Connecting a Barrio

A steady swoosh cuts through the East Los Angeles morning. The mostly Latino community hasn’t seen a visitor like this in over half a century. The shiny steel carries promises and expectations but there’s uncertainty, too.

When MTA, the Los Angeles Metro Transportation Authority, unveiled the new Gold Line on November 15, it was more than just giving the 94% of Latinos in East Los Angeles a transportation option, it was a route connecting an unincorporated neighborhood back to the body of the greater city.

The “Eastside Extension”, six years in the making and $898 million later, was seen by MTA officials as giving the East LA community access to the more affluent parts of the city they might not otherwise have access to. But there is another untold part to the story: It has also given other Angelenos a chance to visit the barrio they often read with caution. Stopping at the Mariachi Plaza where Latino musicians come, congregate, play and seek employment. Not only is it taking a community out, it is bringing new communities in.

I submitted my photo essay “A Pair of Heels for Vanessa,” to the fellowship committee because it delves into similar cultural conflicts. What does it mean to be a woman in one culture and a girl in another? For American born Latinas celebrating their Quinceanera, they often struggled with conflicting emotions.

“While Dorothea was not interested in politics,” remarked Clark Kerr. “She was interested in people.”

It’s too easy to follow the media’s coverage of the new route but what I’m most interested in are the interactions and intersections of a Latino community in transit. Like Lange, my interest lies in people, not politics.

I propose to go to East Los Angeles during the summer 2010 and plant myself inside the Gold Line train stops.

The final project will be a portfolio, visually capturing the Latino community that is increasingly depending on the new transportation route and the new commuters who are discovering East Los Angeles because of it. The photography will reveal the interesting, sometimes conflicting dichotomy of the East LA community and their visitors. I will capture environmental portraits of the family owned shops and taquerias that are receiving more business because of the train. I want to photograph the musicians and mariachi who are being changed by these new train stops.

Steve Saldivar
November 2009