In the self-portrait 20-year-old Alfredo Esparza recently drew, one side of his face is missing.
Thats the part he thinks the world doesnt see.
A native of Durango, Mexico, the Charlotte resident has lived in the United States for 14 years and until last summer was an undocumented immigrant. This places limits on his life he couldnt get a drivers license and had difficulty landing jobs. He also feared his family would be separated.
The self-portrait, which is part of a new photo and art exhibit opening Saturday at Charlottes Levine Museum of the New South, is an expression on the part of Esparza and other Latino youths who want to be viewed as real human beings not stereotypes. In recent years, many have decided to step out of the shadows and become activists.
Called Out of the Shadows: Undocumented and Unafraid, the exhibit is a chance for the public to learn about the experiences of undocumented Latino youths, and to better understand their predicament of a segment of the population thats becoming increasingly important in the South.
I see myself as a normal person, said Esparza, a sophomore at Johnson C. Smith University. But if people dont know Im a student, they associate me with stereotypes of people of Mexican descent. Ive never been directly attacked, but Ive heard racist jokes.
His goal is to graduate from college, earn a doctorate in engineering, become a U.S. citizen and work for immigration reform.
The new Levine exhibit was conceived and orchestrated by artist Annabel Manning and organized with the assistance of independent curator Carla Hanzal. The exhibit is an example of participatory art in this case between Manning and the undocumented youths. Participatory art engages people to be co-producers from beginning to end.
Immigrant youths from Charlotte and the Triangle area collaborated with Manning to create the portraits, which were digitally altered to portray the young peoples visible and invisible status simultaneously.
The participants are members of United 4 the Dream, a youth-led advocacy group of the Latin American Coalition and Immigrant Youth Forum, part of a national network called the National Youth Alliance. The groups focus on equality for all immigrant youths, regardless of their legal status and provide immigrant youths a forum where they can share experiences.
Along with portraits, the exhibit includes interactive installations, and video and audio components.
An artist, teacher and community activist, Manning has collaborated on projects at the McColl Center for Visual Art and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, and her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
Out of the Shadows first showed earlier this year as her thesis exhibition at the Fredric Jameson Gallery at Duke University. This was a collaboration with Latino youths in the Triangle area.
Manning sees art in the exhibit as a tool Latino youths can use to come out of the shadows ... and to keep going in their own activism and achieve their goals.
Also, she hopes the exhibit will engage the public and increase their understanding of the issue.
I feel you become part of a problem if you dont know about it, Manning said.
A former curator of contemporary art with the Mint Museum, Hanzal saw Out of the Shadows exhibit at Duke and became interested. She wrote a special projects grant to receive Charlotte-Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council funding to extend and expand the show to include youths from the Charlotte area who are involved with the Latin American Coalition. She proposed the exhibit to Levine officials, who accepted the project.
Hanzal said the Charlotte area has one of the most rapidly growing Latino populations in the U.S. and that its very much a part of the New South.
She hopes the exhibit will be an opportunity to contemplate the complex issue of undocumented youth and undocumented laborers.
Levine Museum President and CEO Emily Zimmern said the museum tells stories of people who shaped the South and continue reinventing it. A two-year program Destination Freedom: Civil Rights Struggle, Then and Now, is a series of programs and exhibits that explores the legacy of the Civil Rights movement.
She said the goal of Out of the Shadows is to deepen understanding and spark conversation around an important issue. Its a chance for people to see and hear some of the young people behind the headlines.
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