easily with the Hispanic community she found within Boulder since she had grown up speaking the same language as them. 

San Martin focuses most of her photography on immigration. It is a topic she has interest in and has her full attention. She began focusing on immigration through her art when she came to the United States for the first time. 

Her work entitled “The Wall” was captured throughout 2016. San Martin spent time on the Mexico side of the border, capturing and hearing the stories from families who go there to visit loved ones on the other side and vice versa. The common meeting spot for families was Friendship Park.

“Jose Marquez poses for a photograph that a visitor is taking of his family on the other side of the border wall. Marques has not been able to hug his daughter Susana in 14 years, since he was deported from the United States after living and working in San diego for 18 years.” Photo and caption by Griselda San Martin

Friendship Park has a long history, but has been most famously known as a meeting spot for families in the United States and Mexico. Only open to visitors for mere hours on Saturday and Sunday in the U.S., it was a place where those whose immigration status did not allow them to travel back and forth between the two countries could come and visit their loved one on the other side, their view obstructed by a fence. The park still welcomes visitors on the Mexico side, but the park was closed completely on the U.S. side in 2020. They do not plan to reopen. 

While immersing herself amongst these families and capturing their stories, San Martin shared this process was intense on her. She found herself spending a few weeks along the border in Tijuana, sharing meals with families and devoting her time to them. She would then travel home, then go back in a few months. She shared that after her first visit she lost weight from not being able to eat after seeing what families were experiencing, most notably the brief openings of the gate within the wall. 

An event titled “Opening the Door of Hope” occurred for six years at Friendship Park. The event, formed in a partnership between border patrol and advocacy group Border Angels, allowed a few pre-selected families to embrace for three minutes through an open gate. This event has since ceased. Witnessing this event took a toll on San Martin. 

“I was crying so much, my hands were shaking,” San Martin said.

All of the photos within her series “The Wall” are taken from the Mexico side of the border. San Martin did this purposefully to challenge the harmful stereotypes that come up when you mention or research immigrants or immigration. The wall is decorated and covered in art, and she wanted to capture that liveliness that they have created out of their situation. 

“My goal is not to generate pity. Of course these images convey longing, but I don’t want people to feel sorry for them because they are amazing, they are sad stories but I want to show how colorful and happy these places are. How people sustain relationships under difficult circumstances,” San Martin said. “It’s family. My focus is family.”

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Emme Goelz
Staff Writer | + posts