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St. Petersburg Times
A Picture Of Diversity
A photography show in St. Petersburg focuses on one integral ingredient in the American melting pot: Hispanics and their heritage.
By MARY ANN MARGER
October 28, 2001
Timothy Gonzalez, Luis Estrada, Migrant Worker in a Tulip Field, Woodburn, Oregon
ST. PETERSBURG -- Most years, the first visiting show of the Museum of Fine Arts' season is grand in scale, filling the spacious Mackey Gallery with visual delights.
Not this time. "Americanos: Latino Life in the United States," a traveling show of photographs from the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, could be entirely overlooked by even a repeat visitor, too absorbed with permanent and long-term displays of French impressionists, Georgia O'Keeffe and Steuben glass to check out the south wing.
But then, documentary photographs don't warrant big, splashy treatment. The creator may be called a fine artist, but the aim is to achieve self-expression through conveying accurate information, not through altering something that exists or producing something new. These 120 photos by 30 photographers bring the Latin American presence in the United States to our attention.
Antonio Perez, First Communion Day, Chicago, Illinois
Hispanics, who may call themselves Latinos, Chicanos or one of several other designations, are the fastest-growing minority in the United States. The show impresses viewers not only with the immersion of people of Hispanic heritage into every aspect of American life, but it also shows customs and characteristics that illustrate differences while making them easier to understand.
We are used to an English-language version of U.S. history. Yet Spanish explorers opened up the New World, and settlers came to St. Augustine 55 years before pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock. The nation's oldest capital is not Boston or Philadelphia but Santa Fe, the seat of government of the kingdom of New Mexico.
Show producer and actor Edward James Olmos explains in his brochure introduction how integral a part of American society Latinos are.
The exhibit conveys its information well, not only through the photos themselves, but through the Smithsonian's ample wall text and free brochures (in English and Spanish) and a series of events at the Museum of Fine Arts (listed on cards alongside the brochures). A bench in every gallery is an inducement to linger.
The photos were taken throughout the United States, from Los Angeles to Chicago to Louisiana to Arizona to Florida. They are divided by category: work, family, spiritual life, community, culture and the arts, and sports.
Rita Rivera, Police Officer Lisa Demetriou and Her Son at the Puerto Rican Day Parade, New York, New York. They hold the flag of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
Some well-known people were enlisted to write the text panels: poet Maya Angelou, Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. and U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., who introduces the section on family by telling of his parents' struggle to give him and his siblings a better life.
A migrant farm worker in Oregon holds a bundle of crops that at first look like green bananas but are tulips. Dignity. A Los Angeles youth, a member of a group called Punk Mexicano, greases his hair into long, thick spikes. Defiance.
Spiritual life photos take us to a baptism, a funeral, a quinceanera (15th birthday celebration), a parade of children dressed for their first communion, a Sephardic rabbi carrying a Torah, and a scene in a Presbyterian church. The show shakes up old stereotypes.
Sports subjects range from home run hitter Sammy Sosa to a young girl contemplating a move in chess. The arts include salsa queen Celia Cruz and two girls awaiting their cue at a music recital.
Lisa Demetriou, who with her son is the subject of Rita Rivera's photo taken during a Puerto Rican Day parade, writes in the brochure: "The New York-Puerto Rican culture is unique and very special, and I think it gives me a perspective that makes me a better police officer."
The program comes to the Museum of Fine Arts due to its longstanding relationship with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. Opening Nov. 29 at the Florida International Museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian in St. Petersburg, is "Heart & Hands: Musical Instrument Makers of America."
For "Latinos," the Smithsonian required that the gallery lighting be slightly dimmer than usual, to protect the photographs. You might notice it temporarily if you come into the show immediately from outside on a bright day.
But it has no effect on the clarity of the total picture, which speaks of unity and diversity, an appropriate message for today.
"Americanos: Latino Life in the United States," at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, through Jan. 6. Admission: $6; seniors $5; students $2. Free on Sundays. Call (727) 896-2667 or check www.fine-arts.org.