Being a young Hispanic male and someone who has very strong opinions about immigration in America, Zach Hendrickson jumped at the opportunity to check out The Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity’s exhibit from the Mexican-American artist Dulce Pinzón. Located on the fourth floor of Hamilton Hall, Superheroes: Latino Immigrants Who Make New York, is a series of photographs that portrays immigrants of the city in their natural work environment, but dressed as the spandex-clad heroes we know and love.
After I found my way to the center’s
well-lit hallway gallery, I was admittedly confused by the lack of a formalized art setting. Honestly, if the exhibit wasn’t being promoted through Columbia’s homepage, one could be forgiven for assuming that the multitude of photographs lining the hall of the center were nothing more than decorative pieces. All that aside, once I began to really examine the photographs I was drawn into a world that was both familiar and disconcerting. There was something poignant about seeing individuals whom I know are so often subjugated to prejudice, stereotype, and all forms of labor abuses made up to look like characters who hold a place of such high importance in our society’s collective conscience. It is impossible not to look at a middle-aged man dressed as Superman, riding his bike down the middle of a desolate street and not question what it means to be a hero.
The artist’s reason for calling the subjects of her photographs superheroes, according to director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, Frances Negrón-Muntaner, is the role that they play in their families. All the men and women pictured send a significant portion of their income back to their families in their home countries. Take Sergio Garcia (Mr. Fantastic), for example: a small placard next to his photograph informs the viewer that Mr. Garcia sends $350 a week back to family in Mexico. He is pictured with one hand clutching a dinner plate, ready to serve a critical-looking customer, with another hand reaching somewhere out of frame. This picture resounded with me so strongly because I think it captured the struggle of these men and women well. They are caught between two worlds. On one hand they are often told to assimilate and to abandon their culture in favor of glorious Americanism, but on the other hand, they must play the role of bread-winner for their families back home. I can’t even imagine what it must be like trying to make ends meet in the most expensive city in America on top of providing for distant relatives in a foreign country. It really is nothing short of superhuman.
Ultimately, I think the greatest value of this exhibit is its ability to question what we choose to glorify in our society. Dulce Pinzon presents us with a series of images that at first glance seem commonplace – a delivery man, a nanny, a waiter, a window washer, a fishmonger – but it is only when we take the time to truly see them for what they are that we begin to understand their bravery, their honor, and the power of these Immigrant Superheroes.
The exhibit is open from 11am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. It closes May 15th, 2013.