Photos by Jose Galvez, courtesy Museum of the Albemarle

"Al Norte, al Norte" is a photography exhibit celebrating and exploring the lives of North Carolina's Latino residents. The photos were shot by Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Jose Galvez over the past 10 years. Many of the photos concentrate on life in northeastern North Carolina, such as these from Elizabeth City and the Outer Banks.

Museum of the Albemarle celebrates Latino culture in new exhibit

By Robert Kelly - Goss

The Daily Advance

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You might not recognize the faces in Jose Galvez’s photographs, but you’ll likely recognize the activities.

You might not readily identify with the ethnicity of the people in his photographs, but if you get down to basics, you’re really not that different.

These are the people of “Al Norte, al Norte,” the latest exhibit to open at Museum of the Albemarle, Saturday. The photographic exhibit by Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist and Durham resident Jose Galvez chronicles the lives of Latinos living in North Carolina.

“They are going to see a variety of regular folks,” said Galvez from his home in Durham Monday. “They are workers, they are families, they are students and some professionals. The kids in the park; the teenagers. I wanted to say, 'Hey, the Latinos here in North Carolina are just regular folks like you and me. We all too often don’t look too deeply at them but if you just open your eyes, you’ll see them.”

Regionally we celebrate the Latino culture everyday. One of the most popular restaurants in Elizabeth City is Three Amigos. One of the most authentic restaurants, and a well-kept secret, is La Tiendita.

People in Elizabeth City are celebrating Latino culture in at least the food. Now they can join the museum in celebrating the lives of these quiet residents.

Kim Baumbaugh is the president of the Friends of the Museum. She grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif. Her family, she says, helped settle California in the 18th century and she is Hispanic.

“Growing up, I identified as Hispanic,” she said. “I grew up in a working class neighborhood. ... I grew up speaking 'Spanglish.’”

Her father was a “Yankee” from Pennsylvania. He moved to Los Angeles and eventually met Baumbaugh’s mother, and settled in Santa Barbara. In her household, Spanish and English would be spoken together, thus “Spanglish.”

Baumbaugh grew up embracing her history and her cultural heritage. She was just one part of a large tapestry of people that make up the growing Latino community.

There is a distinction between Latino and Hispanic. Latino is a blanket term for people from Latin America – Mexico and Caribbean island countries, to Central America and South America. Hispanic, on the other hand, are people descendent from Spaniards, and while they might claim a direct Spanish lineage, more often they are descendents of Spanish and native people. And most importantly, perhaps, is that while they all may identify as Latinos, they all celebrate very diverse cultures.

While Baumbaugh’s people settled California for the Spanish and identified themselves as “Californios,” Galvez refers to himself as Mexican-American.

He is a native of Tucson, Ariz. His family settled in Arizona while it was still a part of Mexico and therefore he is Mexican-American.

Galvez has spent his career as a photojournalist chronicling the lives of Latinos. His Pulitzer – journalism’s highest honor – was won as a group at the Los Angeles Times following the lives of Latinos.

His life’s work has been recording the lives of Latinos and their experience in the United States.

“I just want to show the commonality of people,” he said. “But then again, I do want to honor the people.”

The exhibit is, Galvez points out, not political. And director of regional museums for the North Carolina Museum of History, Bill McCrea, stresses that point as well.

“It’s not a focus of how they got here, but rather who they are and what they do and how they live; their customs, traditions,” said McCrea.

The exhibit, which is presented in both English and Spanish, first showed at the Raleigh museum. McCrea says museum curator Diana Bell-Kite had observed that Latino children were frequenting the museum often. But despite the fact that the Spanish were the first Europeans to explore North Carolina, they were largely un-represented in the museum’s exhibits.

“It’s hard to see yourself in our museum if you are Latino,” said McCrea.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census statistics, 8 percent of North Carolina’s population is Latino. Mecklenburg County has the largest population at well over 100,000 Latino residents.

In the Albemarle region the numbers are considerably smaller. In Pasquotank County, for example the census statistics show 1,642 Latino residents.

McCrea says the museum has reached out to the Latino community in this region. Clarissa Fisher is the Latino outreach coordinator for Holy Family Catholic Church in Elizabeth City. She says she has been working with the museum to bring members of the Hispanic community to the exhibit and subsequent events.

One of those events, says McCrea, will be a Latino Family Day on May 5. It will be a day filled with cultural events and food.

The ribbon cutting for the exhibit happens Saturday at 10 a.m. The exhibit will be open and free to the public.

For more information, you can call the museum at 252-335-1453.