By Cynthia Gomez, UCLA Latin American Institute
Last year, the LAI held an art and photo contest and selected six photographs that have been mounted in the Institute’s main office.
LAI staff Nancy Gomez and Hali Pinedo mount the framed photos in the office.(Photo: Cynthia Gomez)
The selected photos were taken in Cuba, Brazil and Mexico and were submitted by Walter Thompson Hernandez, a graduate student in Latin American Studies (LAS) at Stanford; Lesha Rodriguez, a photographer by trade; and an LAI staff member.
The LAI talked with Walter Thompson Hernandez—whose mom is an academic counselor at UCLA—about his winning photographs and his visit to Cuba.
Your images – tell us about where and how they were taken.
The images were taken in the streets of Cuba. I have two approaches to my picture taking style. Often, there is some reluctance by the subject to have their photo taken. When this happens, I ask for their permission and shoot the shot. Yet, in Cuba, most people were very willing to have their photo taken.
You are currently a LAS student at Stanford.Tell us a little about your research interests.
Newly mounted photographs in 10383 Bunche Hall (Photo:Cynthia Gomez)
My research interests revolve around the impacts of immigration into urban spaces like South Central, Los Angeles. I am interested in researching how immigrant groups from Mexico and other parts of Latin America construct race, socio-racial hierarchies, and, more importantly, the process by which they become "American," which often times means inheriting preexisting racial attitudes and stigmas about "other" racial and ethnic groups. Additionally, my research interests are fused with personal and academic motivations; I am the child of Mexican immigrant from Mexico and an African-American father from Oakland, California and therefore have begun looking at the impact of intermarrying and inter-ethnic mixing between Latina/o's and African-Americans in urban spaces.
You've been to Cuba several times over the last decade. How has the country changed since the first time you visited?
Cuba has changed tremendously. The island is "opening" up and restructuring its economic, political, and social policies as a result of internal and external pressures. For example, Cubans can now open up home style restaurants called "Paladares," buy and sell their vehicles, open up hotel style establishments called "Casa Particulares," and have been granted travel exit visas. However, many of these changes only impact many of the islands white residents and so there is the potential that race relations may see a change in the near future. Change, once a peripheral concept, has not infiltrated the island and it will be interesting to see how it ultimately affects its lived trajectory.
You mentioned that Cuba is one of your favorite places in Latin America. Tell us why.
Guajiro in Santa Clara, 2013 ©Walter Thompson Hernandez
Cuba is a magical place. It's an island trapped in a decaying, yet beautiful time capsule with a rich social, cultural, and political history. As a child, I was infatuated with the island in a romanticized and idealized way. Today, Cuba for me is a tapestry of unscathed vibrancy which ultimately appeals to my personal and academic senses in a way that no other place in the world does.
Congratulations to the winning photographers, and thanks to everyone who entered!
If you'd like to see the photographs in person, come by our office in 10343 Bunche Hall, Monday - Friday between 8:00 am - 4:30 pm