Category Archives: Photography

Fiesta Fridays! 2003 to 2006

NOTE;  Fiesta Fridays is a special series to highlight the many memories I have of Fiesta through the photographs I’ve taken since 2003. 

Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage is 15 years old this year!  I’ve been spending a lot of time going through old files and photos and reliving the early years of this festival.  Getting a festival like this started was a lot of work and yet those of us who were there at the beginning really didn’t know how big this event would become – or how long it would last!  These photos and document revealed so much history and so many people involved for all these years.  As I was reliving moment through photos, I was also recalling stories and my personal thoughts.  So as we get closer to our 15th anniversary this year, I decided to begin posting a photo each Friday with a little story – I’m calling these “Fiesta Friday” photos on Facebook and Instagram.  It occurred to me though that there is more to tell about some of these photos and the people involved and the best way to do this is on my blog.

So this post will be about the photos I’ve already posted from 2003 to 2006.  There are so many photos to choose from too!  I started taking the photos at Fiesta the first year never imagining that I would become the official “unofficial” photographer of the event.  I was using film and switched to digital a few years later but these are the photos that really stick out to me of the thousands that I’ve taken.

Fiesta 2003 – My friends Lui Fernandez and Jasmine Reyes dance next to the Main Stage while Susan Daywood, Rei Ramos and Hernan Prado watch and enjoy the music!

2003 – Fiesta’s first year…  I was at the main stage – the Coca Cola main stage and found a group of friends from the Hispanic Business Council (HBC)on the side of the stage dancing and having a great time.  It was getting close to the final acts and everyone was so happy about the success of our first ever event!  We had expected about 2,000 people to come through but when the numbers were finally counted, we had about 7,000 attendees our very first year!  Overwhelming would be an appropriate word to describe our feelings that day.  I snapped this photo of Jasmine Reyes dancing with a young man.  Behind her are Susan Daywood with the City of Birmingham and a member of the HBC, Rei Ramos with the HBC and Hernan Prado, also with the HBC.  What I didn’t realize at the time is that the young man Jasmine was dancing with would become a huge part of Fiesta.  Luis “Lui” Fernandez is a current board member and has been instrumental in creating the “heart” of Fiesta – the Cultural Village.  He took it from a few posters to a group of community members excited about portraying their respective countries and sharing this information with Fiesta guests each year.  When he is in charge of something, I never worry about how it will turn out because Lui has a special talent in creating something to remember!

Fiesta 2003 – Salsa dancers on the main stage

2004 -Fiesta’s second year – This photo was taken from the Coca Cola Main Stage and is of two dancers.  They drew quite the crowd early in the day that year.  Their dancing was on point along with the DJ playing salsa music.  I was taken by the pure joy of the dance that they shared with Fiesta guests that day.  This photo was used in many of the early marketing and advertising we used of Fiesta to potential sponsors and on our website.

Entrance to the Cultural Village created by Lui Fernandez – Fiesta 2004

2004 – Another photo from Fiesta’s second year is of the entrance to the Cultural Village.  You’ve already read how much I admire and respect Lui Fernandez’s talent and this particular year, he decided to create an actual entrance to the village!  I like to say that this was the year the Cultural Village really came to life!  It was the year that music broke out all over the village and people were dancing on the sidewalk and there was always a steady crowd of people walking through to experience this community driven village.  Lui created the entrance with the logo and before the event opened, he added flags from all the Hispanic countries to the white posts which made the entrance even more colorful.  It was such a beautiful sight!

Fiesta board member – Mike Suco – helps his parents, Teresa and Ramon Suco – set up the Cuba booth in the Cultural Village in 2005.

2005 – Fiesta’s 3rd year – This is such a favorite photo of mine because it features Fiesta board member, Mike Suco with his parents – Teresa and Ramon Suco.  Mike’s mother, Teresa, found out that Cuba was NOT represented the year before in the cultural village and she was not going to let that happen that particular year!  She took it upon herself to create a beautiful Cuba booth along with her husband and as you can see in this photo – her son, Mike too!  Teresa and Ramon Suco fled Cuba under the Castro regime in 1962, shortly after they were married and came to the US not knowing the language or anyone and made a great life for themselves and their children.  Mr.Suco worked his way to District Supervisor at Big B Drugs while Teresa Suco became a Professor of Spanish at Jacksonville State University.  I remember the first year I was President of Fiesta, Mike told me his mother asked about me and wanted to make sure I was doing all right and he was helping me enough!  I always felt we had a special bond because we shared the same name.  Such lovely people…

2006 – Fiesta’s 4th year – I had been photographing Fiesta all day and was trying to head over to the VIP area to grab a quick bite to eat when I saw Cultural Village (CV) Chair, Lui Fernandez rush over to me.  He excitedly told me I needed to get to the CV stage right away and get some pictures!  Of course, I followed him right over and there on the stage were the cutest children dressed in traditional Mexican costumes dancing traditional Mexican dances!  Their faces were so sweet too!  I remember thinking they seemed so shy and yet they were smiling and dancing their little hearts out for the crowd that had gathered.  This was the year we added the CV stage and I remember there was quite a bit of activity with other dance performances and even a short play in Spanish!  I’m just so grateful that Lui saw me when he did and told me to get to the stage or I would have missed this performance.  This became one of my favorite memories of Fiesta in 2006 – seeing the sweet faces of these children and seeing my friend, Lui’s face, beaming from a distance as he watched this take place…

More to come so please come back every Friday through September 30, 2017!

Angels Descending…

Angels descending, bring from above, echoes of mercy, whispers of love...Fanny Crosby

Angels descending, bring from above, echoes of mercy, whispers of love…Fanny Crosby

Angels descending, bring from above, echoes of mercy, whispers of love…Fanny Crosby

There is a place in Bluff Park called Tip Top Grill.  It used to be a gas station and now it’s a little diner overlooking Shades Valley on Shades Crest Road.  Aside from great diner food, it’s also one of the best places to watch a sunset in the city.

On most evenings at sunset, a rather large crowd gathers with cameras and iPhones ready to snap pictures of the sunset and the changing colors in the sky.  I stopped one evening on my way home and stood at the railing waiting for the sun to go down.  I wasn’t really paying much attention to my surroundings – I was maybe one of three people there at the time but within 15 minutes when I turned around, there were about 25 people gathered for the sunset.  I even ran into two friends who saw the crowd and decided to stop and watch!

A few weeks later, I stopped to wait for the sunset on a rather quiet evening.  A family with small children stopped too but not many more people.  The colors of this sunset were gorgeous and there were just a few faint clouds in the sky.  I was so focused on the sunset that I didn’t notice the clouds for a bit.  Then I pulled the camera back a bit and there it was…a cloud shaped like an angel floating up toward the heavens.  I looked at the family next to me to see if they saw it too.  They were a little preoccupied with their kids so I didn’t say anything.  I waited to hear someone remark and it didn’t happen.

Were they seeing what I was seeing?  I don’t know.  If they did, they never remarked.  I was mesmerized by the angel I was watching and the fact that “she” was steadily rising up in the sky.  I remembered a poem I had recently run across by Fanny Crosby.  I always ask myself if this was just a coincidence but deep inside, I know it wasn’t.  When these things happen to me I know they are there to bring me comfort for whatever reason and whatever is to come.  And that makes me happy…

Angels descending, bring from above, echoes of mercy, whispers of love…Fanny Crosby

The sunset that lead to the angel cloud at Tip Top Grill in Bluff Park.

The sunset that lead to the angel cloud at Tip Top Grill in Bluff Park.

 

Birmingham’s Dia de los Muertos 2016

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.'s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue - Cahaba Brewery this year.

A look at the skyline of Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival in its new venue – Cahaba Brewery this year. Murals of Spider Martin and Guillermo Castro are displayed at the start of the altar displays.

I’ve said this before – aside from my beloved Fiesta, Bare Hands Inc.’s Dia de los Muertos festival is one of my favorites of the year.  Both just celebrated year 14 and both will celebrate their 15th – or Quinceanera – next year.  For a festival to make it that long is impressive and this year was even more so for DOTD Alabama.

Early in the year, I heard the festival had been cancelled.  They had lost their long time location due to some changes in the geographic region and had also gone through some leadership changes with the retirement of long time ED Wendy Jarvis and installation of new ED, Robert Hernandez.  But like any organization with volunteers who have a passion for what they do – they persevered and several months into 2016, they decided the show would go on (as they say) and partnered with Cahaba Brewery to move the festival to Avondale.

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival - as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out "present" in the audience...

Roll Call of the dead is a time honored tradition at the festival – as names are called, if family/friends are in attendance, they call out “present” in the audience…

And what a move!  The festival drew over 6,000 people this year!  As I was leaving at 8:30 I ran into Robert and Festival Director-Jennifer Gowers and their faces said it all… Jennifer grabbed me and said “where are all these people coming from?!”  We looked at the entrance and people were still streaming in and the festival opened at 4 p.m.  After a group hug, we talked about the incredible turnout and all the hard work it took to pull the event together in a shorter period of time.  Incredible is the only word I could think of at that moment.  Labor of love is the phrase I choose now.

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Day of the Dead is not your ordinary festival, after all.  It is a way for people to honor and celebrate the memory of loved ones who have left us.  The altar installations and tributes are always very moving and I find myself lingering in front of several because of the unique ways in which people are honored and remembered.  I met a young woman from Mexico who described in detail the altar that she and her family pulled together to honor her family.  Every single item on that altar had a unique significance and as she pointed them out to me, along with the stories, I felt myself tearing up.  What a tribute!  What  beautiful stories…and I was so appreciate that she was sharing these with me.  But then again, that is what this festival is all about…sharing your family stories, sharing the stories of your friends and others you love and cherish so that they are always remembered…

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member.  Very traditional...

A portion of the altar that had so many interesting details recounted to me by a family member. Very traditional…

That’s what Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos means…that’s what Robert, Jennifer and the rest of the board members and volunteers accomplished this past November 2nd.  Viva la Vida!!!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market.  The creations at her booth were exquisite!

Artist Julianna Jackson poses with her incredible headpiece in the DOD Market. The creations at her booth were exquisite!

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Dia de los Muertos 2015…a look back…

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos is tomorrow and Birmingham has one of the best celebrations around!  This is a story I did for Alabama News Center last year about the festival.  I look forward to sharing more photos and stories from DOD 2016 later this week!  (By the way…I’m about to #bloglikecrazy for the month of November as a blogging challenge through See Jane Write!  Should be fun!)

Birmingham’s annual Day of the Dead Festival, organized by the nonprofit Bare Hands Inc., was Monday, Nov. 2 in downtown. This was the 13th year for the festival that celebrates the lives of departed loved ones with lively celebrations, food, music, flowers, dancing and stories. The event has grown in popularity in recent years and continues to expand, drawing a diverse crowd.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican tradition that celebrates life rather than mourning death. The day coincides with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2). Many people describe this event as a colorful, vibrant and joyful commemoration rather than something somber. Altars feature photos, food or drink and hobbies of lost loved ones. Many Hispanic members of the community have embraced this event and participate as a remembrance of their native country.

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era.  Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era. Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

This year, the festival invited visual artist Tim Kerr from Austin, Texas, to create the central memorial. He chose a mural to honor departed foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. It was featured next to the altar honoring photographer Spider Martin. This annual altar is created by his daughter, Tracy Martin – a founder of the festival – and always draws a crowd.

While the festival honors the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead, it incorporates other elements that make it unique. To many Alabamians, it brings to mind Decoration Day in the South. It also gives a New Orleans feel with the jazz funeral parade and procession that takes place around the event. “Dressing up” is a mainstay at the festival. A parade honoring celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo marched along with the jazz band and paraders performed on the main stage.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival.  This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival. This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

The children’s area provided families with sugar skull or “calavera” crafts, activities and a puppet show. Speaking of sugar skulls, having one’s face painted at the festival is popular and not limited to children. The line to have faces painted was long but the results were praised. The public altar area provided a place for attendees to bring photos and personal remembrances or “ofrendas” and honor a departed loved one. One young woman, born and raised in Alabama, commented that she didn’t know much about Day of the Dead until recently when a friend told her about it. She was looking for a way to pay tribute to her father, who recently passed away, and she was excited to take part in this year’s event.

“I want to remember the good times and not dwell on my dad’s death,” she said. “I think this is why events like this are so meaningful and powerful to people like me.”  She held a picture of her father holding her as a baby, and brought his favorite fruit, an apple, to include in the public altar area. Through tears, she remarked how happy she was to be a part of the event.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

One of the most heartfelt moments at the festival is the annual roll call. People submit names of deceased loved ones to be called out from the main stage. As names are called, family and friends in the audience hold up pictures of their loved ones.

Robert Hernandez, a festival volunteer, created an altar to honor his family as well as Selena, who was known as the Queen of Tejano music before her murder in 1995. His creation of a large white flower was a central feature of his altar highlighted with music from the late artist. Hernandez met someone attending the festival who knows Selena’s family. The friend took pictures and promised to pass them along to her family.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Another volunteer noted that Day of the Dead in Birmingham is not a secret anymore.  “More and more people are discovering the beauty of this holiday and want to be here,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful and uplifting night.”

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Prince and Sheila E

Purple Rain album cover - released in 1984

Purple Rain album cover – released in 1984

Around noon today I took some Tylenol sinus meds, grabbed a mug of hot tea and settled into my recliner with my pup, Lucy. I grabbed my laptop to check a few emails and wait for the meds to kick in when I saw the first post about Prince.  A friend had shared a story that Prince was dead at age 57.  The news was stunning and not quite believable.  Could it be an internet hoax?

With the way social media spreads – wildfire comes to mind – I decided to wait to see if Associated Press and other news sources confirmed the news. A number of times I’ve seen friends post RIPs for actors or celebrities who have already passed on thinking it was recent.  But soon there were more posts and finally confirmation with the report coming from Prince’s publicist.  It was true…Prince was gone.

Prince was my soundtrack in the 1980s with the release of his album “1999.” I mean, who didn’t want to party “like it’s 1999?” His album was released in 1982 so we had plenty of time to plan!  Then he released Purple Rain followed by his movie of the same name.  So much great music and still more to come in his incredible career.

Prince and Sheila E perform at The Alma awards in Pasadena, CA - June 2007 - AP Photo

Prince and Sheila E perform at The Alma awards in Pasadena, CA – June 2007 – AP Photo

I think what I loved the most about Prince is the many collaborations he made throughout his career. All the artist he worked with and who made a name for themselves because of his help.  One artist that is high on my list is Sheila E.

Sheila E is the daughter of Pete Escovedo, a Mexican-American musician percussionist who has performed with Santana. Sheila is from a family of musicians so I guess it isn’t surprising she chose this path too.  It seemed predestined for her in fact.  Her relationship with Prince began in 1978 when they met at a concert where she was performing with her father.  She and Prince began their collaboration during the Purple Rain years (1984) and her vocals can be heard on several of his releases like “Let’s Go Crazy” and “Erotic City.”  Her own first hit was “The Glamorous Life” which was a chart topper in 1984.  She opened for Prince during his Purple Rain tour and was with him through 1989 as his drummer and musical director.  Since this time, when I think of Sheila E, I always think of Prince and hoped to one day meet them both.

Sheila E. ends at the end of the concert she gave for the NCLR conference in Chicago - 2009.

Sheila E. ends at the end of the concert she gave for the NCLR conference in Chicago – 2009.

Fast forward to 2009 and I got my wish – part of it. .  In 2009, I attended the National Council of La Raza conference in Chicago.  NCLR is known for drawing great speakers and performers.  One evening is always devoted to music and this particular time the artist featured was Sheila E!  I was so excited as our group headed over to The House of Blues to hear her perform.  I was able to get very close to the stage with my camera and started clicking away.  Yes, I DID stop to get in a dance or two!  Sheila wore a red form-fitting dress, her black hair was long and wavy and she had a white floral percussion set.  I was mesmerized by her.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune to be so close to this incredible artist…someone who was guided by Prince and worked so closely with him.  It was such a thrill….and then this happened…

Photo opp with Sheila E in our hotel lobby in Chicago after her House of Blues performance.  What a treat!  My friend Isabel Rubio and I were thrilled to meet her!

Photo opp with Sheila E in our hotel lobby in Chicago after her House of Blues performance. What a treat! My friend Isabel Rubio and I were thrilled to meet her!

Back at our hotel, a group of us gathered at the bar in the lobby to enjoy a few drinks after the concert. We were a lively group – well, we ARE Latinos – and then suddenly Sheila E walked in!!!  Everyone got even louder and excited as she walked toward us and was sweet enough to pose for pictures!  I still had my camera with me (when don’t I have my camera with me?!) so I became the official photographer for our lucky encounter.  Thankfully, someone offered to take a few pictures of me with Sheila and my good friend Isabel Rubio.  What a night!  Unforgettable!

I’ve wanted to tell the story about meeting Sheila E for some time now. Today seemed like the right time to share it with Prince’s sudden passing.  We lost a musical giant today, but his influence lives on in the many people who love his music, the artists he mentored and the many who were fortunate enough to collaborate with him.

“There are no accidents. And if there are, it’s up to us to look at them as something else.  And that bravery is what creates new flowers.”  RIP Prince.

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A Little Turkish Culture

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The “official” flyer for the Turkish Food Fest. This is the 3rd year for the event.

Three years ago I found out about the Istanbul Cultural Center in Hoover.  I was participating in the FBI Citizens Academy that fall and I met fellow classmate, Umut Gunebir, Executive Director of the Center. The following year, Umut invited me to visit the center to learn more about Turkish culture and events they conduct there.    So, of course, I liked their Facebook page so I could stay current with the center’s activities.

Last year, I heard the Turkish Food Festival was being planned and I was really looking forward to attending.  Unfortunately, the date turned out to be the same as my daughter’s wedding so THAT didn’t happen!  This year, no wedding, so I got an early start and headed over to the Center at 10:45 a.m. to check things out.

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

The crowds gathered early for the festival!

There was already quite a crowd when I arrived.  The smell of food was permeating the area and I was pretty hungry since I had skipped breakfast.  Turkish music was playing over loud speakers.  I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and get food tickets right then or make my way around to see everything and take photos.  I chose the latter and landed at the vendor tables and started clicking away.  All the pretty hand painted bowls  pulled me in and every single one was unique!  Achmed, the vendor did not speak much English so the young lady at the next booth did some interpreting for us.  I had all kinds of questions about the ceramics and he was pleased to share details about how the pieces were created and how time-consuming the process was for the artists – from kiln to painting to kiln again.  I told him I would be back before I left to buy some of the items and he smiled and said he would give me a “good deal.”

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Some of the beautiful hand painted Turkish ceramics.

Next I walked around checking out all the food.  It was a food festival after all!  Each table had signs describing the food being sold which was a nice touch.  The first food items included things like yaprak sarmasi (stuffed grape leaves) and kisir (Turkish tabooli).  Next came the big-ticket items  – gyros and kabobs – served in pita bread with lettuce and tomatoes on top of rice.  Along the last line of booths you could find Turkish coffee or tea to go with some scrumptious dessert items.  Things like baklava, cezerye – a carrot and coconut delicacy, elmali kurabiye (apple cookie rolls with powdered sugar), rice pudding and Turkish cinnamon cookies.  I think they need to create a sampler platter for next year!

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

Turkish cinnamon cookie and cezerye (with the flag pick).

One of the longest lines for food was at the gozleme (Turkish flatbread and pastry) table.  A young man and his mother were hard at work making this tasty and traditional dish.  When I read there was feta in it, that’s all I had to hear!  Like a woman said behind me…”they had me at feta!”  I had to agree!  (Here is a recipe I found online for gozleme.)

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme - a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

One of the longest lines was for the gozleme – a traditional Turkish flatbread and pastry made with feta cheese. Yum!

As I waited for my gozleme to finish cooking on gas-fired sac griddle, I told the young man that his mother was the hardest working person at the festival.  He translated for me and she gave me a smile.  From the time I arrived, she was rolling the dough with the “oklava” – a very long and thin wooden rolling-pin.  As she finished rolling out each dough piece, she would hand it off to her son who would paint it with butter and add a feta and Turkish white cheese mixture before sealing it to cook.  I found out that the son was attending the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and majoring in Physics.  His mother had just arrived in the US and was staying with him for several months which clearly made him happy.  I loved how seamlessly they worked together making the gozleme.  It was well worth the wait and my last 3 food tickets.  Plus, I really enjoyed the conversation.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

One of the beautiful henna tattoos I saw at the festival.

Activities for kids included inflatables and face painting and plenty of kids took advantage of this.  I was very interested in the henna tattoos.  I didn’t have time to get one myself but I was able to photograph a few people who did.  I asked the young woman who was in charge of the henna tattoos what purpose they served and she explained they are a way to adorn the body for special celebrations, just like wearing jewelry.  She had several designs to choose from at her table.  On my list of things to do one day – get a henna tattoo!  They are so beautiful!

By the time I left two hours later, the festival was packed!  The lines were long every where you looked and it pleased me to see this for the organizers.  A young man by the name of Huseyin saw me taking photographs shortly after I arrived and introduced himself saying he was the Social Media Director for the festival.  He asked how I found out about the event and I told him through Facebook.  The festival continued on Sunday and from the pictures people were posting, it was another packed house!  Huseyin mentioned they may be looking for a bigger venue next year because of the growth they are experiencing.  Food and cultural festivals definitely bring in a crowd!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Crowds of people enjoy delicious Turkish food at the 3rd annual Turkish Food Fest!

Oh…and as I promised Achmed, I returned to his vendor booth and bought several of the Turkish ceramic bowls.  And as he promised me…he gave me a good deal!

Here are a few more photos from the event…

 

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.