Documenting the Undocumented

By Lyndsey Hewitt
Staff Writer

October 4th, 2012

Writer-photographer Joseph Sorrentino spoke to a full auditorium in Sloan on Monday night, detailing the stories behind his show called Aquí y Allá (Here and There), now hanging in Sloan Gallery.

Sorrentino is a successful photographer; he has had about 50 solo photography exhibitions, as well as many published works in various publications.  He has also written short stories and full-length plays that have been published in the United States and Europe.

He discovered his love for photography by accident while working in a soup kitchen in Philadelphia.

“I just started photographing people with their permission, and started listening to their stories,” he told the audience.

The subjects in Aquí y Allá come from a wide range of locations that he has traveled; from farms outside of Rochester, New York to the southern most states in Mexico.

Sorrentino recalled just how he started documenting farm workers.

Sorrentino moved to Rochester from Philadelphia in 2001.  Soon after moving there, he attended a meeting held by an organization that advocates  farm workers in New York. At this meeting he learned about the rights, or lack thereof, of farm workers in not only New York, but in the U.S. overall – where the majority of farm workers are immigrants.

“By New York state law, farm workers are not given a day of rest, a right to overtime pay or the right to collective bargaining,”

“After hearing about these exclusion laws, I got really ticked off. I wanted to learn more about what life was like for farm workers, because if it wasn’t for farm workers, we wouldn’t be eating,” he said.

Sorrentino continued to inform the audience of startling facts about immigrants by saying that “More than 50 percent of all farm workers are here illegally.”

In a series of photos he compiled in a multimedia slide show with audio, he showed us what it is like for workers, some as young as 11 years old, hopping trains to make it to the United States.

Knowing there is little to no work in Mexico, they feel they can emerge from the extreme poverty and find salvation in the United States, even if it is just for a while, by making money for their family. They do this despite the grave danger of crossing the border; men get beaten and robbed, and women get raped.

“Since 9/11 it has become even more dangerous [to cross the border] because they are using riskier and riskier routes, as the border becomes more patrolled,” he said

According to an article about border patrol abuse published in late September by the Texas Observer, a political newsmagazine published in Austin, Congress has tripled the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents to over 21,000.

He ended his presentation by reiterating facts about immigrants and how current immigration laws in the United States essentially are not working, and how people can be pro-active to help change those laws.

“We are partially responsible for what is going on in Mexico. We are the beneficiaries of agricultural and trade policies like NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement],”

“We can change things, we can vote, we can do things like buy fair-trade coffee at the very least,” he said.

In addition to many students, faculty members from various disciplines attended as well, including Damarys Lopez and Eduardo Valerio, associate professors of Spanish.

“He showed the reality of Latin America, he not only show the pain, but also encouraged people to be pro-active. We have a policy for immigration that is obsolete and is not working. He showed that we can vote for someone who may consider changing these policies,” said Valerio.

Sorrentino’s photographs will be on display in the Sloan Gallery through October 26, and can also be viewed online at

Photo courtesy of

Posted in: A&E

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