Latino history in Richmond receives its due

The Valentine exhibit, “Nuestras Historias,” which opened July 27 and will run until April 15 of 2018, conveys the decades-long history and culture of Latino in Richmond, a group whose presence is often thought of as contemporary.

“To think that Latino have been coming to the State of Virginia in permanent settlements since the mid-20th century, about 50 years ago and more, and that for the first time an exhibit about has been created in the State of Virginia, I think says a lot,” said Latino Project Coordinator, Wanda Hernandez.

Hernandez is from Northern Virginia and admits to being unaware of the early presence of Latino immigrants in Richmond until her work with “Nuestras Historias.”

“There was a prominent Cuban community in Central Virginia during the mid-20th century and there were Puerto Ricans. That was to my surprise, I thought people just started moving to Richmond,” Hernandez said.

“Nuestras Historias” is the end product of 65 interviews conducted by Hernandez over the course of about seven months in 2016. Hernandez said she extracted common themes from the interviews, the base of the project, in order to plan other components of the exhibition, such as the photos lining the walls.

“Nuestras Historias,” explores the overlooked history of Latinos in Richmond and Central Virginia. Photo by Raelyn Fines.

In the early stages of conducting interviews, photos weren’t taken, so as to make the subjects more comfortable.

“You’re asking them to tell their life story and then there’s a camera there. It’s hard enough to do it with a tape recorder,” Hernandez said. “Especially in a community that is told to lay low, mind your business, do your work and go back home.”

The main photographer for the exhibition, Steven Casanova, said a comfortable environment is essential for taking a quality portrait. He made sure the subjects felt  “like themselves.”

“I think that my skill set in making portraits is to try to capture something more than just a face,” Casanova said. “For me and for the team putting it together it feels like that’s what happened for the exhibit.”

Upon entering the exhibition space, visitors are immediately immersed in its environment with music played on a small, contained speaker and the bright pops of red, yellow and blue text on the otherwise white walls.

“I wanted to have a collage of the Latino community so it seems like you just walked into your grandmother’s home who has all her grandbabies, all her children band her in-laws, pictures on her walls,” Hernandez said.

The exhibition is the first bilingual one of its kind in Virginia, with all of its written content displayed in both Spanish and English. Audio interviews in both English and Spanish are incorporated in several portions of the exhibition. Transcriptions are readily available in both languages, as well.

“Nuestras Historias,” strikes a balance between education and empowerment of Richmond’s Latino community. Hernandez, being Latina herself, said mixing the two goals came naturally.

“In doing this exhibit, non-Latino were not the priority. This was for my community so they can learn about their own stories and if someone who is not Latino can get something from it, great,” Hernandez said.

That being said, Hernandez added that non-Latino visitors should be able to find a “point of connection” with the narratives, being that they were painted in an emotional light.

“I hope (visitors) realize that the name of the exhibit is literal, these are Latino in Richmond. These are people that are dealing with the DACA situation, these are people that are your neighbors,” Casanova said.

As part of her role as Coordinator, Hernandez has begun to organize school tours of the exhibit. She says any educators interested in visiting should feel free to reach out. The information can be found at thevalentine.org

“Ultimately the goal is to create pride in one’s culture or acknowledgement of their interactions with the latino community,” Hernandez said.

Casanova said he hopes “Nuestras Historias” will help visitors connect real stories to the “statistics” they so often hear.

“It’s a very intense time for Latino, with national disasters, with national policy, the last month has been a very emotional time. I hope people do go see it,” Casanova said.


Georgia Geen, Staff Writer

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