Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: 'Ojo Latino' photo exhibit gives ethnic groups a voice
April 3, 2017 12:00 AM
Diana Nelson Jones/Post-Gazette
Carolina Genet holds one of the images she captured for the Ojo Latino photo project.
By Diana Nelson Jones / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Putting people in categories has its purposes, but categories can become boxes that we too easily pack and stack with singular labels such as the black community, the Muslim community or the Latino community. These designations disregard the many communities and cultures within each category.
Carolina Genet is Nicaraguan and had never eaten an arepa — a cornmeal patty stuffed with savory fillings — until she visited an acquaintance from Venezuela for a special photography project.
“I took photos of a mother making dinner,” she said, “and I said, ‘What is that?’” she related to a crowd of about 40 recently at the Ojo Latino photo exhibit at the Carnegie Library in Beechview. Ojo means eye in Spanish. “I had never had an arepa and it was delicious.
“Another woman made pozole,” a hearty soup made in Mexico with pork and hominy. In Nicaragua, pozol is a drink, she said.
“They also used words that I had no idea what they meant.”
From dialects and colloquialisms to food and beyond, there is too much diversity among Latinos for one box. That reminder is one of the riches resulting from Ojo Latino, which has closed in Beechview but reopens April 10 at the University of Pittsburgh’s Public Health Commons, room A115, 130 DeSoto St., Oakland. An opening reception from 2 to 3 p.m. will launch the exhibit through April 24.
Pitt grad student Camilo Ruiz got the idea on visits to archives and museums looking for documents and displays related to Latinos. He found out that Latin Americans have been coming to Pittsburgh for a long time but their presence is barely visible and their voices are rarely heard.
Mr. Ruiz, a Colombian, is studying for advanced degrees in anthropology and public health. He applied for a grant from Pitt’s Year of Diversity project to put cameras in the hands of 13 Latino immigrants. (It ended up being 11.)
Their task was to photograph the lives of other Latinos — their work, their environments, their family lives and cultural settings. The purpose was to give voice through images.
Mr. Ruiz and his advisor, Patricia Documet, placed flyers in churches, stores and other places they knew Latinos frequent to find participants.
“I wanted to bring attention to the working class,” Mr. Ruiz said. “We told them to photograph for a week how it was to be a Latino in Pittsburgh.”
None of the people given cameras is a professional photographer, but they all chose strong, well-framed images. Their photos show men working construction, in kitchens, waiting for a bus, women with children, scenes in church, still-lifes, squirrels in a bare tree and food.
Roberto Boyzo, a native of Mexico who lives in Brighton Heights, works at a Downtown restaurant. One of his photographs is of a street scene he sees everyday walking his child to the school bus.
“Everybody can take a picture,” he said, “but we had to pay more attention to take a picture that is good.”
“What do squirrels have to do with being Latino?” an attendee asked Mr. Boyzo, who earlier had told me he photographed squirrels in a tree because the Latino existence in Pittsburgh means getting used to things he never saw growing up.
He began trying to answer the question when a man in the audience piped up, “It’s an immigrant,” making everyone laugh.
Ms. Genet, who lives in Springdale and cleans houses, saw a flyer about the project at church.
“I like photography, and this was a way of showing what we do and who we are,” she said. “When I took pictures of people working in construction, it was amazing to learn that they work 12 hours” a day, often more.
She said most Latin Americans she has met work hard at hard jobs.
Several people at the Beechview opening were so taken by the images that they began discussing ways to give the exhibit more visibility. Sister Janice Vanderneck, executive director of the advocacy agency Casa San Jose, suggested an exhibit at the City-County building Downtown.
“I thought this was fun and would be a recognition of Latinos,” Mr. Ruiz said. “People started coming to this area since the early 20th century, probably for the same reason as today. It’s always work.”
Diana Nelson Jones: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.
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