Listening to the continuous debate over illegal immigration in the United States, I became increasingly disturbed at the lack of balance it presents. Most of the articles, talk shows and news photos that I’ve encountered only comment on the issue from the U.S. point of view. There is a profound lack of information directly from the immigrant’s point of view. I wanted to understand and discuss the issue from its root causes, so I decided to interview and photograph the families of immigrants where they live. I chose northern Mexico because that is an area that exemplifies Mexico’s issues and where I happen to know a lot of people. Mexicans frequently refer to the U.S. as “the other side,” so I’ve gone over to their side to try and bridge this gap in understanding.

My criterion for this project was to photograph families and individuals living in Mexico who have at least one family member or significant other living in the U.S. Because my research concentrates on marginalized communities, all the relatives are, not surprisingly, illegal. The formal portraits, and stories from the people, form the backbone of this work. The other photographs; details from their lives, scenes of the surrounding community and spontaneous images of people in the area, aim to present a fuller sense of daily life, and an understanding of what drives people to leave, but also what they must leave behind. Some of the images are meant to work as metaphors, evoking ideas such as criminal treatment, innocence, connections to the U.S., or the inability to escape poverty.

Additionally, I’ve interviewed most of the people in the portraits about their experiences with immigration, collecting personal stories, usually in their own words. Many women or elderly people feel lonely and left behind by their husbands or offspring. Children are growing up fatherless. The lucky ones receive money, gifts or cards from their faraway dads. Sometimes a couple will split up even if the wandering spouse returns. Current laws keep these families torn apart.

All together, I hope these images and words recreate the experience of the Mexican people who are left behind, left alone and left out of the discussion about immigration. Through this project, I want to give Mexican migrant families a voice, to see their faces, to have U.S. citizens look into their eyes and their homes, to promote a gaze and an understanding across two nations. I believe that if the underlying causes of immigration are highlighted, and the people affected by it are listened to, then we could create dialogue and hence, solutions, that would benefit both sides of the border.


Emily Matyas began her photography career as a journalist in the 1980s. She free-lanced for several magazines but it was while working in Mexico for Save the Children, that she discovered her propensity for fine art photography. Since then, her work has been exhibited across the country and collected by individuals, and organizations such as The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. In 2002, she received an MFA in photography from Arizona State University. She has taught several children’s / teen workshops, and has taught photography at Scottsdale Commmunity College.

Emily’s work is rooted in the ducumentary style of 20th century black and white photogrphers. She was inspired as a child by the 1930s Farm Security Administration photographs. Her work, however adresses issues more through the use of metaphor, rather than direct representaion. It is usually figurative and revolves around ideas about life cycles, emotion, culture and dreams. She still loves film and the gelatin silver print, but has also branched out into some altenative 19th century processes and digitial. Currently, she is experimenting with combinations of pinhole, digital and painting.