"The Legacy of Zero Tolerance"

an Interview with Almudena Toral

By ANNA LEA JAKOBS | April 29, 2019

Photojournalist Almudena Toral focuses on the US and Latin America as a part of Univision News Digital. Her documentary, The Legacy of Zero Tolerance, has won the World Press Photo Award for digital storytelling in 2019. She and her team recorded the reunification of a Guatemalan girl, Adayanci Perez with her family. They also shed light on the mental health consequences following the separation policy (Zero Tolerance) in the U.S. Toral and her team decided to intimately document the reunification of one of the victims of this policy with their family.


The case of Adayanci stood out to Toral: she would compulsively cry and cut her own hair on impulse. Upon arriving in Guatemala, the photojournalist was shocked by the severity of the case. Adayanci’s parents added that she would stand and stare at the wall in the middle of the night. Despite Toral’s experience reporting on sex trafficking and drug addiction, it was one of the hardest phenomenons she has ever had to film. Being deeply moved by the destiny of this girl, she came back to the US thinking: “this was trauma inflicted by the government.”


The documentary uncompromisingly shows how the current measures of the US administration regarding immigration affect the powerless. “To me, this was a way of humanizing big politics,” Toral states and continues saying: “People here in the US or in other parts of the world could look at this girl and say this could be my daughter.” Operating for a Hispanic channel, her work is viewed by mostly Latin-American audience. The World Press Photo contest enabled her to make the voices of Adayanci Perez and people with a similar fate heard on a wider scale.


Although Toral and her team published the documentary in the form of an article, the movie was considered to be a more powerful way of conveying the message. “What people say: seeing is believing, is in some way true”, says Toral, speaking from experience. According to the journalist, it is more important now than ever to cover the policies regarding immigration because it is a big part of Trump´s discourse: “It is important to be watchful of what Trump is saying and to know exactly is the reality on the ground. It is important to put this information out there so people have a 360 degree view of the world, even if the issues might be geographically far from them.”


Until recently, photojournalism has been dominated by white males. Toral criticizes the antiquated structure in the industry and calls for change: “If you only have one type of person, let it be male or female, or white or black, covering the world you are only going to get a limited version of that world.” She describes her own way of filming as follows: “I try to give voice to people in a very intimate way. I try to make myself invisible. I am just trying to empower them to tell their own story.” Grateful for the recognition of her work by the World Press Photo contest, Toral will continue to help people to tell their stories.

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