STREETS OF NEW YORK - Mexican moms of Brooklyn
Photographs by David Bacon
A friend once told me once that when she was growing up back east, if you wanted tortillas you had to buy them in a can from Old El Paso. It was a big joke since she was from Las Cruces, which is right next to El Paso. I can't imagine what they tasted like. When my family left New York City in the 1950s there were hardly any Mexicans there, at least that we knew of. Even when I went back to live for a while in the early 70s there weren't many.
That's certainly not true anymore. A few years ago I went to the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Flushing Meadows. You can still see that huge strange earth globe there, leftover from the 1964 World's Fair, with hollow spaces crisscrossed by metal struts where all the oceans should be. That year, under the globe lounged all these young cholos and cholas, styling like they were in East Oakland or East LA, their lowrider bikes with the front forks sticking out and chrome all over.
That year they said there were 750,000 people from Mexico living in New York City - enough so their nickname for it was PueblaYork, the way California's become OaxaCalifornia.
One of the big centers of Mexican life today is Sunset Park in Brooklyn. There Fourth and Fifth Avenues are lined with taquerias, although their idea of a quesadilla, with orange sauce and lettuce on it, is a little different from what I'm used to, being an Oakland boy. But the stores have as many signs in Spanish as you see in Huntington Park in southeast LA. I'm waiting to see if we'll start seeing signs in Mixteco or Nahuatl, the way you can in some places in the San Joaquin Valley. And if you walk just a block over to Sixth Avenue, the language you hear is Chinese and the restaurants sell smoked duck. And then a block or two over from that the voices speak Arabic. New York was never really a melting pot -- just a lot of people from all over, living next to each other, but most fighting to keep ahold of their culture.
So of course in Sunset Park, at around three in the afternoon, you see Mexican moms down at the schoolyard picking up their kids. Some of the moms are picking up other peoples' children too -- for the parents who work. Then in the kitchen of the daycare mom, or on a table in the taqueria/pizza joint, or in the apartments in the brownstones along the avenue, moms and kids start doing homework. It goes on into the evening - making dinner, getting out the calculator, eating, marking up the exercise books. You realize right away how serious people are about their kids, their teachers and their schools. To get a good job, you have to learn.
These photographs owe their existence to La Union, a group of Mexican women and mothers in Sunset Park. They met in the Saint Jacobi Lutheran Church, and organized everything from school protests to training in the latest makeup styles. The women here include Blandina Morales and her daughter Melissa, Carla Trujillo and Christian Cortez, Estelita Molina and her daughter, two moms out picking up their children, Estelita Molina and the children she cares for, some of Estelita's daycare kids, Lidia Cordoba and her daughter Pamela, Magdelena Gutierrez and Bruce, Margarita Sosa, and Veronica Fuentes at a meeting of La Union. Thanks to Lety Alanis and Cynthia Santos for making these photographs possible.