Field Notes

Bear Will Be on Assignment in Peru This June by Bear Guerra

Illegal gold miners in Madre de Dios, Peru (2010).

Illegal gold miners in Madre de Dios, Peru (2010).

Bear will be back in Peru next week for another story about mining, this time in Cajamarca, on assignment for the Stockholm-based Blank Spot Project.

Unlike his previous work on gold mining in the country, he will not be focusing on illegal or artisanal mining. This will be a story about the world’s second-largest open-pit mine, Yanacocha, where local Peruvians have been protesting the expansion of the mining operations for the last several years. 

Stay tuned for dispatches from the field. 

The Kids Who Leave, And Those Who Stay Behind by Bear Guerra

Now that the images of children sleeping on the floor and in crowded detention facilities have seen the light, suddenly, the U.S. government is grappling with this new “border crisis” and the public is trying to make sense of it all. Why would kids as young as five be traveling alone under such dangerous conditions? I understand the reasons why, as a reporter who got to know Ronald Aldana’s story while living in Los Angeles. Yet I still struggle with the heartbreak of what it all must mean for each of those kids and their families, their neighbors, and their wider communities.

Children and teenagers have been leaving alone from Honduras, or El Salvador, for many years — but the dangers and desperation that motivate that trek have worsened exponentially. Officials may say the number of children apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border is going down, as they have now. But the root causes of that migration remain, and they are even more complicated and extensive than we realize.

Last month, the local press in Ecuador told the story of Nohemí Álvarez Quillay, a 12 year-old girl from a poor Andean village who had, like hundreds before her, made the trip to Honduras with the hope of ending up in the U.S. to join her parents. She was sexually abused along the way. When she reached the border crossing, she was stopped and returned to Mexico. Days later, she took her life and was found dead at a migrant shelter for children in Ciudad Juárez.

Her story, like those of countless other Central American kids, is finally prompting a debate here in Ecuador — even as officials have yet to publicly recognize the extent of the problem. It turns out that after Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, the majority of kids trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border alone are coming from Ecuador.

This month, we’ll be traveling to central Ecuador, to a place near Nohemí’s village, to talk to the people left behind — and those who are eager to leave. We hope to better understand the impacts of out-migration on rural communities. And we hope our reporting will help humanize this so-called “border crisis” from a place more than 4,000 miles away.

It Sucks to Get Kicked Out by Bear Guerra

A pick-up soccer game on a field overlooking Quito, Ecuador. 05 June 2014, Photo by Bear Guerra

A pick-up soccer game on a field overlooking Quito, Ecuador. 05 June 2014, Photo by Bear Guerra

Earlier this week, Ecuador became the only South American national soccer team to be eliminated from the first phase of the World Cup. This was a sad thing to witness in a country where soccer fever is as strong as anywhere else in the region; a place where “hincha” culture is big. On the day of the defeat, so many people donning the yellow jerseys they’d bought on the street for $10. Recently, there was even an article in Ecuador’s El Comercio paper saying that some of the street vendors selling soccer jerseys had made all their money for the month, and were betting on yet another win. Bars and restaurants capitalized on the event by showing off their enormous high-definition television sets. Government offices closed at 2:30 pm, to give people 30 minutes to get to the bar or the mall or home, wherever they could park to watch the game. We watched it at home, with the volume down. After the 90-plus minute mark, a tie, absolute silence. Since then, not a single yellow jersey in sight.

In defense of making out in public by Bear Guerra

The central plazas of Latin American cities and towns are there for people to come together, whether it be parents chasing their kids chasing pigeons, or old men sitting on benches listening to a soccer game on tiny, battery-powered transistor radios. Plazas, parks, and alleys can also be intimate spaces — and when the people who move through them are young, and in love, a heavily transited street can become as private as people wish them to be. 

As a kid growing up in Caracas, Venezuela, I remember checking out young couples at the plaza with some envy. They would hold hands, sitting side by side on a bench, even kissing or laying on the grass together, without even noticing my stare. This was their right, and the rest of us, young or old, seemed to be there to indulge in watching them. If we were lucky, we’d be the ones making out with someone on that same bench the next day.

And now, three decades later, it’s refreshing to see this tradition hasn’t gone out of style in cities like Quito. Here’s a young couple that Bear photographed recently, clearly in love.