Abuelas: Portraits of The Invisible Grandmothers

Cinthya Santos Briones

2016 - Ongoing

United States

Abuelas: Portraits of The Invisible Grandmothers

This project focuses on undocumented Mexican immigrant women who came to New York decades ago in search of opportunity for their families. Overtime they have built lives here and have become the elders of their community: the abuelas. Many have children and grandchildren living on either side of the border. Yet, twenty and thirty years later, still remain invisible and undocumented. The series centers on portraits of these women photographed in the intimacy of their homes. These images seek to convey the women’s relationship to place and the shaping and appropriation of their environment. In these photographs, the homes´ decorations become part of the women's wider symbolic recreation of culture, memory and ownership beyond borders.

I photograph these environmental portraits in a participatory manner. I ask the women: "How do you like to be seen or represented through photography?" They choose how and where they want to be seen in their homes and what outfits they want to wear. The series seeks to offer them the opportunity to face the camera and be depicted in a way that reflects their own sense of identity.

Although these grandmothers are seemingly well established in the city of New York, they must work in unstable jobs with low wages and are often the victims of exploitations and human rights violations. They work as house cleaners, seamstresses, nannies, factory workers and in restaurants.

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  • Guadalupe Lara, is an activist. After the hurricane sandy in 2012 she became involved in the church of St. Jacobi, -where she is the president of the church council-, the main hub of what came to be known as ̈Occupy Sandy ̈, where she organized and coordinated the food supplies that kept coming every day to provide food and help to the victims of the hurricane. Lupe likes to go to casinos.

  • Dionisia Martínez, in her bedroom at 45th. street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. She is a singer and dancer of Mexican folklore, born in Atencingo, Puebla, based in New York since 2002. Since then she has worked washing dishes in restaurants, selling balloons and cleaning. But hers passion is singing, nicknamed “Lupe Cantarrecio”. Actually she Acts in the movie call in Spanish “Me voy” directed by the film making collective Mu Media.

  • Gisela Bravo Martinez in her apartment at 45th. St. in the neighborhood of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York. She is from San Bernardino, Acatlán de Osorio, State of Puebla, Mexico. She has been living in New York City for more than two decades working in groceries and factories. Nevertheless she is a professional seamstress. She is 66 years old and is a grandmother of 6 grandchildren. !

  • Ale González, is from Atlixco, Puebla. She has been living in New York for the last 20 years. She is a single mother and has a 2 year old grandson. She lives in Elmhurst, Queens, New York with her husband.

  • Eugenia Cayetano is an immigrant from the state of Michoacán, México, born in a Mazahua indigenous family. Eugenia has been living in New York for 24 years and is part of a cleaning workers ́ cooperative named "Si se puede”, based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York.

  • Magda Gutierrez, born in the state of Tlaxcala, México, migrated to New York 22 years ago. She has three children and a granddaughter born in the USA. Magda has been part of several community organizations working for the rights of immigrants in Sunset Park. Brooklyn, New York. At her age, 38 years old, she is pregnant with her fourth child.

  • Cecilia Lezama, is an activist for the rights of immigrants in New York City. She has been a member of several NGOs who work for justice for immigrants. She is also a merchant. She has 25 years living in upper Manhattan.

  • Yolanda Leticia, is a Mariachi singer from Veracruz, México and coordinator and teacher of the Mariachi Academy for children in New York. In her house in Jamaica, Queens she has an studio where she rehearses her singing. Yolanda, is considered the Queen of Mariachi in New York, appearing in various scenarios around of the United States singing the vernacular music of Mexico.

  • Honorina Moran from Huajuapan De León, Oaxaca, she is 67 years old and lives in Long Island city with her family. Honorina came to New York 12 years ago crossing the Mexican border to reunite herself with her family because all her daughters and grandchildren live in the United States.

  • Alejandra Mendez, is from the neighborhood Colonia León, Atlixco, Puebla. She immigrated to New York 20 years ago, since that moment lives in Corona Queens with her husband and two children. To make a living Alejandra works cleaning houses while in her spare time she likes to do crafts and cook.

  • Irma Verduzco is from Morelia, Michoacán, México. She came to New York 26 years ago crossing the border with one of her two children. Actually, she has three jobs: cleaning houses, as a babysitter and picking up plastic bottles out on the streets. She lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York.

  • Elizabeth Herrera, in her house at Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She is From Temascalapa Puebla, living in New York for the last 16 years. She has two children born in United States, for now she has been working in a bakery and is part of the Adventist Church.

  • Dolores Mendez, has been living in New York since 18 years ago. She loves to dance Cumbia, a Mexican dance. Two of her four children were born in USA, Lisseth and Alexis, and the other two live in México.

  • Engracia Arellano, in an immigrant from Temascalapa, Puebla, México. She has been in New York for 25 years ago, working in different kind of jobs, but mostly in factories. The last 11 years, she has been living in Bushwick with her Family. She loves to cook Pozole.

  • Juanita de León, in the kitchen at her home on 59th. Street, Sunset Park, Brooklyn. She was born in Atencingo, Puebla, but 27 years ago she lives with her whole nuclear family in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York. Juanita is a member of the St. Jacobi Church and coordinator of the community kitchen. Juanita was part of the team that eventually came to be known as ̈Occupy Sandy ̈ in 2012, feeding the volunteers who were helping hurricane victims.

  • Mary Rojas, is an immigrant from Izúcar de Matamoros, Puebla, México. She has been in New York for 20 years living in Astoria , Queens.

  • Josefina Torres, is from La Unión Tecomatlán, Puebla. She is a professional baker of traditional Mexican breads. Josefina emigrated to the United States in 1974 and since then she has been living in the Bronx. Currently, she has 13 grandchildren.

  • Alicia Mendieta at her home on the 62nd. St. of Bay Parkway, Brooklyn. Alicia is an activist for immigrant rights in the city of New York. She has been involved in different pro-immigrant organizations. She came to the United States 16 years ago, leaving all of her family back in México. Her grandchildren call her “la abuelita de las maravillas” (wonder Granny). She has worked mainly as a nanny.

  • Yolanda, Is an activist member of the organization New Sanctuary Movement. She is originally from Xochihuehuetlán, state of Guerrero, México. But for 20 years she has been living in the Bronx. She likes tattoos and cook the traditional food of his town, like the “pozole".

  • Paulina Garcia, is from the community of San Juan Tianguismaninalco of the state of Puebla, she has been in New York for 20 Years. Paulina has one grand daughter born in the United States. She is a hairstylist. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is 50 years old.