Coming from a background in Studio Arts with a focus on photography and a BA in Spanish, my artistic practice is deeply rooted in exploring social landscapes with a focus on representing and collaborating with marginalized groups. In 2011 I began photographing Hispanic individuals who migrated to the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee.
The representation of a growing Latino culture in the hills of East Tennessee hints at the changing social landscape of the area, the symbiotic relationship of the Latino and Appalachian cultures, but also, how both cultures have acclimated. Between the years 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population of Tennessee increased by 134%, making it the third highest growth rate of this cultural group in the country. Like many Latino families, one family I photographed made their way to the U.S. as migrant farm workers. While working in North Carolina, they seized an opportunity to settle in East Tennessee where they could farm their own land, become American Citizens, expand their family, establish businesses, and send their children to grade school and college. This story is just one of many that has begun to alter and contribute to the East Tennessee landscape.
In a visual juxtaposition to the Appalachian heritage, Hispanic culture is represented by vibrant colors, food, clothes, and often decorations. These aspects are seen in photographs of colorful businesses, churches with bilingual signs, artwork in homes, and other aspects of the community as individuals claim and negotiate their sense of place. Through the images, viewers are introduced to the importance of emerging diversity in this historically conservative region of the United States, however an interesting counter view is presented: despite the forced fusion of these two cultures, similarities between the cultures allow them to blend indiscernibly at times, creating an illusion of acceptance. Photographing police officers, business owners, my neighbors, and friends challenges the discriminatory stereotypes many Appalachians maintain.