Growing up in the desert of southern Arizona, issues surrounding borders and water have always intrigued me. In the fall of 2016, I traveled to the Yuma Valley in southwestern Arizona to talk with and photograph Mexican-American immigrants and migrant laborers working in the region's agricultural fields, and learn how the Colorado River and their hard work transforms this dry desert into a fertile valley every fall.
With support from non-profit organizations American Rivers and Hispanic Access Foundation, I collaborated with filmmakers Justin Clifton and Chris Cresci to document the dedicated people that put lettuce on our tables and the dwindling river that enables successful farming in the desert.
What became evident during our time in Yuma was that we as a greater American society are disconnected from that which sustains us. More than 90% of the nation's leafy vegetables in the winter comes from the Yuma region. This means that if you eat lettuce anywhere in the United States from November through May, more than likely it is grown from Colorado River water.
Most of the difficult physical labor involved in planting and harvesting in this region is carried out by Latino immigrants and migrants with low wages and few benefits. Although their work is providing a nutritional and economic backbone for the region, state, and nation, these individuals are discriminated against instead of celebrated. Like the source of our food, these individuals are hidden, although their work is completed with pride – not unlike most Americans – in an attempt to realize the iconic American Dream.
My hope for this collection of images, Tierra Prometida, is two-fold. I created these images to capture the humanity of the people who dedicate themselves to feeding all Americans with the hope that we can break down the "otherness" rhetoric that has swept our nation. I aim to show that building walls will literally and figuratively crack our social and economic foundations. We need to stand united if we are to move forward. Additionally, I hope that my photos illustrate how vital the Colorado River is to our nation's health, nutrition and economy, and that they will encourage people in the Colorado River basin, and around the country, to be more conscious in their water usage.
© Amy S. Martin Photography