Exhibition | You Belong Here: Place, People, and Purpose in Latinx Photography

Hiram Maristany (1945–2022; born and died New York, NY), Clothing Drive, 1971. Digital gelatin silver print, 40.6 × 50.8 cm. © Hiram Maristany. Courtesy of the estate of the artist and ApertureWhen I was invited to guest edit an issue on Latinx photography for Aperture magazine—and subsequently to curate the exhibition now on view in Princeton—the first pictures that came to mind were not the many artworks and documentary images that I have had the good fortune to work with as a curator, but rather the personal photographs that have helped me piece together my family’s story as Latinos in the United States. These are, of course, family photographs, but we might think of them as part of a larger history of vernacular Latinx photography—a national project yet to be undertaken within our annals of historicizing the American experience. The countless personal photographs of the more than sixty million Latinx people living in the United States today collectively chart the paths and routes of Latinx people—from those whom the border crossed generations ago to those who cross the border today.

William Camargo, We Gunna Have to Move Out Soon Fam!, Anaheim, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Aperture. © William CamargoThere is no single story to tell about Latinx people. While rooted in the commonalities of heritage, language, transnational histories, and lived experiences, Latinx communities are heterogeneous, with shared yet pluralistic identities. This complexity can make it hard to picture Latinx culture. Despite the richness and nuance of Latinx visual production, images of Latinxs in mainstream US culture and media are few and far between. Latinxs, despite being a part of the fabric of the United States since its inception and ubiquitous in urban centers and rural areas alike, are often rendered largely invisible through ongoing systems of erasure, exclusion, and disenfranchisement.

Star Montana, Louisa, Cathy and Little Star, 2019. © Star Montana. Courtesy of the artist and Aperture Yet Latinxs in the United States are the largest ethnic group in the country—made up of people of all races, classes, and gender expressions. Our family histories are tied generationally to the land the United States occupies. They are linked to multiple waves of immigration to this country, often prompted by the destabilization that results from imperialistic US military and economic intervention in Latin American countries. Latinx experiences are integral to our understanding of the complexities of the populations in the United States and the American hemisphere. There are more people of Latin American descent in the United States than in any individual country in Latin America except for Brazil and Mexico; by 2030, Latinxs will represent approximately 30 percent of the US population. While Latinx people are critically important to comprehending the past, present, and future of the United States, we are not well represented within the nation’s cultural, historical, and political landscapes.

Genesis Báez, Parting (Braid), 2021. © Genesis Báez. Courtesy of the artist and ApertureThe photography of, by, and about Latinx people has not been widely circulated, nor has it been widely published, collected, or preserved. A deep lack of visibility for this multifaceted community persists.

My hope is that You Belong Here: Place, People, and Purpose in Latinx Photography provides an opportunity for discovery. The photographers featured in the exhibition bring awareness to Latinx experiences—from politics and bifurcated nationalisms to families and communities, from youth and counterculture to spaces of intersectional identity and expression. Their works illustrate a variety of histories and geographies, contextualize and reinterpret watershed social and artistic movements, stake space for queerness, and articulate the importance of photography within the larger field of Latinx art. They shed light on social spaces—from intimate portrayals of home and family to the collective experiences of the streets and nightlife—as well as on the in-betweenness, or nepantla, of transnational, multiracial, and postcolonial positionalities. Collectively, these images cast a greater net for the multiple ways of seeing Latinx people, creating a visual archive whose edges are yet to be defined.

Reynaldo Rivera, Elyse Regehr and Javier Orosco, Downtown LA, 1989. © Reynaldo Rivera. Courtesy of the artist, Reena Spaulings Fine Art, New York / Los Angeles, and ApertureI would like to have known such images when I was growing up and to have felt their influence on my nascent sense of self. For me, the Latinx journey is not only a process of visibility but also a process of belonging. The stinging instances that serve to remind me of that continue even today, but I will never forget one of the first times that I became aware of exclusionary attitudes toward Latinx people. When I was about eight years old, the father of an Anglo friend of mine, on learning about my family, said to me, “You’re Spanish? All wetbacks should go back to Mexico.” I didn’t understand what he meant, but I knew his words were intended to hurt. When I relayed this experience to my mother, she said to me, “You are American, you belong here.” While that encounter was almost forty years ago, I rarely forget that the place where I belong is embedded within a continual process of belonging. The more images I come to know of the Latinx experience, the greater that space for belonging becomes.

Pilar Tompkins Rivas
Chief Curator and Deputy Director, Curatorial and Collections, Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles

This text is excerpted from Latinx, the Winter 2021 issue of Aperture magazine.

You Belong Here: Place, People, and Purpose in Latinx Photography is curated by Pilar Tompkins Rivas and organized by Aperture.

Art on Hulfish is made possible by the leadership support of Annette Merle-Smith and Princeton University. Generous support is provided by William S. Fisher, Class of 1979, and Sakurako Fisher; J. Bryan King, Class of 1993; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; John Diekman, Class of 1965, and Susan Diekman; Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; Barbara and Gerald Essig; Rachelle Belfer Malkin, Class of 1986, and Anthony E. Malkin; the Curtis W. McGraw Foundation; Jim and Valerie McKinney; Tom Tuttle, Class of 1988, and Mila Tuttle; Nancy A. Nasher, Class of 1976, and David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976; and Gene Locks, Class of 1959, and Sueyun Locks; H. Vincent Poor, Graduate School Class of 1977; and Palmer Square Management. Additional supporters for this exhibition include The Walther Family Foundation; the Humanities Council; the Lewis Center for the Arts; the Africa World Initiative; the Program in African Studies; the Department of African American Studies; and the Center for Collaborative History. Additional support for this exhibition is provided by the Program in Latin American Studies and the Effron Center for the Study of America.