Some call it "el tren de la muerte" (the train of death). Others refer to the rattling death trap as "la bestia" (the beast). Countless migrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and other Central American countries risk their lives boarding cargo trains each year on their way north for a piece of the American Dream. Every couple of days, hundreds of the region's poorest souls descend on the city of Arriaga in southern Mexico to make the perilous journey to the United States, where they hope to find jobs picking vegetables, mowing lawns, washing cars, or cleaning hotel rooms for minimum wage. Between 2007 and 2010, Spanish photographer Isabel Muñoz made three harrowing trips between Arriaga (Chiapas) and Ixtepec (Oaxaca) to document the travails of travelers on the infamous freight train. She was accompanied by Salvadoran journalist Oscar Martinez. Together they told the stories of the men, women, and children who, on average, hop about a dozen different trains to cover the distance. The pair's experiences are on view at Centro Cultural Español Miami (CCEM) in "La Bestia: Photography by Isabel Muñoz," a sprawling exhibit featuring 76 medium- and large-format color and black-and-white portraits of the passengers they encountered aboard the trains. At CCEM, Muñoz's arresting suite of photos is complemented by video projections by Mexican artists Andrew Olivera and Eduardo Villalobos, who accompanied Muñoz on the last leg of her journey. There are shots of men skipping from box car to box car as the train chugs through a sweltering jungle. And there are photos of mass humanity swarmed atop several train cars. The photos of hollow-eyed, shirtless men carrying their few possessions in grimy backpacks, and pregnant mothers surrounded by hungry broods of shoeless children waiting to board the trains leave an unforgettable impression. The big problem is that CCEM operates on banker's hours, so the type of folks depicted in the exhibit, some of whom might even work as housekeepers or servers in nearby hotels and restaurants, will likely never see the show. That's a crying shame.
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