‘DREAM’: EYE-CATCHING, ACCURATE, FLAWED
Your May 3 cover photo essay, “El Sueño Americano (The American Dream)” by Nancy Santos caught my eye. While I’m certainly happy about anything that makes Latinos in South Carolina more visible, there are some inaccuracies and yes (gasp!) even some stereotypes.
According to the photo essay, the local Hispanic population consists of nearly 8,000 men, women, and children. It depends on where you get your figures and what you mean by local. Even by official 2000 U.S. Census figures, the combined Charleston, Dorchester, Berkeley, and Beaufort counties population numbers come up to over 20,000 Hispanics.
This is based on 2.4 percent of the total population. In the past five years there has been unprecedented growth in this sector of the population, not to mention that the percentage is probably closer to 6 percent, and that’s a conservative estimate if you speak to the folks at the University of South Carolina.
That is largely due to the fact that many Latinos are undocumented and avoid census counters like the plague. By this percentage, the Latino count in Charleston County alone is 18,000, and in the four counties mentioned above it is approximately 41,000 — and that’s before you increase it by 25 percent, since the population increase between 1990-2000 was almost 50 percent.
Also, your photo essay focuses mainly on the poor immigrants from Mexico, places like Veracruz and San Luis. But there are a large number of Latinos who are here to stay, who do not have serious plans to return to their homelands in Colombia, Honduras, San Salvador, Venezuela, Argentina, Cuba, Puerto Rico, or elsewhere. There are students, office workers, teachers, artists, and a host of people who do not fit the stereotypical vision often assigned to all Latinos.
Latinos come from many backgrounds — Polish, Italian, Chinese, German, Japanese. They resemble the multi-layered, poly-cultural society of the United States. Honing them down to a few images often cheats them of their rich background and simplifies their identity.
It is undeniable that the view of Latinos you presented is accurate. Those people definitely exist. But you don’t allow your camera to exclude all the others that help complete the portrait — and do not neglect the background, which is not always visible. Without it the foreground loses all dimensionality.
Ms. Santos’ response:
Thank you for pointing out the “inaccuracy” of the census figures I quoted in my photo-essay — which were based on Charleston numbers, not the tri-county ones you refer to. The number seemed very low to me, and I should have investigated further. However, some of your other comments are a bit off-base.
As far as these people being “poor immigrants from Mexico,” that is your conclusion, not mine. I do not know what Veracruz is like, nor do most of our readership. The fact is 90 percent of the people I met on Remount Road told me they were from Veracruz. And there is absolutely no reference to San Luis in the article whatsoever.
I clearly stated in the third and fourth sentence of the introduction that many Latinos “stay, assimilating into the culture.” I had made arrangements to photograph three such families, but each backed out, and time ran out to find others. I was disappointed because I love “success against the odds” stories, and find photographs depicting those stories uplifting.
You point out that the article contains stereotypes. Please tell me what they are. The captions in the essay are the words of the subjects themselves. I don’t believe I inserted my own biases into them, but if I did, I truly would want to know. Is working three jobs, or dreaming of opening a business either here or in Mexico, a stereotype?
Is sending money home every week, or coming here to play semi-pro baseball a stereotype? I suppose referring to the ladies as “hot tamales” is politically incorrect. It was my choice of words and chosen with affection, not condescension or derision.
As a photographer of limited means, I unfortunately, will never be able to capture the entire Latin community and its diversity and nuance. I would have to work for National Geographic or Magnum Photo Agency to have the time and financing.
The photographs are all from the community living and working on Remount Road, which is a small microcosm of Latin life, and I never pretended they amounted to any more than that.
Nancy Santos, City Paper staff photographer.
Wow! All those illegal alien sob stories! (“El Sueño Americano,” cover, May 3.)
I’m Hispanic, I came to the U.S. as a legal immigrant, I’m a naturalized U.S. citizen, and I got the American dream legally. Illegal aliens are usurpers. They come here to take from the rest of us what’s not theirs. I live in California, ground zero for illegal immigration. My state has become the welfare state for illegal aliens. It’s estimated we have 3 million illegals, perhaps more. Two million or more make Los Angeles their home.
I live on a fixed income. I could lose my home to higher property taxes that California needs to take care of illegal aliens.
Laguna Woods, Calif.
(Mrs. Pavia is an activist and member of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform. —Ed.)
Concerning Patrick Sharbaugh’s column, “Concrete Reality” (Arts, April 26), Charleston is actually on the cusp of one of the greatest preservation moments since Pope Benedict XIV (1740-58) thought perhaps the Roman Coliseum might should be saved and celebrated. Previous Popes had thought perhaps a wool or glue factory was a good idea. The preservation of this modern relic (the remaining Cooper River Bridge concrete span —Ed.) of Charleston’s history is a bold move. One not undertaken by many preservation minded cities. I am concerned that the City Paper, my usual favorite for alternative concepts, is leaning to the right, allied with the idea that this relic needs to be tarted up to be worthy. Shame on the Civic Design Center for the same reason. Give it a scrub and let it be just what it is, a proud vestige of Charleston’s past.
William Bates III
Professor, American College of the Building Arts