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Photo Exhibit to Chronicle and Humanize Latinos’ Experiences in Utah

September 18, 2002 — According to 2000 census figures, the Hispanic/Latino population is the largest and most rapidly growing minority group in Utah, increasing from 4.9 percent of the population in 1990 to 9 percent just a decade later. Yet, according to Armando Solorzano, Utah has always been home to Latinos as their origins can be traced back to Native American tribes that inhabited the area 17,000 years ago.

Solorzano, an associate professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Consumer Studies and in the Ethnic Studies program, chronicles Latinos’ past and current involvement in the state in a new exhibit titled “We Remember, We Celebrate, We Believe: A Photo History of Latinos in Utah.” The show, comprised of 52 large frames containing themed photographs and commentary in both Spanish and English, will open with a ceremony at the Utah State Capitol Rotunda at 12 noon on Monday, Sept. 30. The display, free and open to the public, will be exhibited at the Capitol from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily through Oct. 10. The show is sponsored by The Dee Foundation, the U’s Office of Diversity, the U’s Ethnic Studies program, the Utah Humanities Council, Westminster College, the Mexican Consulate and several individuals.

The exhibition will be displayed at the U’s Olpin Union Building from Oct. 14 through 19, weekdays from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. The show will then travel to other Utah universities, to California and abroad.

A specialist in ethnic studies at the U, Solorzano hopes the exhibit will promote diversity, increase Latino’s visibility and humanize their experiences. “Latinos are an integral part of Utah,” Solorzano says. “We were here even before the pioneers. We need to be seen. We just want to be treated as equals and as humans. We work, pray and cry the same as other Utahns. We really belong here.”

Solorzano had no idea his project would become so big. Each three-foot square frame took 20 to 30 hours to create, including the research, documentation time and hours spent reproducing and cleaning many of the pictures.

The show’s photographic images were collected from a variety of sources: individuals, organizations, families, friends, archives and the Utah State Historical Society. Each frame depicts a different story about Latinos’ contributions to Utah. The frames show Latinos as central to the surging sheep industry in Monticello; their influence in the establishment and growth of the Catholic church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and their work in Utah mines and railroads.

“In 1912, the Utah Copper Company, the forerunner of Kennecott, brought 4,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans to the Bingham mines as strike breakers,” Solorzano notes. “In 1930, 50 percent of track workers on the Union Pacific Railroad were Latinos.”

Solorzano’s history also chronicles the influence of Latinos in Utah’s migrant work and in the Civil Rights movement. The show’s last frames depict Utah Latinos’ most recent activities, including the campaigning for and the successful naming of a Salt Lake City street after Caesar Chavez, founder and leader of the first successful U.S. farm workers’ union.

“For me, the most moving pictures and stories in the exhibit are of the migrant workers. The story of that boy right there,” says Solorzano, motioning to an image of a young child holding a large sack of vegetables. “It breaks my heart. He earned 40 cents for each 50-pound bag he filled with onions.”

Another frame is titled “Harvest of Shame” and describes how, in 1998, Jose Antonio Casillas, a 17-year-old migrant farm worker, was inadvertently sprayed with pesticide and died the next day. “What was so drastic was that his parents weren’t even here. They were in Mexico, and they didn’t have the money to pay for his body to be sent back home. So the Latino community here in Utah came together to contribute money to send the body home,” Solorzano explains.

When asked to discuss her history, one elderly Latina told Solorzano, “I have none-only photographs.” So precious were these pictures, many of their owners, rather than loaning them to Solorzano, insisted on accompanying him to the copy store to reproduce the images. “For some Latinos, the photos were the only remaining memories they have of their family and of their people. When I touched these photos I felt like I was touching something sacred,” he says.