Connecting with Communities: Latinx Foodways

September 17, 2021
A black and white photograph shows an older man with white hair and dark skin seated in front of a wooden door with a small rectangular window. He is wearing a light-colored zip-up jacket and a dark-colored apron. He stares directly at the viewer, his large hands folded neatly on his lap. “Mr. Johnson,” “’65,” and the artist’s signature are scribbled in the bottom margin of the photograph.
2018.102 Frank Espada, American (Puerto Rico), Mr. Johnson, seated; Blake Avenue, New York, 1965. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs, 2018.102. © Frank Espada Photography.

This past spring, a cohort of Harvard Latinx students from Professor María Luisa Parra-Velasco’s course SPANSH 59H: Spanish for Latino Students II: Connecting with Communities worked with curators and educators from the Harvard Art Museums to explore works from our collections by Latinx artists, Latin American artists, and non-Latinx artists whose practice engages Latinx experiences.

This advanced language course encourages Heritage Spanish speakers to strengthen both their linguistic repertoires and their global social awareness through civic engagement with local Spanish-speaking communities. In a series of reflections, current Harvard students and recent alumni consider works of art from the collections alongside their personal and professional experiences within Latinx communities around the United States, as well as how they relate to the most pressing issues confronting Latinx communities today. The objects selected below present foodways—the cultural, political, and economic practices related to the production and consumption of food—as a means of exploring Latinx histories, traditions, and communities.

This article, the first of a three-part series in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, is published in English and Spanish.

Durante la primavera pasada, un grupo de estudiantes latinx del curso “SPANSH 59H: Spanish for Latino Students II: Connecting with Communities” dado por la Dr. María Luisa Parra-Velasco colaboró con los curadores y educadores de Harvard Art Museums para explorar obras de nuestras colecciones de artistas latinx, latinoamericanos, y las obras que reflejan la experiencia latinx. Este curso avanzado de español apoya a los hispanohablantes de herencia para fortalecer sus repertorios lingüísticos y su conciencia social global a través de la participación cívica con las comunidades hispanohablantes en diferentes partes de los Estados Unidos. En una serie de reflexiones, los estudiantes y los ahora exalumnos conectan las obras de arte de las colecciones con sus propias experiencias personales y profesionales dentro de las comunidades latinx en los Estados Unidos, así como con los problemas más urgentes que enfrentan las comunidades latinx hoy en día. Los obras de arte seleccionadas presentan “foodways”—las prácticas culturales, políticas y económicas relacionadas con la producción y el consumo de alimentos—como un medio para explorar las historias, las tradiciones y las comunidades latinx.

Este artículo, el primero de una serie de tres partes para conmemorar el Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana, se publica en inglés y en español.

The Apron/El Delantal
by Yasmeen Alfaqeeh

There are two photographs side by side. The image on the left is a black and white photograph that shows an older man with white hair and dark skin seated in front of a wooden door with a small rectangular window. He is wearing a light-colored jacket and a dark-colored apron. He stares directly at the viewer, his large hands folded neatly on his lap. “Mr. Johnson,” “’65,” and the artist’s signature are scribbled in the bottom margin of the photograph. The image on the right is a color photograph of a woman with dark brown hair wearing a red, white, and blue plaid apron and a black and white striped shirt, standing at a kitchen counter. With a look of concentration, she reaches toward a bowl of bright red strawberries. A flan cake rests on a granite countertop nearby. In the background, a brown-haired man with a white shirt looks on.

Frank Espada, American (Puerto Rico), Mr. Johnson, seated; Blake Avenue, New York, 1965. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard and Ronay Menschel Fund for the Acquisition of Photographs, 2018.102. © Frank Espada Photography.

The author’s aunt prepares a flan cake. Photo: Yasmeen Alfaqeeh.

I chose to explore the theme of work and how this presents itself in Latino communities—represented here in the above photograph by Frank Espada and the photograph I captured of my aunt. In the photo by Espada, an American photographer from Puerto Rico, an elderly man sits with his hands folded atop his apron. With a serious face looking into the camera, the subject, Mr. Johnson, appears to be in the middle of his workday. Similarly, the woman in the other photo wears an apron, but she does not gaze into the camera as she is focused on preparing a flan cake. Though the photographs are different in terms of their composition and the types of work they depict, the shared symbol of an apron ties together the themes of culture and labor.

Elegí a explorar el tema de trabajo y cómo se presenta en comunidades Latinas—aquí representadas en la foto de Frank Espada y la foto que tomé de mi tía. En la foto de Espada, un fotógrafo Americano de Puerto Rico, un hombre mayor se sienta con sus manos dobladas en encima de su delantal. Con una cara seria mirando a la cámara, el sujeto, el Señor Johnson, parece que está en medio de su día de trabajo. De la misma manera, la mujer en la otra foto lleva un delantal, pero ella no mira a la cámara y se enfoca en preparar un pastel de flan. Aunque las fotos son diferentes en poses y la muestra de trabajo, el símbolo compartido del delantal junta los temas de cultura y el trabajo. 

Yasmeen Alfaqeeh is a sophomore concentrating in the history of art and architecture at Harvard College.

The Palm Motel/El Palm Motel
by Anaí Morales

There are two photographs side by side. The photograph at left shows the exterior corner of a building with yellow vinyl siding. A vertical window with a white windowsill is close to where two sides of the building intersect. The window is halfway open, and the bottom half is stuffed with discolored insulation. To the right of the window, on the other wall of the building is a much smaller window next to a long black pipe. The photograph at right shows an unlit neon sign with a palm tree against a blue background. The sign is attached with thin wires to the side of an off-white building. The sign reads “Palm Motel” in large white letters and “Kitchenettes” in smaller letters. In the background, a light blue sky is visible.

Oscar Palacio, Colombian, Insulation, 2000. Chromogenic print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Anonymous gift in honor of Herbert and Patricia Pratt, P2001.5. © Oscar Palacio.

An exterior sign for the Palm Motel in Delano, California. Photo: Gabrielle Lara.

The photograph on the left was taken by Colombian artist Oscar Palacio. It depicts the corner of a yellow building with a medium-sized vertical window. The window is halfway open, and the bottom half of it is stuffed with some type of insulation. I chose this photo because it reminded me of the lack of good quality housing for migrant fieldworkers and their families in my hometown of Delano, California. The photograph I included on the right is of the Palm Motel, a facility that many migrant fieldworkers live in while they help harvest the grapes, oranges, and nuts grown in the area. The building is quite old and run down, and these workers are left without even so much as decent air conditioning in the scorching summers. 

La foto de la izquierda fue tomada por el artista Colombiano Oscar Palacio. Representa la esquina de un edificio amarillo con una ventana vertical de tamaño mediano. La ventana está a medio abrir y la mitad inferior está rellena de aislamiento. Elegí esta foto porque me hizo recordar la falta de alojamiento de buena calidad para los trabajadores migrantes de campo y sus familias en mi ciudad natal, Delano, California. La foto que incluí a la derecha es del Palm Motel, una residencia en que viven muchos trabajadores migrantes mientras ayudan a cosechar uvas, naranjas y nueces cultivados en los campos. El edificio es bastante viejo y los trabajadores se quedan sin siquiera aire acondicionado en los abrasadores veranos.

Anaí Morales is a sophomore concentrating in neuroscience at Harvard College.

Essential Workers/Trabajadores esenciales
by Daniela Diaz

A screenprint features two figures. On the left, a white figure with blonde curly hair in cowboy boots and spurs rides a muscular brown horse. On the right, a Black woman wearing a red head wrap over her curly black hair carries a sack on her back and picks fluffy white cotton from the earth. In the background, a white Neoclassical building resembling the White House, in Washington, D.C., is visible. A white banner stretched across the page reads “The Mass of Mankind Has Not Been Born with Saddles on Their Backs Nor a Favored Few Booted and Spurred . . . .”  A faded question mark appears to be painted in the middle of the banner.
Luis Alfonso Jimenez, American, The Mass of Mankind, 1992. Screenprint. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Margaret Fisher Fund, M22079. © 2021 Estate of Luis A. Jimenez, Jr./Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Luis Alfonso Jimenez’s print is in a colonial setting and shows a slave conducting agricultural work with a master riding a horse near her. This print caught my attention because it relates to essential workers, an issue that has been central during the pandemic. The print points to this theme because slaves were essential in building and advancing the colonial economy, and it reminds me of immigrant workers who are on the front lines in agriculture for the well-being of individuals and the economy of the United States during these unprecedented times. 

La pintura de Luis Alfonso Jimenez se establece en la época del colonialismo y muestra a una esclava haciendo trabajo de agricultura con un conquistador montando un caballo alrededor de ella. Este cuadro me llamó la atención porque refiere al tema de los trabajadores esenciales, una tema que es central durante la pandemia. El cuadro señala a este tema porque los esclavos fueron esenciales en construir y avanzar la economía colonial. La foto que elegí enseña a los trabajadores inmigrantes que están en las primeras líneas en términos de la agricultura para el bienestar de los individuos y la economía de los Estados Unidos durante estos tiempos imprevistos

Daniela Diaz is a sophomore concentrating in economics at Harvard College.

Un Momento feliz/A Happy Moment
by Nick Alvarez   

A black and white photograph shows a group of individuals wearing formal clothing gathered around a small table with a white tablecloth. Some of the individuals are sitting on folding chairs, others stand in the background. On the right, a woman with short hair and a plaid shirt points and smiles across the table, perhaps to a woman in a patterned dress who is holding an infant. On the left, a man in a black suit and a white turtleneck with a black mustache smiles at the camera. An elegant fireplace, candelabra, and mirror can be seen in the background.
2.2002.3354 Anthony Mendoza, American (born in Cuba), Untitled (wedding reception), 1970s. Gelatin silver print. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Transfer from the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, 2.2002.3354. © Tony Mendoza.

Decidí elegir esta foto de la colección de arte latinx de Harvard Art Museums porque, en contraste con los temas más tristes y oscuros que discutimos en clase, quería una imagen de un tema más alegre y brillante. Además, mi abuela es Olga Mendoza y el segundo nombre de mi padre es Antonio, asi que el nombre del fotógrafo también me llamó la atención. 

La foto muestra un momento feliz, ya que se puede ver que casi todos sonreían. El lugar parece elegante y la gente también. La elegancia de los hombres se muestra en los trajes tradicionalmente negros y oscuros, y la belleza de las mujeres se resalta con los hermosos diseños florales en sus vestidos. En conjunto, cuando miro esta foto, me acuerdo de mi familia y de la boda más reciente de mis primos Zuleima y Fernando. Recuerdo este día como un día muy feliz para mi familia, y ver la felicidad mostrada en esta foto de Antonio Mendoza me resuena profundamente. 

I chose this photo from among the Latinx art at the Harvard Art Museums because, unlike many of the sad and dark themes that we discussed in class, I wanted an image of a light and happy theme. Additionally, my grandmother is Olga Mendoza, and my father’s middle name is Antonio, so the name of the photographer also caught my attention. 

The photograph shows a happy moment—you can see that everyone is smiling. The location looks elegant, as do the people. The elegance of the men is evident in their traditional dark black suits, and the beauty of the women is emphasized by the gorgeous floral designs on their dresses. Altogether, when I look at this photo, I am reminded of my family and the recent wedding of my cousins Zuleima and Fernando. I remember this day as a very happy day for my family, and seeing the happiness shown in this photo by Antonio Mendoza resonates deeply with me.

Nick Alvarez is a sophomore at Harvard College. English translation by Natalia Ángeles Vieyra. 


Natalia Ángeles Vieyra, the Maher Curatorial Fellow of American Art, in the Division of European and American Art at the Harvard Art Museums, and María Luisa Parra-Velasco, Spanish Senior Preceptor, in Harvard’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, compiled these entries and wrote the general introduction.


Connecting with Communities: Migration

Read the second installment in our Hispanic Heritage Month story series

Learn more

Connecting with Communities: Justice, Equity, and Inclusion

Read the third installment in our Hispanic Heritage Month story series

Learn more