Ruth, 35 years old, has been working with flowers since she arrived to the United States at the age of 18. She works in a flower truck on the corner of White Plains Road and Story Avenue with her 3 sons and others.
Ruth, 35 years old, has been working with flowers since she arrived to the United States at the age of 18. She works in a flower truck on the corner of White Plains Road and Story Avenue with her 3 sons and others. © Tony Baizan

These photos, taken by middle- and high-school students, reveal glimpses of the contributions immigrants make in their community in the South Bronx.

Depictions of minorities in mainstream culture can be skewed—they’re sometimes either too dramatic or dysfunctional, and sometimes wholly unrepresented. This is something 14-year-old Chloe Rodriguez has noticed too often: “Immigrants are not necessarily the way the media depicts them,” she says.

Over the last five months, she spent her evenings after school photographing someone important to her in her community: Oscar Velasquez, the maintenance man at the Immaculate Conception Church in the South Bronx, who immigrated to New York from Colombia. Immigrants “form the community around me, and they all have something to add to the culture,” Rodriguez says.

She is one among a young group—aged 12 to 18—at the Bronx Junior Photo League, an after-school documentary program run by the Bronx Documentary Center. The students have all spent the past five months chronicling the everyday experiences of immigrants around them, and producing a set of photos with a sense of aesthetic understanding beyond their years.

The photos follow a variety of people, allowing viewers a glimpse into the life of a Mexican restaurant owner, a Vietnamese nun, and an exiled Russian journalist, to name a few. But the images also reveal the many roles minorities and immigrants play in neighborhoods and beyond—as creators, maintainers, caretakers, and innovators. Immigration has always been an urban issue: with nearly 7 million immigrants forming America’s working class, coupled with their significant contributions towards innovation, they have boosted the metros we live in. This project hopes to add a personal face to this front. Here is some of the students’ work:

Oscar Velásquez cleans Immaculate Conception Church in the South Bronx. Mr. Velásquez, originally from Colombia, came to New York more than 20 years ago. (© Chloe Rodriguez, 8th grade)
The student's grandmother, who emigrated from Mali when she was 16 years old, reclines on her bed. (© Fanta Diop, 8th grade)
Ramundo Salazar, originally from the state of Guerrero in Mexico, in his restaurant on Courtlandt Avenue. (© Justin Arroyo, 6th grade)
Thousands of Yemeni store owners and their supporters pray and protest President Trump's "Muslim Ban" in February 2017. (© Ruby Simon, 11th grade)

The students’ work will be exhibited at the Bronx Documentary Center from June 15–June 25.

About the Author

Krutika Pathi
Krutika Pathi

Krutika Pathi is an editorial fellow at CityLab.

Most Popular

  1. Members of a tenants' organization in East Harlem gather outside the office of landlord developer Dawnay, Day Group, as lawyers attempt to serve the company with court papers on behalf of tenants, during a press conference in New York. The tenant's group, Movement for Justice in El Barrio, filed suit against Dawnay, Day Group, the London-based investment corporation "for harassing tenants by falsely and illegally charging fees in attempts to push immigrant families from their homes and gentrify the neighborhood," said Chaumtoli Huq, an attorney for the tenants.
    Equity

    Toward Being a Better Gentrifier

    There’s a right way and a wrong way to be a neighbor during a time of rapid community change.

  2. Design

    The Military Declares War on Sprawl

    The Pentagon thinks better designed, more walkable bases can help curb obesity and improve troops’ fitness.

  3. Homeless individuals inside a shelter in Vienna in 2010
    Equity

    How Vienna Solved Homelessness

    What lessons could Seattle draw from their success?

  4. Life

    Why a City Block Can Be One of the Loneliest Places on Earth

    Feelings of isolation are common in cities. Let’s take a look at how the built environment plays into that.

  5. Two New York City subway cars derailed on the A line in Harlem Tuesday, another reminder of the MTA's many problems.
    Transportation

    Overcrowding Is Not the New York Subway's Problem

    Yes, the trains are packed. But don’t blame the victims of city’s transit meltdown.