Migrant Workers Learn to Communicate Through Photography

Photo by Blanca Lua

The Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College recently hosted “Retratos Portraits: From Inside Looking Out,” an exhibition featuring photographs taken by migrant workers.

Gustavo Garcia, Tyler BFA with a concentration in Art Education, worked as a photo instructor for these migrant workers. The majority of the material came from Garcia’s course, and was then continued by Marilyn Romero who picked up the courses when Garcia left to return to Tyler for classes.

“I had just arrived home from my academic year abroad at Temple University in Rome, Italy. I was approached by Jorge Pérez-Rico, the director of the Migrant Education Technology Center for Adults and Families in Gettysburg. He had seen the photographs I took in Rome and he thought it would be cool to teach photography along with ESL. He asked me if I would be interested in teaching photography as a component of the METCAF summer programs,” Garcia said.

The idea to have an exhibit featuring the class’s work came about once Garcia realized the potential of the photographs.

“The exhibit was not the original intention of the project. The idea came about because once the classes got going we started to notice that the material was amazing. We talked and decided that we could not keep the images to ourselves. We decided we were going to share them with the broader community by creating a book and having an exhibition to highlight some of the image,” Garcia said.

The class focused on teaching migrant workers how to communicate through photography.

“Teaching them was challenging because we were trying to teach them photography and English at the same time, which meant that we had to translate the technical terms to Spanish,” Garcia said, “I learned a lot from the stories they had to tell, and I learned how hard it was to convey meaning in English and Spanish simultaneously, but in the end, the photographs conveyed the greatest meaning of all.”

According to Garcia, having the migrant workers photograph their lives opened up a dialogue between different ethnic groups.

“Images that captured daily life, celebrations, and graduations put the efforts of immigrants both young and old in a broader context; the shared goal of creating a good life for their children and families were equally, if not more, relevant to the text. It put the stories of these people in a place where they could be seen and heard, in a format that is familiar to all,” Garcia said.

Garcia hopes to continue working as an instructor in the future and helping others in the process.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity I was given by Jorge Pérez-Rico to work on this project. For me this work was a starting point in what I hope will be a lifelong mission of helping people of various communities express themselves through art and photography. Teaching photography to people of this community was rewarding and something that I consider integral to my development as a teacher and artist,” Garcia said.

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