WASHINGTON _ Some scenes from America's Latino family album: A large family of migrant workers gathers around a table for dinner. An elderly Latino man lights a candle as he teaches the tradition of altar building. A new U.S. citizen stands proudly, holding an American flag.
Those evocative images are part of “Americanos: Latino Life in the United States,” the Smithsonian Institution's latest traveling exhibition. The exhibit contains 120 color and black and white photographs reflecting the collective experiences of the 32 million Latinos in America.
These often powerful photos highlight Latino culture by weaving it with familiar activities: A daughter in her mothers arms. A migrant farmer, head held high, clutching a bunch of budding tulips. A little girl clasping her arms to her chest, looking scared and confused on her first day of school.
“Americans are what we are. We come from South America, Central America, North America,” said Edward James Olmos, actor and Latino activist, in early April at the exhibit's opening in Washington, D.C.
Olmos started thinking about the project more than three years ago when Manuel Monterrey, a photojournalist, told him that America needs some positive images of Latinos. “What has motivated me to do this is just the image — how images so simple, so basic, have never been seen before,” he said.
The Latinos portrayed in the exhibit are a rainbow of humanity, from an African American-Latina musician to an Asian American-Latina graphics designer.
Elizabeth Goldson, project director, wanted to show the diversity of Latino culture through the exhibit.
“We wanted to represent as many members of the Latino community as we could, as many facets of Latino life as we could,” Goldson said. “We wanted to at least get people aware of the fact that this is such a diverse population. These are not people from one country. They are people from many, many countries.”
“Some families have been here for 200 years. Some families have been here for two weeks — from all walks of life, all professions, all parts of the country,” she added. The photo exhibit is part of a multimedia exhibition that includes a coffee-table book, Latin music CD, and HBO documentary.
The photo exhibit will be on display at the Smithsonian Museum of American History before it travels to New York City and Indianapolis later this year. Through August 2000, the exhibit is tentatively scheduled to visit San Antonio; Chicago; Memphis; St. Petersburg; Houston and Fresno, Calif.
Through its travels, this exhibit will show America the many faces of Latino culture and its people, said organizers.
“This is not the Smithsonian defining Latino life,” said Goldson, the project director. “These are Latino photographers that went out into their community and are using images to talk back through their culture in the national museum of American history.”