29-Jun, 08:55

20:37, October 19 102 0

2016-10-19 20:37:15
On Debate Night, Celebrating a Book About Immigrants

Just before the final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump kicks off in Las Vegas on Wednesday night with immigration as a focus, a group will gather in New York to celebrate “Nuevo New York,” a book about creative professionals of Latin American descent. Included in it are well-known figures like Carolina Herrera, Maria Cornejo, Carlos Campos, Francisco Costa and Nina Garcia.

The book, released last month, is a passion project of Gabriel Rivera-Barraza, a publicist from Durango, Mexico, who immigrated to the United States at 13, and Hans Neumann, a photographer from Lima, Peru, who arrived here when he was about 23. Mr. Rivera-Barraza and Mr. Neumann spent four years interviewing and photographing nearly 80 subjects.

“It’s a celebration of Latin Americans,” Mr. Neumann said. “It’s about happiness and laughter and freedom. A different point of view.”

Mr. Rivera-Barraza and Mr. Neumann insist it’s a coincidence that on the night of the final debate they are celebrating Latinos, a group that has found itself targeted during this election cycle. But they emphasized the importance of doing so anyway.

“We’re the biggest minority in the U.S.,” Mr. Rivera-Barraza said. “It’s time for us to talk about the nice side of our culture.”

Narciso Rodriguez, a Cuban-American designer who appears in the book, is also the focus of an exhibition that opened last weekend at the Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University in Miami.

“It is very important to incorporate the accomplishments of Latin American artists, architects, and designers into the canon of history,” Jordana Pomeroy, the director of the museum, wrote in an email.

When the political conversation turned last year to suggestions of building a wall, deporting immigrants and barring Muslims from entry, Mr. Rivera-Barraza and Mr. Neumann thought it was even more important to finish the book despite running low on funds. But they were concerned some of their subjects might back out from fear of being in the spotlight. Instead, they were surprised by how many additional people wanted to participate; they ended up extending their deadline and adding more than two dozen portraits.

Both men have noticed a change in tone in the conversation about immigrants during the last year.

“My nephew came to me the other day and said: ‘Uncle, it’s bad to be Mexican. At school they’re saying this or that,’” Mr. Rivera-Barraza said. “That really hurt. That really scared me. I don’t want my niece and nephew to be ashamed because someone is saying they’re less than.”

For him, the need to provide role models in the creative industry for a younger generation of Latin American descent became a particularly important goal.

“A lot of these kids don’t know where to look,” Mr. Rivera-Barraza said. “They’re the first generation who are going to get educated. We want to tell them, ‘Don’t give up.’”

Dr. Pomeroy of the Frost Museum noted that showing young people what they can aspire to is part of the work of an exhibition like the one about Mr. Rodriguez. “It is imperative that children of Latin American descent living in the U.S. are exposed to a spectrum of futures through places like museums,” she said.

And what of the book’s subjects? Ms. Cornejo, a fashion designer whose story of leaving Chile when she was 11 as a political refugee, then moving to London, then Paris and finally New York appears in “Nuevo New York,” said she loved the sense of community participating in the book gave her.

“It’s amazing the amount of Latinos who are in the business of fashion and the arts,” she said. Joining their ranks gave her a sense of place after being unmoored for many years.

“I was a bit countryless,” she said. “New York is where I found my own way. This is the one place I’ve lived the longest. My family has grown here, my children grew up here, I built my business here.”

Reflecting on the election, Mr. Neumann expressed disappointment that he will not be able to vote because he is a resident, not a citizen, but was also hopeful that those who can will make their voice count.

“In the end, America is full of immigrants, and it has been for centuries,” he said. “You can’t deny that about a country full of Irish people, Russian people, English people, Latin people. Who’s not an immigrant, really?”