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As American as a Mariachi Band: Celebrating a Latino Success Story

Photography Review

by Sarah Boxer

December 10, 1999
Copyright © 1999 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

"Americanos: Latino Life in the United States," now on view at the Museum of the City of New York, is a Family of Man show, upbeat and uplifting, celebrating the life of Latinos in America, from birth to death, christening to burial.

Organized by the Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Service and the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives, this extensive and colorful exhibition is arranged by subject -- sports, religion, family, etc. -- and has the feel of a magazine spread, writ large and read upright.

That is no accident. Most of the photographs in the show were taken by photojournalists. And what they have documented is the up side of life.

In Huntington Park, Calif., José Gálvez took a photograph of a boy sucking on a bottle and lying on his father's back while his father lies on his stomach holding a basketball. In New York, Rita Rivera took a portrait of a police officer, Lisa Demetriou, and her son, standing proudly with Puerto Rican flags at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

As part of a photo essay about a Mexican girl's new life in Florida, Janet Jarman included not only the shy girl, Marisol, on her first day of school in the United States, but also her brother, Juan, a laborer, carrying a crate of strawberries. His labor doesn't look backbreaking. His eyes smile and a tuft of his hair springs energetically out of the hole in his backward baseball cap, like a new shoot.

Never mind that he also looks as if he might be young enough to be in school himself.

Paul Perez has photographed a piñata bursting in Yuma, Ariz., catching the follow through of a powerful swing and the rush of children to candy. And speaking of powerful swings, there is Antonio Pérez's picture of Sammy Sosa tipping his Chicago Cubs cap after passing Roger Maris's home-run record (broken earlier by Mark McGwire).

There are other celebrities, too: the fashion designers Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta and Adolfo, the guitarist Carlos Santana, the twin painters Haydee and Sahara Scull and the salsa queen Celia Cruz.

If the subject of this show is Latinos, why is it called "Americanos"? Edward James Olmos, one of the organizers of the project, notes in the exhibition catalogue that the name is meant to show that Latinos "are an integral part of U.S. society," and that they are "citizens not only of the United States, but of all the Americas."

One photograph, taken by Genara Molina in Los Angeles, says it all: a little boy, Gustavo González, rushes by on his tricycle in late afternoon light, watched over by a mariachi band painted on the mural behind him.

Photograph (above, left) from The Museum of the City of New York
Rita Rivera's "Police Officer Lisa Demetriou and her son Troy Julio at the Puerto Rican Day Parade."

Photograph (below, right) from The Museum of the City of New York
Alexis Rodriguez Duarte's "Salsa Queen Celia Cruz With Her Husband, Conductor Pedro Knight."

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