One reason that I’ve put aside actively engaging in the discussion of race,  that at times seems to surround my work, is that the topic of race, national point of origin, and mestizaje with a subsequent discussion of racial classification, as it manifests it’s self in the new world, seems to center  on self-serving positions and an general unwillingness to try to see beyond one’s  own particular protected perspective. 

Race, is a social construction. It is not a bio-empirical fact.  Ideas and racial definitions come out of the historical, sociological and psychological need to quantify and categorize. My thoughts  regarding  the question of racial construction are at best conditional.  They are shaped out of my own personal history. A history that has been modified by my experiences and encounters, both actively and passively during my travels through the Americas.  I find that I have many more relevant questions than I have answers.

Unknowingly, and in some cases knowingly conversations about race, it’s meaning, social significance and definition often take place within the confines of a particular historical, social and psychological memory, which is formed both collectively and individually out of our experience of community.  This community is made up of two possible non-similar parts.  One is community with a small ‘c’; family, kinship group and personal memory modified through the perspective of class, local social history and perceived identity.  The other being Community with a ‘C’ formed through the divisiveness of minority/majority politics, moderated by a national cultural perspective/national memory and an on going debate concerning the solidification of power against the lack their of.

The thing that interests me most, is that area or point of interaction, between the two.  The place where the majority ‘C’ society with it’s set of currently held beliefs, myths, historical perspective and memory, recent concerns and over all political needs; intersects with that of the individual ‘c’ who sense of self, perception of: family, local, social history connect, I believe that is where a racial identity is formed.  The point of intersection of these two spheres have, I believe, everything to do with modifying, negating or fortifying the idea of formation of self, and in turn becoming central to the questions of race, racial identify and racial construction which can form in the aggregate.

Some might ask, “How, does a exhibition of photographs by an African American photographer, with not the greatest command of Spanish, possibly involve us in this conversation”.  The Answer is,  “I don’t know.”  When I started this project I was simply interested in the idea that there was an unknown population of African descent people living along the southern Pacific Coast of Mexico.  It wasn’t that this was unknown it was just unknown to me. Scholars in Mexico as well of the United States had written and published work concerning what the Mexican National Government is now calling “Nuestro Teriera Raiz” our third root (the African component to the formation of mestizaje. the ‘mestizo’.  Colonial historical archives, both religious and governmental through out Latin America are full of rich information and data about those persons of whole or partial African descent and their contributions to the nation. 

Though my initial journey started in Mexico, it took me throughout all of Central American and in to all but three countries of South America (Paraguay, Surinam, Guyana).

In the Sur Yungas of Bolivia I lived with presented day descendants of the African Slave trade, where they cultivated Coca leaves besides their indigenous neighbors, along the steep thickly grown hillsides.  In Chile I sat on the bus and explained my project to a fellow passenger.  He listened to me very politely, smiling all the while, them he took out of his wallet a photograph of his great grandfather (circa 1863) who photo could have passed for any black American slave in the antebellum south.  Time and again, whether in the hill sides of Northern Equator, the riverine forests of western Columbia, or the broad plains of Amazonia in Northern Brazil, I spent time, communed with and was hosted by present day members of the African Diaspora in the new world.  But it is important to note that these communities and individuals through presented in isolation with in the exhibit, do not in fact live that way.

Americans often think of the United States as being the melting pot.  But in truth nowhere in the New World did I not find an incomprehensibly confusing mix of peoples.  Throughout Central America I ate Chinese food on an almost nightly bases.  The border of Peru and Equator had rickshaw service as a means of transportation between immigration stations.  The shopkeepers of Venezuela in the Barlovento region as well as those in Manaus, Brazil were recent as well as long past refugees from Palestine.

Mexico is not Central America and Central America is not South.  There is difference and similarities found on a national and geographic bases throughout Latin America. The complexity of populations from country to county is extremely intricate.  In my travels and subsequent encounters with present day inhabitants of the New World: Indigenous Americans along with the present day descent of the European, African and Asiatic incursions in the Americas; most often (but not always) I found them combining in lesser or greater degrees with one another in the formation of the mestizaje.

In my journey I chose to look at the African Diaspora.  That choice was bases on my need to see and possibly make connections, with people that I thought meet a certain criteria. Not every one, or even most people who I looked at with a need to make  or form a connection based on our common diasporic past  looked back at me forming the same connection.  I believe that the value of these photographs lie not in the fact that they provide answers.  Their value is in by viewing them, they provide us a place in which me choose to ask questions.

Tengo Casi 500 Años