Journalist Offers Intimate Perspective on Immigration

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Santa Fe, N.M.-With immigration as one of the hottest issues in the upcoming U. S. presidential race, journalist Shepard Barbash's new book Changing Dreams could not be timelier. Barbash, a former Mexico and Latin America Bureau Chief for the Houston Chronicle, and photographer Vicki Ragan, revisit the same families they first interviewed in the 1980s while working on their best-selling book Oaxacan Wood Carving: The Magic in the Trees. The changes wrought by globalization and changing immigration policies in the ensuing 14 years are astounding.

"The greatest source of wealth in Oaxaca has been the U.S. economy, which has drawn millions of Mexicans away from their country with dreams of prosperity," says Barbash. "An estimated twenty million Mexicans now live in the United States, and they send tens of billions of dollars back to their families each year-more dollars than are spent or invested in Mexico by all the tourists and all the foreign companies combined."

Repatriated earnings have become the prime source of income for thousands of poor villages throughout Mexico. Barbash finds that although Oaxacan woodcarvings are prized by collectors worldwide, many Mexican artisans have put aside their craft to work in the United States.

From the dusty villages of Oaxaca to the orchards of Oregon and the kitchens of Chicago, the carvers have joined millions of Mexicans who, unable to find good work or sustain their recent prosperity in their own country, have fled across the border. Women in San Martin and La Union estimate that forty percent of their male family members are in the U.S.

Shepard Barbash, an expert on immigration issues, is available for interviews. His perspective, developed through relationships spanning 15 years, gives him a unique and intimate angle on recent developments. His work is complemented by Ragan's series of black-and-white diptychs of the carvers and their families, taken in 1989 and then again fifteen years later.

Jennifer Marshall, 505-231-1776, Changing Dreams A Generation of Oaxaca's Woodcarvers
Photographs by Vicki Ragan; Text by Shepard Barbash
Clothbound: $39.95, 160 pages, 9 x 10, 95 duotones, ISBN 978-0-89013-505-1

Changing Dreams is a moving story of change and survival, conveying the growing aspirations and changing dreams of a people struggling to catch up without leaving too much behind.

Jennifer Marshall