“Work Is Work”: Kinship, Race, and Violence on the Human Smuggling Trail

September 25, 2019 (Wednesday) / 5:00 pm9:00 pm

Lightbox Film Center, 3701 Chestnut Street

“Work Is Work”: Kinship, Race, and Violence on the Human Smuggling Trail

Transnational gangs such as the notorious MS-13 have recently become directly involved in the human smuggling economy in Latin America. Award-winning anthropologist Jason De León is renowned for his field studies on how clandestine migration has become a complicated, often violent social relationship between smugglers and their clients. His latest work follows the daily lives of Honduran gang members in Mexico whose notions of kinship, race, and gender are crucial for understanding how smuggling systems adapt to changes in U.S. immigration security strategies, and for making sense of the seemingly senseless violence that people find themselves in.

Jason De León is Professor of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and Director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a non-profit research-art-education collective focused on documenting the material traces of undocumented movement across the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. His first book, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail (2015, University of California Press), received the J.I. Staley Prize from the School for Advanced Research. De León is currently writing his second book (tentatively titled "Soldiers and Kings"), a photoethnography about the daily lives of Honduran smugglers crossing Mexico. He is a 2017 MacArthur Fellow.

Border South movie poster


Border South
dir. Raúl O. Paz Pastrana, 2017, 83 min.

The “North-American Migrant Trail” extends for over 2,300 miles from Southern Mexico to the US–Mexico Border. Every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way along this trail. To stem the immigration tide, Mexico and the U.S. collaborate to crack down on migrants, forcing them into ever more treacherous, deadly territory. Border South combines ethnography and cinema-verité to explore the harsh environment and brutal journey of undocumented immigrants from Central America along this trail.

Cosponsored by Penn's Department of Anthropology, Center for Experimental Ethnography, Cinema and Media Studies Program, Latin American and Latino Studies Program, Penn Museum, Penn Provost, Price Lab for Digital Humanities, and Sachs Program for Arts Innovation.