Book Review: Sol y Tierra
By Jenna Butler
A group of young children, in their traditional school uniforms, are pictured running and laughing from a school-house, sand kicking up behind them, running towards the camera. They look as if they could be from anywhere, the only indication of where they are is from the landscape. The children are photographed in a desert with cactuses in between saltbushes, and the sun beaming down on them. Emily Matyas’s book “Sol y Tierra,” takes us on a journey across the Northwestern border of Mexico and challenges us on what exactly separates us from those on the other side.
A woman is photographed in contemplation, standing near a wall, that is presumed to be the border. It is as if she wondering about what is on the other side. Her life has been on the south side of the Northwestern border, in Sonora-- the second largest state in the country that borders Arizona. This border accounts for nearly 45% of migrant deaths. Her expression is the opposite of the border violence--peaceful. As is Sonora.
Life in Sonora, as captured by Matyas in both color and black and white, is rich in a unexpected way. Although the town is poor, the people are rich in other ways. In a black and white photograph, mugs filled with coffee are seen on a table with steam that is rising with the morning sun. The table overlooks the vast emptiness of the desert, and the coffee waits to be drunk by its occupants. A women is clutching her baby, with a smile across her face, both their eyes filled with tenderness. Despite what is going on at the border, a moment of love is captured in each photograph, whether it is a love for a child or love for the land.
The border is a line that separates the people of Sonora to those in the United States. Through these photographs, we see a life that is not much different from ours. Kids go to school, families work, and people celebrate. It is the same sun and moon watching us from morning to night. And these photographs make us feel as if these kids could be ours. The border seems as if it is just a line creating unnecessary distance. What the photographs portray is that life is the same on both sides and that by having a border, it creates a distance that creates mistaken thoughts. On one side we are curious and on the other we are scared.