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.

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