At The Puerto Rican Day Parade

The children of the vanquished gather and announce their presence. An inchoate power growing louder in the land of the conqueror. A land of which they are part. Dancing, singing, loving,  beauty, potential. The children awake and partake.

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At The Puerto Rican Day Parade

In Washington D.C.

I just returned from a conference in Washington DC. While I was there I went to the National Portrait Gallery and saw they had a show dealing with varying depictions of celebrities. Some of what was quite interesting, especially the video portrait of Esperanza Spalding. To my surprise as I walk into a small side room I see this:

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Two Boricuas and a Mexicana. To my delight one is a Supreme Court Judge and the other two, while actors, are also activists in immigration issues. Pretty good.

In Washington D.C.

What You Know

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My younger brother 

There is an old adage heard hundreds of times a year in writing workshops; “write what you know.” This can also apply to some forms of photography.  My image making and that of many photographic artist I admire tend to be the poetic kind. We share a vision of the world. We do not attempt to try and capture a truth about the world. At best we might create an image that is poetically universal from a personal experience.

In this day and age, where everyone carries a camera and where most people are visually sophisticated, at least compared to a couple of decades ago, it is impossible to sell photography as truth. Photography reflects the biases and physical limitations of the person wielding the camera. Photojournalists try to ameliorate the biases but the images they bring back are still infused with their particular set of inherent limitations.

As I think more and more about my proposed project on the Puerto Rican experience,  I come to believe that photographing what I know, my extended family and friends and also creating images about childhood  memories, seems the best way to communicate these ideas. Photograph what I know and push that romantic, Robert Frank road trip to the side.

Like I said before the difference between a photographer and everybody else with a phone, err, camera is the thought involved.

What You Know

Representation

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No taxation without representation! That was one of the major grievances the original 13 colonies of the U.S. had against England. It was one of the root causes of The American Revolution. Back in the 1750’s when this was a major slogan of the 13 colonies, England was passing all sorts of taxes and laws beneficial to England but not to the 13 colonies and the colonists had no say in the matter.

Oh, how the oppressed have become the oppressors! In the 1750’s the U.S. was a colony of England much like Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S. today. After years of plunder by U.S. Corporations and hedge funds, Puerto Rico has a massive debt that is crippling it’s economy to the point of collapse with no way of restructuring that debt unless the U.S. allows it to go into some form of Bankruptcy. Unfortunately, Federal Bankruptcy protection is something the US specifically took away from Puerto Rico in 1984 for apparently no reason.

It’s possible that Puerto Rico could setup it’s own Bankruptcy legal procedures and they did, but the greedy hedge funds went to Federal Court to nullify Puerto Rico’s laws and won. Puerto Rico appealed twice and lost. Now the legal battle has reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Judge Alito has recused himself. It appears he has a monetary interest in the outcome of the case. With Scalia’s passing, that leaves the court with 7 members giving it a slight liberal tilt.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court took up oral arguments in the case. Everyone familiar with the case expected Puerto Rico to lose. But it seems that one of the Justices was very vocal during oral arguments and spoke up an astonishing 45 times! She made it clear that she was advocating for the Puerto Rican defense. The Justice was Sonia Sotomayor,  the first justice of Puerto Rican descent in the history of the Supreme Court. Before Justice Sotomayor’s enlightening questioning of the lawyer representing Puerto Rico, Chris Landau, it was thought that Puerto Rico had no chance of prevailing. After her questioning, which amazingly explained the Island’s position better than it’s lawyers to the other Justices, some on the bench signaled that they were starting to see Puerto Rico’s side. Justice Kagan came out and said, “I think I get what you’re saying now, which I didn’t when I started.” Initially, Kagan started out skeptical of the Island’s position.

Puerto Rico now not only had a representative on the Supreme Court they seemed to have an advocate! An eloquent, highly intelligent and shrewd advocate. What a difference a little representation makes!

Representation

The Complexities Of Being Latino

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As a young Puerto Rican guitarist, I wanted to be Jimmy Page! I also loved Pizza.

The issue of Race In America has come to the forefront of political discussion today like in no other time in America that I can remember. As can be expected the conversations started with the issues of blacks and whites: white privilege, wealth gaps, health gaps, Ta Nehisi Coates, Cornel West, James Baldwin, on and on. Which is great and I have been following the conversation. In the back of my mind though I kept thinking, but what about us?  What about the Latinos in America?

Hispanic is not a race. It is an ethnicity. Latinos come in all shapes and colors, but it is an identity for us. Scientifically the concept of Race does not exist. There is no biological basis for grouping people by skin color or the shape of their eyes or whatever. These are simply variations. To include Latinos in the question of Race in America we need to think of Black and White as identity and then bringing in Latino as identity facilitates inclusion. Maybe, I am not sure.

I remember as a young, eager student in Junior High, I read a lot of books on Black history. One day hanging out on the handball courts as I was reading a biography of Frederick Douglass, Angelique, a neighborhood beauty who had a crush on me (and I on her) came up to me and said, Why you always reading about black folks?  You ain’t black.” She was right I wasn’t black, but I wasn’t white. Ni de aquí, ni de allá.  I was a light brown. Latinos are neither and both. We carry the collisions of New World and Old World upon our backs and the History of the new world is written upon our skins.

Latinos are a varied and complex group and this video I just discovered on the NY Times website is fantastic. It starts a conversation and Latino identity and the complexity of being Latino in America. Many times throughout I found myself strongly identifying with what the various people were saying. Click here for the video.

 

The Complexities Of Being Latino

Frank And The Puerto Ricans

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Astor Place Haircutters, NYC © 2016 Dave Ortiz

 

Like I mentioned in the previous post, I am in the early stages of a photo project dealing with America as seen through the eyes of a second generation Puerto Rican citizen of America. This project is influenced by the work of Robert Frank. In my prospectus I note that like many other photographers before and since, Frank ignores hispanics and brown skinned people and views blacks through a distorted white lens. I note that his only picture of Puerto Ricans was a portrait of three young men who are striking effeminate poses.  While I have nothing against the fact that these boys were gay, I do protest that Frank saw fit to portray a whole population of American citizens in this way – as “other”

America has forever been a multiethnic, multiracial society. With the stigma of interracial marriages and homosexuality being relaxed tremendously and with Latinos now making up about 20% of the population, it’s time for an updated picture of America.

Here is something interesting. Since I am taking Robert Franks’s seminal, The Americans project as a guide, I decided to superimpose a map of the population density of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. with a map outlining Robert Frank’s trips across America.

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It is interesting to note that he did pass through areas that were heavily populated by Puerto Ricans (maybe less so back in the 1950’s) but for him they must have been invisible or at the very least he considered them not part of America.

Frank And The Puerto Ricans