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5,000 Miles, 10 Countries, 3 Months

When Saul Flores was a junior in college in 2010, he walked 5,328 miles across ten countries from Quito, Ecuador to the United States after being inspired by a recent service trip to Mexico and his parents’ own experiences with immigration. His project, “The Walk of Immigrants,” captured the danger of the immigrant journey north. A philanthropist and photojournalist, Flores continues working on projects that humanize the immigrant experience through media. He has been featured on NPR, TEDx and the Huffington Post. Invited as the Keynote Speaker for Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, he delivered his lecture, “Fleeing Home: Immigration and the Cost of Poverty,” in the Sarazen Student Union.  “I want you guys to see how complex we are as people. I think a lot of times, we assume we are this monolithic community, and we are not. We are complex people with different moments, different traumas, different experiences,” Flores said.

Photo courtesy of the Franciscan Center for Service & Advocacy

When Flores was granted a stipend in college, he started leading service trips back to his mother’s hometown in Mexico. When he visited his grandmother, she brought him and his friends to the top of the hill overlooking the city where there was a tiny cinderblock school, which Flores’ grandmother called their “beacon of hope” for the people in their community. When Flores and his friends walked into the run-down building, 124 kids greeted them and sang the Mexican national anthem. “It was so beautiful because they were introducing us into their home,” Flores said. He noticed the crumbling cinder block walls, flickering light bulbs, and splintering wooden desks, and began photographing. “I began to photograph these humble moments. I also photographed the face of hope,” he said, showing an image of a young girl on the PowerPoint behind him. “It was through this images in this random home in this unexacting place that I discovered a community that I wanted to serve.”

A map showing Flores’ journey

Flores, upon learning the school was doomed to close, returned home to the United States feeling uncertain of how to help. He talked about experiencing the rhetoric of hate from the media after seeing a story on the news where the anchors mocked a woman trying to cross the Rio Grande, suggesting it would be better for everyone if the river swallowed her whole. These feelings of anger fostered action in Flores.  “Under this sense of suffocation and anger, I created a project called ‘The Walk of the Immigrants’ to honor the journey that immigrants make north. I wanted to make a bridge between our communities,” Flores said. The goal of his project was to sell the photographs and use the proceeds to reconstruct the school. Grimly, he added that his final goal was to make it back to the United States alive. “I’m standing in front of you and I feel heavy,” Flores said, “heavy with the stories of all the beautiful people I met.”

Flores addressing the audience

When Flores crossed the U.S. border into Texas after a three-month-long trek, his journey had made national news. “What was so special about this project is that we were able to spark a national conversation using a simple tool like a camera,” Flores said. “It evolved into the story of the thousands of immigrants that head north every single day. And today I’m not just asking you to open your minds and open your hearts to our stories. I’m asking you to believe in yourself and to cement yourself in a passion, and to let that passion guide you for the rest of your life.” During the Q&A session, Flores emphasized the value of international travel. When he started his journey, he admitted to having a very romantic, unrealistic view of what it meant to immigrate north. “You get to see through the lens of other people,” he explained. “This trip made me cement my love for immigrant communities. It really changed the entire course of my life.”

Flores’ talk was sponsored by the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy, the Damietta Cross-Cultural Center, and Latinos Unificando Nuestra America. Flores is currently filming a documentary, Love Walk, that intends to capture the immigrant experience. One of his recent campaigns, LoveThreads, was covered in an article for the Huffington PostIf students are interested in learning more about Flores’ mission, campaigns, and trips, he can be found on Instagram and Twitter at @sweetlikesaul.