When Verónica G. Cárdenas thinks back on how she got her start as a photojournalist, she recalls a series of moments that started with a visit to a Oaxacan hostel several years ago.
Cárdenas, born in Mexico and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, was a middle school math teacher at the time. Because she enjoyed taking photos, the hostel owner asked if she wanted to join him on an errand to a small town outside the city.
She fell in love with the town and later returned with prints to give its residents. The friendships she made there eventually led her to a nearby shelter where migrants often wait for trains headed north. When she heard about a caravan of migrants passing through, she hopped on the train to join them. The journey became the start of her career as a photojournalist.
“I thought every journalist did that,” Cárdenas said. “I thought every journalist gets on the train and every journalist sleeps on the streets and that it’s not a big deal.”
As an immigrant who grew up along the United States’ southern border, Cárdenas has a first-hand understanding of the many different forces that can push people to migrate. To honor people’s stories, she spent time with and stuck with them through the many situations they faced.
“If they were hungry, I was hungry. If they were thirsty, I was thirsty. If they were unsafe, I was unsafe,” Cárdenas said. “I just knew that I had to do that and that I would relate more with people – that I would really feel what they were going through.”
Since her time on the train, Cárdenas has been recognized for her work and has published photos in The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Time magazine, among other publications.
To her, it’s important to contribute to the international narrative about migration and to never lose sight of the people behind the headlines.
“I just want to – I don’t know how to say it in English – quiero poner mi granito de arena,” she said. “My little grain of sand.”
Carolina Hidalgo, 2019 US-Mexico Border Fellow