Mexican photo exhibit at Cuyamaca College
The photographs are rich in color and culture, and the stories behind them tinged in blood and atrocities.
The exhibit of the works of Mexican photojournalists, never before shown north of the U.S. border, kicks off May 5 – Cinco de Mayo – at Cuyamaca College. The photographs offer a rare window into life in the state of Guerrero, chronicling the day-to-day experiences of indigenous and Afro-Mexican people and the tragedy of poverty and ongoing drug violence.
The free exhibit, called “A Photo for Freedom,” will feature the work of 20 photojournalists, in the lobby of the Samuel M. Ciccati Performing Arts Center. The exhibit will run through early June.
A 5-8 p.m. event on May 5 inside the college’s digital theater will feature an online presentation by the exhibit curator and independent journalist Marlén Castro, as well as a reception featuring Oaxacan cuisine from El Tejate Restaurant in Escondido. The digital theater is adjacent to the lobby where the photos will be exhibited. The May 5 event is open to the public. RSVPs are requested at https://bit.ly/AmapolaCuyamaca. The digital theater presentation will also be streamed live on YouTube, at https://tinyurl.com/4rr5rd7v.
Mexico is among the most dangerous parts of the world to work as a journalist. Proceeds from the sale of the photos will go to support the Mexican journalism website, “Amapola” – the Spanish word for poppy, Guerrero’s largest crop that supports farmers but also fuels violent drug gangs that terrorize residents.
Guerrero, a rugged, mountainous region in southern Mexico, is home to the popular tourist destination Acapulco. The area is graced by spectacular beauty and rich native culture. It is also one of the poorest and most violent regions in Mexico, making international headlines in 2014 when 43 male students from a teachers’ college were kidnapped and disappeared. The remains of only a few have been found.
In one of the exhibit’s photos, “La Nina de la Milpa” (The Girl from Milpa), a young girl gazes into the camera beneath a colorful flower arrangement, her shoulder draped in a royal blue shawl. In another, “Velos de Sangre” (Blood Veils), women sit shrouded in head coverings of gold, pink, turquoise, and blue. Their faces are hidden in shadow as they congregate at a funeral service for nine local musicians killed by drug gangs after being caught in the crossfire of territorial battles.
The exhibit also includes a work by photojournalist Yael Martínez, who recently won a Regional Prize at the 2022 World Press Photo Contest. His photograph, “Montaña Estrella” (Star Mountain) shows an ethereal scene of a man balancing himself on a ladder, bathed in a red hue and casting points of light toward the heavens as he and his friends prepare for “La Fiesta de Guadalupe” – the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Photojournalists from Guerrero and elsewhere in Mexico have donated their work to the Amapola website to raise money through the sale of photographs to the general public. Castro founded the site three years ago. She has held two exhibits in Guerrero. This is the first in the United States.
The site covers the dangers faced by journalists in Mexico every day; the nationwide epidemic of femicide – the murder of women and girls because they are female; numerous environmental issues; the fight by teachers for better schools and better pay; the high cost of water for poor families; the ongoing war on drug gangs, and much more.
“It’s very important to remain independent, and this is a way that can help us continue,” Castro said.
The idea for an exhibit at Cuyamaca College originated last year with Manuel Mancillas-Gomez, Academic Senate president at the college and an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor. Mancillas-Gomez saw Castro being interviewed about her website on a Mexican TV show, and reached out to her. The two came up with the idea of a hosting an exhibit at the college. Over the past year, Mancillas-Gomez has helped translate articles on the website into English, and organized the donation of laptop computers to journalists at Amapola. Mancillas-Gomez worries about Castro and other journalists who risk their lives everyday reporting the news in Guerrero.
“Every single day, I am checking in with them – are you OK?” Mancillas-Gomez said. “The ones killed are not the ones who work for mainstream Mexican media. They are independent and localized and touching areas that are very, very, very dangerous.”
Castro hopes the exhibit attracts people from across Southern California, which is home to thousands of immigrants from Guerrero who have sought a better life in the United States. The photos confront difficult subjects, and portray great beauty and dignity that will be familiar to many, Castro said.
“We have a strong connection with Los Angeles and Southern California in general, because of all the displacement and migration that has happened,” Castro said. “The photos in the exhibit represent the roots of people who have moved up there.”
The photographs at the exhibit, each about 17 inches by 24 inches, will be custom framed in mahogany and on sale for $125 and up, Mancillas-Gomez said.
Cuyamaca College, part of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, is located at 900 Rancho San Diego Parkway in Rancho San Diego. Directions and a map of the campus can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/49tvk6ks.
The district’s two colleges, Grossmont College in El Cajon and Cuyamaca College in Rancho San Diego, together serve about 24,000 students. For information about the college district, go to www.gcccd.edu.