Photos: Highland Park Exhibit On The Experience Of 'Blaxicans Of L.A.'
A new photography exhibit explores the experience of Angelenos who identify as both African American and Latino through intimate portraits and stories.
"Duality: Blaxicans of L.A." features photos and accounts taken by writer Walter Thompson-Hernandez, who was inspired by his research on multiracial identity to document the experiences of bi-racial individuals in the city. The project began as an Instagram seriescreated by Thompson-Hernandez, who identifies as "blaxican"—his father is African-American and his mother is Mexican. Around 30 images and stories from the series will now be shown at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park. The show opens this Saturday and runs to March 3.
Born and raised in L.A., Thompson-Hernandez recently graduated from Stanford's Latin American Studies Master's program, and is currently a researcher at the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration and Program for Environmental and Regional Equity. His latest academic work will be featured in the upcoming book, Afro-Latinos in Movement: Critical Approaches to Blackness and Transnationalism in the Americas.
LAist spoke with Thompson-Hernandez to learn more about his experience developing the project and how it speaks to both Los Angeles and the country at large.
What inspired you to start the 'Blaxicans of L.A.' project?
I was inspired to start this project because my academic research was only being read by a very selective academic audience. I was unfulfilled and wanted the stories and photos that I was compiling to impact the people and communities who were deeply embedded in my research. I am also the son of a black father and a Mexican mother and, thus, have always been interested in what it means to be both black and Mexican in Los Angeles.
Generally speaking, what have been the responses from people you have photographed? What were you surprised or intrigued to learn along the way?
It's been a very healing process. I've connected with each person who I have interviewed in a very organic and authentic way. For many years, we each believed that our experiences were unique and that there weren't other people who were navigating the world like we were. But we were wrong. We were never alone. And this project has created a community of people who share similar experiences.
How do you see the story of "Blaxicans of L.A." tied to the history and present day of Los Angeles?
Los Angeles was founded by a group of settlers in 1781 who were inherently multiracial. More than half of the people in that initial group were Afro-descendants and of mestizo and indigenous descent. Thus, the Blaxican story has always been deeply embedded into the underlying structures of this city. Today, African Americans and Latinos continue to be integral components in the growth of this city's social, racial, economic, and political infrastructure.
How did the project inspire further research for you and how did the exhibit come about?
Nathalie Sanchez, the curator of the "Blaxicans of LA" show, reached out to me approximately one year ago. She works at Avenue 50 Studio and suggested that her gallery would be interested in hosting the exhibition. Since that moment we have been planning and working together to see the exhibition reach fruition.
How do you hope to continue the dialogue started by "Blaxicans of L.A."?
It's my hope that a project like this will force us to question how we think about racial identity and the trajectory of race relations in this country. We are becoming increasingly multiracial and multiethnic, but I think we have grown accustomed to think about identity in extremely narrow and rigid ways— in monolithic ways. I think we are better suited to have a more inclusive vision, and I think a project like this can help start that conversation.
The opening night reception for "Blaxicans in L.A." is Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The exhibit runs through March 5, 2016. For more information visit Avenue 50 Studio online or call (323) 258-1435. Avenue 50 Studio is located at 131 N Avenue 50, Highland Park.