“We have come to the conclusion that we’re not white enough for the white people, and we’re not black enough for the black people. So we’re caught in the middle. It doesn’t bother me, I go about my business just fine.”—Alice, Puerto Rican, 30-year resident of Memphis, Tennessee
American Boricua is the first visual document of Puerto Rican cultural migration in all 50 U.S. states. For the past 16 years, I have been telling the story of my people in America. My purpose is to create a visual road map of a people that have lived beyond the myth of race, right here in the United States, for over 100 years.
This project began like most things do—with family. After a nearly 20-year absence, the brutal August humidity in North Philadelphia had me feeling like a tourist in my own life. I reached for my camera and began making photographs of neighbors on my Tía’s block.
So much had changed, and so much hadn’t, in the old neighborhood. The empty building where we used to play “Cops and Robbers” was boarded up and for sale. There still wasn’t a decent grocery store within walking distance, but people were happy about the pancake house just past the gas station. The same shoe stores and dress shops lined Lehigh Avenue near Fifth Street. I kept feeling a nagging sense of stalled time, as if the roaring economy of the early 2000s never quite made it to the neighborhood and never would. No one expected it to. Was this why it felt so different?
The practice of equality, to be seen and recognized as equal, is something that informs all of my work as a photojournalist. This physical act of sight of course begins with our eyes. Yet it is our minds that get in the way, because we’ve been told the lie over and over again. That race is real. I am creating this body of work as evidence that race is a myth.
It is culture that is genuine.
It is culture that is real.
As a Puerto Rican woman, I am of two lands and one citizenry. Puerto Ricans are a people born of the past, pulling the future into the present time. What this means is that we simply cannot choose a side on the racial divide. We are a people that are of all the sides, because Puerto Ricans literally embody the inclusive reality of culture. Culture is inclusive, and accounts for those parts of history that are too complex for the rigid boxes of race to explain away.
“Wanda Benvenutti’s American Boricua: Puerto Rican Life in the United States” can currently be seen at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s Odessa Woolfolk Gallery in Birmingham, Alabama, now through February 28, 2016.
7 thoughts on “American Boricua: Living Beyond Race in America”
Wanda, I finally was able to get over to the BCRI and see your exhibit and I was so moved. I believe my favorite of all the photos is still Abuelo. I love it for the obvious reasons but I also love their hands in this photograph. The way the little girl caresses her abuelo’s face is so touching – and the way he gently holds her hands is priceless. So much love in this photograph. Thank you for bringing this exhibit to Birmingham. It was great meeting you at the Town Hall meeting in January. I wish you much success as you continue this great work and hope our paths cross again! Abrazos!!! – Teresa Zúñiga Odom
Race as a biological construct that states that the differences in the race is a basis for inherently different capacities of one or other, and that can be establish a hierarchy of who is superior and inferior, is false. However, the cultural constructs and the structure of white supremacy that sustain that cultural constructions are real and are inescapable. The cultural hierarchies are based on political-economic power that are real and work every day in USA. It is very dangerous to our people to state that we as Puerto Rican, are above these structures of white supremacy because our historical and cultural background is too complex to be explained by race… Culture is not always inclusive and the proof is in the pudding, the dominant culture of USA is not inclusive, it is discriminatory and racist and is sustained by a well and alive institutional white supremacy structure. The Donald Trump success in his Presidential bid could be stated is another example of the USA bigotry cultural dominance. And the term American Boricua is another example of that structure of white supremacy; the forced migration of our people out of our nation, was and is supported by the imperial policies that are sustained by white supremacy and by American exceptionalism that is supported by white supremacy ideology.
Wanda,I could not have said it better.All Puerto Ricans should listen to you.
Beautifully stated through and through
So nice to see my favorite photo — Abuelo. I wish I lived closer to Birmingham so I could see your show Wanda! How wonderful that all your passion, dedication, and talent has come to fruition. Felicidades Amiga, estoy muy orgullosa de ti!
Wanda Benvenutti came to California looking to see where the Boricuas were hiding… She found me and explained to me the remarkable quest she’d engaged upon. Looking for Puerto Rican communities throughout the USA and find what was different about them… That is, if the was anything to be different about them.
►►► HERE’s my take on Wanda’s Wandering World… http://jibaros.com/wanda.htm