Last summer, thousands of Venezuelan migrants began fleeing across South America every day. I was in my hometown in Ecuador, covering the arrival of the refugees, when a little girl who’d walked out of her country gave me an origami figure of a star made with Venezuelan money. Other Venezuelans were handing out their worthless, hyper-inflated bolivars as souvenirs in exchange for a few dollars, and many others had created bags, wallets and bracelets out of folded bills.
I held that origami figure in my hands and wondered what everyday life was like in a land where money had stopped being money and where a monthly wage can barely purchase a bag of rice. The colorful bolivars were, finally, the most tangible manifestation of an exodus that is nearly as big as the one from Syria, with more 3.5 million hitting the road.
With this realization I set out to the Venezuelan border and joined a group of “caminantes” — walkers, or wayfarers — as they crossed into Colombia and trekked across the Andes. The faces along this path were covered by fear, grief, nostalgia, resignation and, above all, uncertainty. Some of them were on the way to join a friend or a family member who had already migrated; most seemed to be adrift, walking for hundreds of kilometers until they reached a town where they could find jobs and begin sending money back to Venezuela.
After the trip I transferred the images of the caminantes I took there onto the defunct bolivars using a silver gelatin process. The light-sensitive emulsion bonded the images of the migrants to the bills that were the very cause, and consequence, of the crisis. The faces of Venezuelan heroes printed on the paper gaze upon a generation ejected from their country by hunger and hopelessness. The flora and fauna on the reverse side speak to a lavish motherland abandoned by its people. The irony and tragedy are obvious, just as they are for the people.
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