Photo exhibit pictures South Bronx immigrants’ lives

A workshop that encouraged Mexican immigrants and their children to snap photos culminated in an exhibit at a gallery in Chelsea.

Janet Hernández Romero, Paula Romero Salazar, and Brenda Hernández, whose photos were featured at the exhibit.
Janet Hernández Romero, Paula Romero Salazar, and Brenda Hernández, whose photos were featured at the exhibit.

A show in Chelsea featured two local families

Janet Hernández Romero says it can be hard for her to understand her mother sometimes. It’s not typical pre-teen angst that causes a disconnect, though.

“It’s because sometimes I get confused with English and Spanish,” said Janet, 10, who was born in New York City and grew up in Mott Haven. Her mother is from a rural area in central Mexico.

She, her older sister and her mother took part in a recent workshop that offered them a new medium for communicating: photography. “It’s a lot easier talking about something when you can see it,” Janet said.

The family’s photographs, along with those taken by another South Bronx family, were on display at the “Here There, Acá Allá: Photographic Dialogues Between Generations and Cultures” exhibit at the 601Artspace Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibit, which runs through Saturday, Feb. 28, is the culmination of a months-long workshop that used photographs as a way to spark a conversation and bridge the cultural gulf between parents who grew up in rural Mexican areas, and are now raising families in bustling New York City, and their children.

“It seems obvious, but sometimes it’s very difficult to find that time or find a way to express themselves or ask questions,” said Susana Arellano, who ran the workshop along with her husband, Rafael Gamo, at the Mexican American Students Alliance in Mott Haven. By arming each participant with a disposable camera every week for nearly five months, the couple hoped to help local Mexican-American families explore their cultures, identities and languages.

Janet’s mom, Paula Romero Salazar, said that although she’s happy her children have access to a good education and that she can earn more to support her family than in her native Mexico, she misses the sense of open space she had in her native Santa Ana Teloxtoc, Mexico, for both herself and her children. “There I had so much space, and here we have such a small space,” said Romero Salazar, who works as a housecleaner.

Romero Salazar, her husband and four daughters live in one room in a two-bedroom apartment they share with her brother near the Hub. In every one of her photographs, her family is shown outdoors. In one, Janet stares into the sky while lying in the grass at a park. In another, one of her sisters scales a large boulder. And in another, the family stands at the edge of the water on a beach.

Zailie Faith Diaz, 10, said one of her favorite photos at the exhibition was one she took of a large lizard on a leash. She snapped it during a trip to Mexico last summer to visit her father’s family. Zailie said the workshop helped her pay closer attention to the things around her, even when they weren’t as unusual as a big lizard.

“I felt like I was discovering new things that I had never seen ’cause I never really take the time to look at the things surrounding me,” she said.

On that trip to Mexico, Zailie, who lives in Morrisania, also took a photo of her grandfather. It became her mother’s favorite image.

“It shows the poverty, the humility and a new horizon.”,” said Rosalba Reyes Pérez, 35, who is from central Mexico. Reyes Perez, who sells food and floral arrangements, said she found it important to document the sights that made her sad — like a neighborhood dog with a wounded paw — as well as those that make her happy. One of her photos portrays an elderly woman whose family lives far away. She said she lent the woman a dress and a pair of shoes she had bought for her mother so that the woman would have something nice to wear to a party she invited her to.

Reyes Pérez said the photos help local Mexican-American children and their parents develop a better understanding of one another, while providing a window for others on the lives of immigrants.

“It’s beautiful to be able to share what is here and what is there,” she said. “As immigrants, we don’t just want to live here, we want to share, we want to progress, we want to better our situations.”