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Lavanya Bahuguna


12 Portraits Of Migrants & Their Stories Of ‘Most Prized Possession’ That Will Make You Cry

  • IWB Post
  •  May 19, 2017


As a part of her project, 40-year-old visual journalist Melissa Lyttle met migrants to know their painful yet powerful stories and create a photo album.

With the help of a reporting fellowship from International Women’s Media Foundation, Melissa was able to visit a migrant shelter for youth to take portraits of migrants making their way to the United States.

During the conversation, she asked them about their prized possession.

She told HuffPost, “It’s all about introducing yourself, stating your intentions, and allowing people the space to share their stories. Almost everyone I talked to allowed me to make a portrait of them. I wasn’t really expecting anything when I asked them about their prized possession. It was more a curiosity, initially, and I asked one person, thinking it’d stoke an interesting conversation. And boy, did it ever.”

Melissa narrated the story of a man who was sad after losing his girlfriend’s photo more than losing money on being robbed. She said, “If his answer wasn’t so touching, I may have not asked again. But it made me even more curious what others would say.” 

Read the many stories of ‘my most prized possession’ that Melissa collected for her photo project:5910bd7f17000020005a56cb

Angel Morales Hernandez, 18, of Tepiaca, Puebla. His dad lives in Phoenix and he hopes to join him in search of a better life. The most important thing he carries with him is “el Señor” (the Lord).5910bd7e17000020005a56ca

Ofelia Galvez Juarez, 34, of Lapa Guerero. She has a 12-year-old daughter that lives in New York that she’s trying to get to. The most important thing she brought with her was the strength to continue on.5910bd8117000020005a56cc

Martin, 17, is from Mexico’s Jalisco state. A month ago his dad killed himself, so he came north in search of a better life. He dreams of making it to the U.S. He hopes for a good job and to be able to make more money and help his mom take care of his younger siblings. The most important thing he’s got is the faith to arrive.5910bd821600000a12c5a109

Barbara, 21, is from Honduras. She left because of the discrimination against trans people: “They suffer a lot of indignities.” She can’t get work, and left with only $420, so most of the time she walked. Her family accepts her and wants her to come back but she sees no future there. The most important thing she brought with her was the dream of making it to Los Angeles.


Julio Cesar Chavez, 19, left his home in Mexico four months ago because of the violence and also because there is no work. He said he wants to cross into the U.S. for work and to be able to provide a future for his family. He wants to bring them but doesn’t want to put them in danger. He plans on crossing solo near Tijuana. The most important thing he brought with him was the memory of his 1-year-old daughter Diana Michelle. She’s the reason he’s doing this.


Anonymous, 17, from Honduras. His girlfriend’s dad was a drug dealer and didn’t like him dating his daughter. Her dad threatened to kill him, and she called to warn him as two men were on their way to his house to find him. He’s trying to make his way to Houston to stay with his aunt, but he may just stay in Mexico now because the journey is too hard.  The most important thing he brought with him was a picture of his girlfriend, but he got mugged along the way and it was stolen. So, now it’s just the memory of her.


Benjamin Ruiz Cortez, 34, is from Quezaltepeque, El Salvador. It took him nearly three months to travel from his home to the border in Nogales, Sonora. He fled because he said he witnessed the murder of a 14-year-old and no longer felt safe: “People know that I saw it. They know I know who did it.”


The most important thing he carries with him is a cross with his name engraved on it, for luck. Severino, 23, is from the Mexican state of Guerrero. His family is in Los Angeles, so he’s trying to get to Tijuana to cross over to be with them. The most important thing he brought with him was himself.5910bc6d1600002000c5a101

Jose, 44, is from Guatemala. He gave a coyote money 20 days ago and he never saw the man or his money again. He has two teenage kids and a wife in Houston. The most important thing he brought with him was his cell phone, so if something happens to him at least he’d have communication.5910bc6c17000020005a56ba

Jorge Lagos, 22, of Honduras, left his home four months ago. He’s hoping to make it to Houston, where his aunt and cousins live, in hopes of finding work. The most important thing he brought with him was the telephone numbers of his family, in his memory.


Alejandro, 22, took the bus most of the way from El Salvador to Mexico City. He wants to work in a restaurant either in Mexico City or in the United States. He left for better opportunities. The most important thing he brought with him was hope.


Jorge Luis Lopez, 21, is from Honduras. He’s been traveling for 22 days — by car, train and bus. His uncle says he has a job for him doing construction if he makes it to Maryland. He’s in search of “una vida mejor,” or a better life. 

Melissa added, “In the end, the physical things didn’t surprise me nearly as much as the mental ones: faith, hope, phone numbers committed to memory. I really hope that people realize and can relate to the fact that people are simply searching for a better life — and that’s not a good reason to prosecute them. I also hope people realize that there are economic migrants, who want the chance to make money and support their families and they’re not being granted it where they’re from, and then there are refugees…people fleeing violence, persecution, and worse. And lastly, I hope people realize that we’re all the same deep down inside.”

[This was first published here.]

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