Monthly Archives: February 2016

American Boricua at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

BCRI Town Hall Panelists - Dr. Lynn Adrian, Wanda Benvenutti, and Dr. Carlos Aleman

BCRI Town Hall Panelists – Dr. Lynn Adrian, Wanda Benvenutti, and Dr. Carlos Aleman

In January, I attended a Town Hall meeting at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute called “Nuestra Cultura:  The Impact of Hispanic/Latino Cultures in the U.S.”  This event was in conjunction with the “American Boricua” exhibition being shown at the BCRI.  The panelist featured were Dr. Lynn Adrian, Department Chair, American Studies Scholars Program, University of Alabama; Dr. Carlos Aleman, Assistant Professor, Director, Latin American Studies, Samford University and Wanda Benvenutti, photographer of “American Boricua” exhibition.

The discussion began with a review of US immigration followed by the US census and how it has identified Hispanics/Latinos throughout the ages.  This then lead to a discussion of race – being white or black or brown and ultimately about language.  The biggest discussion centered about the topic of language and so many good points were brought out.  It has had me thinking for weeks now.  A future post will discuss Spanish language and my thoughts on this.

Besides the great discussion that night, another highlight for me was getting to meet exhibit photojournalist, Wanda Benvenutti.  She is a breath of fresh air…so full of life and energy and offered so much to the conversation about language, race, culture and identity.  Having lived in Puerto Rico for 6 years when I was growing up, she reminded me of one of my mother’s friends and I was always drawn to this woman.  Wanda clearly does not meet a stranger and I was definitely drawn to her!

Wanda Benvenutti's American Boricua - Puerto Rican Life in the  United States - at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery.

Wanda Benvenutti’s American Boricua – Puerto Rican Life in the United States – at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute in the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery.

Wanda’s exhibit – American Boricua, Puerto Rican Life in the United States – was extended through February 29th.  It is a visual history of Puerto Rican life in 50 states and examines how Puerto Ricans define home, family, culture, and identify.  Wanda hopes this exhibit will get people to think beyond race and focus on culture.  She states that to focus on culture is inclusive, genuine and real.  I tend to agree!

If you are wondering about the word Boricua, it is a term of endearment Puerto Rican’s use for one another.  It comes from the native Taino word for the island, “Borinken,” which means “Brave Noble Lord.”  I recall as a little girl singing the Puerto Rican national anthem – Borinquen – before classes when I attended Cupeyville Elementary, a private school in Rio Piedras.  Later I learned to play it on the piano.

I was able to see Wanda’s exhibit today and it was very moving.  Black and white photographs with simple titles.  Black and white photography is always so detailed and it draws you into the frame.  There was also a video looping which had Wanda speaking with a group of Puerto Ricans in a living room setting.  The biggest takeaway from that video was the woman who spoke about being Puerto Rican, being brown.  Her statement “we have come to the conclusion that we’re not white enough for the white people, and we’re not black enough for the black people.  So we’re caught in the middle.”  She went on to say that it didn’t bother her and she just goes about her business just fine.  All the people in the group discussion spoke about never having been invited to a white person’s house for dinner.  They talked about living in the south and how the image of friendliness and that your neighbor will bring over food to be hospitable is ever present…but they never had this experience.  I wanted to hear more but it was a short excerpt.  This is the kind of conversation we need to keep having though.  Hopefully, exhibits like this can bring that conversation about.

Wanda's photograph entitled - Abuelo (Grandfather)

Wanda’s photograph entitled – Abuelo (Grandfather)

Of all the photographs in the exhibit the one that is my favorite is called “Abuelo.”  This means “grandfather” and it was taken in the summer of 2002 in Philadelphia, PA.  I love it for the obvious reasons – the sweetness of the photograph – a granddaughter kissing her grandfather and the smile he has on his face.  But what draws me more to the photo is the image of their hands.  It’s the way her hands caress his face – cradles it – and the way he gently holds on to her hand as she shows her love for him.  It’s breathtaking…

I urge you to go by the BCRI and check it out before it is gone.  While you are there, take some time to also go through the BCRI’s permanent Civil Rights exhibit.  I see something different every time I go through…

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute - taken from the 2nd floor outside of the permanent exhibit.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute – taken from the 2nd floor outside of the permanent exhibit.

One of the iconic exhibits in the permanent Civil Rights collection at the BCRI in Birmingham, Alabama.

One of the iconic exhibits in the permanent Civil Rights collection at the BCRI in Birmingham, Alabama.

Yellow Bloom Tablecloth, Papel Picado and Mariachi Sombreros

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Yellow bloom oilcloth vinyl tablecloth, papel picado and Mariachi sombreros!

February is my birthday month and more than anything I love getting together with family and friends to celebrate another year of life.  Usually my husband makes a wonderful meal and we gather around our dining room table and share stories and so much laughter, followed by Edgars cupcakes.  This year, since Eddie wasn’t feeling well, we went out to dinner but we came back to the house for those cupcakes and birthday cards!

At this stage in my life, while it’s nice to receive birthday gifts, it’s not something I expect.  My sweet mother has gift giving in her DNA.  I always tell her not to buy me anything but she can’t seem to NOT bring gifts on special occasions.  This year though, she listened.  She didn’t buy me anything.  Instead, she went through some of her things at home and wrapped them up for me.  This meant so much more to me because these were things she bought for herself several years ago when we were in New Mexico for a family reunion.

Yellow bloom oilcloth vinyl tablecloth my mother bought in New Mexico several years ago.

Yellow bloom oilcloth vinyl tablecloth my mother bought in New Mexico several years ago.

The first item was a Yellow Bloom pattern oilcloth vinyl tablecloth.  I remember when she bought this.  I was with her and I almost bought one for myself.  She had seen one of these tablecloths at a family member’s house and had to have it!  This pattern is so bright and cheery and now that I have my new kitchen farmhouse table, it will look great set with some Fiesta dishes and margarita glasses.  My goldenrod colored kitchen walls will be a nice backdrop too!

Plastic papel picado...good for outdoor use!

Plastic papel picado…good for outdoor use!

The next items were three sets of very large strings of papel picado.  Mom said to me when I pulled these out of the gift bag…”I figured you would get more use out of these than I would. ” I told her these will be great during Day of the Dead this year!  Papel picado is considered a Mexican Folk Art and is seen in many Mexican restaurants and during many Mexican celebrations.  It’s so colorful and I really love using it to decorate.  One of my cousins in New Mexico has it draped from the ceiling of her kitchen and it’s so unique and beautiful!  I’ve considered doing that in my own kitchen.

Turquoise miniature Mariachi sombrero - one of three my mother gave me for my birthday this year!

Turquoise miniature Mariachi sombrero – one of three my mother gave me for my birthday this year!

Finally, mom gave me three miniature Mariachi sombreros.  Mariachi sombreros are so beautiful and I remember wanting to bring one back for my dad when I visited Mexico as a senior in high school.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to buy one so instead, I bought him a miniature one similar to these.  The day my mom bought these, I also picked up a few to use on my  Mexican Christmas tree.  These three will join the rest this year when I decorate.  I especially love the turquoise one…I didn’t get one that color.

Thanks mom…I love you!