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. In 2011, while studying both Spanish and Photography, I began photographing Hispanic individuals who migrated to the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee.
This 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. In a visual juxtaposition to Appalachian heritage, Hispanic culture is represented by vibrant colors, a variety of foods, and often traditional decorations. These aspects are seen in photographs of colorful business fronts, artwork in homes, and churches with bilingual signs as the community and individuals claim and negotiate their sense of place. The images introduce viewers to the value of emerging diversity in this historically conservative region of the United States; however, because of the forced fusion of these two cultures, we see similarities that allow the cultures to blend indiscernibly at times, creating an illusion of acceptance. Photographing police officers, business owners, my neighbors, and friends challenges the stereotypes fueled by discriminatory political rhetoric that many Appalachians maintain.