Immigration reality: Don Bartletti shares and “American Migrant Stories” screened to a packed room


Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Don Barletti speaks to students in the Dezember rom in the Walter Stiern Library on Oct. 10. Photo by Jarad Mann/ The Runner

By Veronica Morley

Feature Editor


The Walter Stiern Library’s program, Walter Presents is exploring issues in immigration with a series of events.

The series includes a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, a documentary screening, and a poetry reading.

“We try to be timely with the issues that are happening in our society,” said Curt Asher, dean of the library who has organized these events.

Don Bartletti

Don Bartletti worked as a photojournalist for over 40 years.

Thirty-two of those years have been spent with the LA Times where he took a special interest in immigration and the border crossing process.

In 2003, he won a Pulitzer Prize for the work he did documenting young Central American immigrant children crossing the border to find their parents in America.

His photostory “Enrique’s Journey” will be featured in the library until Dec. 19.

Bartletti said he gained an interest in immigration after the Mexico Peso was devalued in the early ‘80s.

After this, he began noticing more immigrants showing up on the streets in the northern agricultural areas of San Diego looking for day labor.

He then discovered the squatter camps.

“It was happening in my neighborhood, like never before,” he said. Bartletti shared that these camps were made of huts “often in view of million dollar mansions.”

During his years covering immigrants around the border and in San Diego, Bartletti witnessed backlash from residents of San Diego County.

He witnessed a confrontation between a woman, who was a spokesperson for her condo complex, and a woman from the squatter camps.

“It was like two women screaming at each other, in their own languages, not understanding a damn thing,” he said.

Bartletti has remained objective throughout his presentation and in his work as a photojournalist.

His passion for his work derives from a foundation of producing an ethical report.

He explained he wants to, “get in deep where nobody else has gone. To be the eyes of our readers. I reveal the truth and the news.”

“He’s frozen from that whole night. And he’s sucking in air. Have you ever seen a child cry so hard that they can’t get their breath?” said Bartletti, describing an experience where he came across a migrant boy on top of a train as it approached Mexico City.

Bartletti rode on top of the trains alongside the migrants, jumping from car to car, collecting trash to make fires.

“This became the metaphor for children traveling to the United States. An indistinct horizon, there’s a curve ahead,” he said.

Bartletti crossed the Rio Grande River three times. He traveled to Honduras and witnessed the destruction caused by the gang Mara Salvatrucha.

He witnessed the funeral of a seven year old girl who was shot through the heart.

Her family allowed him to photograph them retrieving her body from the city morgue.

He was so shaken by the sights he was unable to hold the camera still long enough to focus the photo.

American Migrant Stories

As part of the Walter Presents Series, the library, Center for Social Justice, Modern Languages, and Ethnic Studies Departments co-sponsored the premiere showing of “American Migrant Stories” on Oct. 19.

The documentary was produced by CSUB’s Center for Social Justice and the Immigration Justice Collaborative, or IJC. The IJC, Building Healthy Communities – South Kern,  and The California Endowment also co-sponsered the event.

“It’s very easy to sit on your hands and let things happen. We decided we weren’t going to let that happen,” said H.A. ‘Beto’ Sala, a criminal law attorney who helped create the IJC. After President Trump was elected and deportation questions arose, he and 11 other attorneys local to Kern County decided to form the IJC as a way to inform immigrants of their rights and responsibilities in the U.S.

The film centers on Kern County and the history of migration and institutional racism.

It explores ideas from John Stienbeck’s depictions in  “The Grapes of Wrath” to modern day issues in Kern county.

“It’s my hope that this film will be shown all over the United States because I believe it can motivate other lawyers in their own communities to do the same that the Immigration Justice Collaborative has done,” said Sala.

The film also features stories and scenes filmed at CSUB. It follows the IJC as it held events and forums informing DACA students of what to expect.

Sala commended CSUB and President Mitchell for his leadership and efforts to support immigrant and DACA students.

“It took courage and it took respect for our basic foundations of our country to do what Dr. Mitchell has done,” said Sala.

The creators of this film are hoping in the upcoming month to have a completed version of the film to premiere at the Maya Cinemas for the rest of Kern County residents.


This is part one of a three-part series that will follow the immigration series of Walter Presents. Lookout for further information from Bartletti’s talk and other events in the library.


Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Don Bartletti speaks to students in the Dezember room in the Walter Stiern Library on Oct. 10.
Photo by Jarad Mann/ The Runner