Behind Nancy De Los Santos's camera, Latinas can be complicated and real

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 5:06pm

As I walked into the Women’s Studies Department, I was shocked when I was greeted by a photograph of what appeared to be my own mother in her twenties wearing a red dress and looking outside her old apartment window. Her dark, curly hair caressed the side of her face and a chain necklace dangled from her neck. I smiled, knowing that she was looking outside in hopes to catch a glimpse of the cute boy who moved in across the courtyard of her apartment complex. Little did she know that she and that boy were going to fall in love and get married. I continued walking around the lobby, surrounded by images of familiar people. A photograph of my little brother, crossing his arms against his bare chest proudly in the middle of the street; my abuela, standing confidently against a graffitied wall, a cigarette in her hand and a serious expression on her face.

I was no longer in Ann Arbor, but in a neighborhood called Inwood in Manhattan, where my mother grew up. As I looked through photos of little girls restlessly waiting to go into school and dilapidated windows of apartment buildings, I was transported to a more familiar place. The smell of café con leche filled the air, and the sounds of men playing dominos in front of the bodega rang in my ears. The strength of every Latina woman featured emanated off of the prints in the Department of Women’s Studies. My heart melted with pride looking at the faces of Latina women who embodied the strength and drive that I know so well.

The photography display Chicana Fotos by Nancy De Los Santos brings clarity to an identity that is overlooked and constantly stereotyped in our media. These photographs remind me that even though my ethnic group is not represented in the mainstream, we are strong and many. De Los Santos shows Latinas breaking gender norms, participating in political rallies and getting an education. She portrays Latinas as being intelligent, educated, confident and independent. They do not portray these young women as victims, but as women in control. Latinas do not let societal standards dictate what they can or cannot do. We ignore the societal expectations that are set before us and create success for ourselves.

Photography is a powerful tool that shapes our culture and ways of thinking. It establishes beauty standards and can start political reforms. This type of art allows us to communicate to communities around the world, transcending many barriers that may otherwise make it difficult to share ideas, such as language. Photographs are instrumental in exposing people to new ideas and to new faces. De Los Santos’s photographs are instrumental in exposing our own community to an underrepresented group. They educate anyone who walks into Lane Hall, the location of the Department of Women’s Studies, about how a real Latina woman looks and acts. This exhibit makes our community question the previous stereotypes and misconceptions that we have had about the Latino community as a whole.

Chicana Fotos’s presence in Ann Arbor is the first step to shaping a community where diversity can thrive and stereotypes are thrown away. They offer a wake up call to our community off and on campus, teaching us that what we may have previously thought or what we may have been taught by society could be very wrong.

Back in September, an Anti-Latino statement was written on the Rock. Although it reflected the views of a minority on campus, this statement resembled the fear and negative attitudes that many people contain toward groups who are not represented in the mainstream. De Los Santos’s photographs show Ann Arbor what the Latino community is like, offering glimpses of our culture and our personalities. These photographs prompt Ann Arbor to think about successful Latinos such as Sonia Sotomayer, the first Hispanic woman to sit on the Supreme Court, and Oscar de la Renta, a highly influential Dominican fashion designer. Photography is the perfect way for our community to celebrate our differences and strengths, working together to destroy any stereotypes and apprehension that may exist. We have this powerful tool at our disposal –– so let us lead by example as De Los Santos did, to educate and unite our community.