Photography Exhibit at Weinberg/Newton Gallery Explores Latino Identity

For decades, Wendy Ewald has always found the best method of storytelling to be through photography, and with the help of children.

“I started my work in that way because I was very interested in their freshness and their honesty,” said Ewald.

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During the pandemic and this past summer, she worked with Chicago students from the Centro Romero Youth program, virtually, to use photography to capture what it’s like to be a first-generation Latino in Chicago. It’s a part of the Social Change series titled, “Daily Life and Dreams in the Pandemic: A Project with the Centro Romero Youth Program (2020-2021).”

“They bridged the gap between their parents’ experience and their own experiences,” said Ewald.

One of those stories includes 18-year-old Adriana. She tells her mother’s story of moving to the United States alone at just 15 years old.

“It’s really important to tell her story because I think there’s a stereotype that ‘they come here for the wrong reasons.’ It's absolutely necessary for them to come over here. They need to make money and support their family. For her to be able to do that at a young age, it takes responsibility and it takes a lot of guts. I’m glad her story is being shown and that I’m a part of it,” she said.

Naila documented what it was like growing up in a Latino and Asian background. Her parents are from Mexico and Laos.

“Mostly on the Day of the Dead we wear shirts or dresses that have on them flowers that are really bright colors. With my dad’s part of the family, we have skirts with different kinds of patterns and designs.”

The exhibit also features work by Amalia Mesa-Bains called “Dos Mundos,” which explores her family’s immigration story to Chicago in the early 20th century.

“My family had worked in the steel mills and the packing plants,” Mesa-Bains said. “I started thinking about the office buildings downtown and realizing Mexican people worked in the steel mills that built those. So they’re kind of an invisible infrastructure in this city.”

Even though the stories explored in this exhibit sit decades apart, they are united in the hope that everyone can see themselves in their work.

“It’s just normal families trying to live their lives like anybody else,” Adriana says.

“The thing that I think balances our show out is, I’m talking about a wave of immigrants a hundred years ago and the community they began,” Mesa-Bains said. “She’s [Wendy] talking about contemporary current issues, how these young people see themselves. That’s our job. ... To create imagery and uplift these young people.”

You can check out the full exhibit, “Toward Common Cause: Art, Social Change and the MacArthur Fellows Program” through Dec. 18 at the Weinberg/Newton Gallery in River North.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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