A few months ago, I started working on a portrait project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, and to remember the American women suffragists who for decades fought long and hard to force their government— and those to come— to recognize women had the right to vote.
It seems fitting that I wrap it up on the day that we learn that the American people have chosen the country’s first female vice president.
The women who participated in this project wrote essays that reflect on the legacy of the women suffragists. Please take a moment to listen to them and enjoy the photographs.
Looking forward to seeing the exhibit of photographs of national and international celebrities taken by the late Dallas photographer Andy Hanson at SMU Fondren Library. For more on that exhibit, read Rick Brettell’s review in the The Dallas Morning News. I already know the picture of Michael Caine lighting a cigarette with a candle will me among my top ten.
There’s a line in the review that made me think of the Gordon Parks exhibit at Amon Carter Museum of American Art. Brettell says Hanson’s memorable photographs were a result of snapping key moments, his gift of composition, and “wizardry” in the darkroom.
Learning to print photographs well – to deepen the blacks, to give the photograph more depth (or not, I guess) – is hard. I’ve known for years that it’s not something I will do well, because I don’t have a natural understanding of light, have always been intimidated by enlargers and filters, and because I’ve never taken the time to learn to understand any of that.
Two exhibits at Amon Carter Museum of American Art have highlighted photographers that were master printers and in doing so, has given the process the recognition it deserves: the Dave Heath and the Gordon Parks exhibits. Personally, those exhibits, and Mark Birnbaum‘s keen eye and commentary, have made me appreciate the art of printing photographs in a way I had not.
Nearly half of Guatemalan children under 5 suffer from malnutrition, according to a report from a U.S. federal agency that provides international aid. That is a startling statistic because, among other things, the country grows nearly every fruit and vegetable under the sun and markets and groceries are stocked with locally grown produce.
But the poverty in Guatemala is stark and that troubling statistic is one of many that underscores the income and education inequalities that have held the country back for decades.
USAID’s nutrition profile for Guatemala says there are places in the country where nearly 70 percent of children under five are malnourished – including the department of Huehuetenango, where farmers grow some of the best coffee in the world. The coffee I brew every morning for my cappuccino comes from there.
Although I’ve known this for years, I seldom think about it. Frankly, I’d rather not. Because it is disturbing and painful. But now and then I’ll read a news story or hear a radio dispatch that reminds me of that and forces me to reflect on that troubling reality.
The Latin America expert interviewed for a story about the immigrants arriving at the border from Central America said that the U.S. didn’t have a crisis at the border, but that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras each have a crisis and that their crises are driving immigration to the U.S. In Guatemala, corruption and malnutrition among children, she reminded us, are just two of the country’s major problems – and have been for generations.
The report reminded me of an essay my father wrote about the way malnutrition affected Guatemalans. It was his essay that made me aware of the problem, how it impacts people throughout their lives, and how little the country’s governments have cared to help generations of children live healthy and productive lives.
The link to it no longer works, but in digging through an old email account, I found what may be the final draft of the column and have pasted it below. It was published by the Miami Herald just weeks before he died, and he titled it “Chains and Stools.”
Chains and Stools
By Enrique Martín-Hidalgo
It has been over twenty years since I worked in one of the towers of what was then a new and modern shopping mall and office complex in the new business center of Guatemala City.
I usually arrived early, and many mornings, after going to my office and dropping off my briefcase, made a quick run to buy pastry and coffee at a bakery. It was the only store open in the mall at that time; the others opened at nine.
My trips to the bakery gave me the opportunity to take a brisk walk through the empty mall. To make the most of it, I walked up and down the three stories of the shopping area. While walking through the dimly lit corridors, I paid little attention to the surroundings, thinking instead of the many things I had to do. But one morning something caught my attention.
Passing by the storefronts, I noticed that each of the large glass doors had a stool hanging by what looked like a bicycle chain, which was in turn wrapped around the door handle. The variety of bicycle chains and stools amazed me. The chains were plastic coated, of many sizes and colors. The child-sized stools were made of bright-colored wood, metal or plastic. I came to think of these unusual arrangements as works of art, which I selfishly believed had no other purpose but for me to admire and enjoy.
My trips to the mall during working hours were rare, but one day, shortly before 9, a co-worker asked me to tag along with him for a short trip to the bank at the mall. When we got off the elevator on the third floor and walked down the same corridors I knew only in another dimension, the first activity of the day was unfolding: the opening of the doors.
At each storefront was a person removing the bicycle chain, or separating it from the stool or stepping on the stool to reach the doors’ upper lock. It was like watching a ritual, but what I was observing were the stages of a process that was a daily drama.
It was a rude awakening: the practical and only purpose of those chained sitting stools was to overcome a physical handicap.
The glass doors, with their lower and upper locks, were designed for a world where people are much taller than the average person in Guatemala. But these chained sitting stools revealed much more.
They were a symbol, at least to me, of serious problems that affronted Guatemalan society: lack of teamwork and leadership.
Though shopkeepers used the same method and equipment to solve a shared problem, they didn’t band together to do it as a group. United, and with a minimum amount of leadership, I thought, they could have bought and shared a few step ladders, which would have been a safer and more practical way to get the job done. Yet individualism prevailed.
The stools also pointed out another serious problem that I was made aware of by a friend to whom I confided my experience. The average Guatemalan didn’t have the means for proper nourishment and was physically underdeveloped.
That was over twenty years ago.
Several years ago, an article published in one of the two local newspapers, mentioned a recent study by an international group that looked at the age, weight and size of average Guatemalan children revealed nutritional problems that lead to the physical underdevelopment of the majority of the population, making Guatemala a country of midgets. Another article stated that poverty related nutritional problems have created a subspecies of physically underdeveloped Guatemalans, who make up the vast majority of the population. According to data from UNICEF, 21.3 percent of children in Guatemala suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 60 percent of Guatemalan households don’t make enough money to cover the cost of basic foodstuffs.
A society that is still lacking in teamwork and leadership cannot solve a problem of undernourishment.
That’s why the stools are still there, hanging from chains at that aging shopping mall and everywhere in Guatemala one sees stones, crates or whatever is at hand, used to help people reach up.
One of the things that drives me crazy when I go home to Guatemala City, is seeing the signs of retailers that have English-language names. This has been true for years, but the proliferation of these names in the last decade has been impressive.
It is yet another indication, in my mind, that it’s largely a society ashamed of its heritage. The Spanish-language has plenty of words (and then some) to describe services, clothing, housewares. But English sounds more contemporary, cooler, hipper – but perhaps more important, it evokes a culture that is more desirable than the European or indigenous cultures that make up the fabric of that country.
I was reminded of this today while reading Robert Wilonsky’s recent column about endangered buildings in Dallas. Both cities share the same ethos, described succinctly by Mark Doty, the city’s historic preservation officer:
“We want it to be something else rather than appreciate it for what it is.”
I’ve made Dallas my home for almost 15 years and take joy in learning about the “the commonplace buildings” sprinkled all over the city. Because those office buildings, warehouses, gas stations and homes tell the story of people who left their mark in Dallas in big and small ways.
A few years ago, after selling our home in North Dallas, my husband and I moved into South Side on Lamar, known to many generations here as the old Sears building. We relish living in this grand, old warehouse that may be more solid (and is certainly more interesting) than the shiny luxury skyscrapers going up just north of us. One of my favorite things to do during our annual cookie party is taking the children around the building and telling them about its history.
Here’s to hoping Dallas will do what Guatemala City hasn’t done: honor its past and take pride in its heritage.