The idea for this exhibit started in the fall of 2010 as part of a Community Service Learning (CSL) component in the course Spanish 381 on contemporary Spanish-American drama at Assumption College. In class, my students and I considered the theater stage as a space for representation and reflection on a variety of social issues in Latin America. One of these issues was the need for ordinary people to tell their own life stories. Complementary to class discussions on the ways theater can bring about social change, students volunteered in a CSL program assisting adult ESOL students developing English literacy skills at Training Resources of America, Inc. (TRA-Inc.), a private non-profit organization in downtown Worcester that provides services for people seeking jobs. To better connect our class discussions with the service provided at TRA-Inc, my students and I adapted Literacy Through Photography (LTP) as a creative method to encourage ESOL students to practice their English skills while raising awareness about their life experiences in the United States.
LTP encourages students to explore their world by taking pictures from their own lives, and then using their own images to stimulate their verbal and written expression. In class, we first learned about LTP in our reading of Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed. Boal describes how in the1970s Peruvian activists applied LTP techniques to help empower indigenous Quechua speakers in national literacy campaigns. In the United States, photographer Wendy Ewald started LTP programs in the public schools of Durham, North Carolina, in the late 1980s, to encourage grade school students to bring their own life experiences into the classroom. In our LTP project, each ESOL student at TRA-Inc received a disposable camera and was asked to respond to the question “What is life like for you in Worcester?” Each of them answered this question by taking a picture or two. Back in the classroom, the ESOL students described their pictures in oral and written form. This exhibit is a selection of their work. The photographs on display are genuine images taken by ordinary people documenting their lives in Worcester. The photographs were taken with Kodak disposable cameras equipped with 800-speed film and 4’ to 11.5’ flash range. The imperfections in these images make the immigrant perspectives the focus of attention and encourage the viewer to reflect on the human condition of the photographers.
For visitors to this exhibit, these texts and images taken by non-professional photographers may open up small windows from where to look at the city in new and different ways. Through visual and written language, these non-professional photographers offer a glimpse into their lives as we sense their immigrant perspectives in their emotions, dreams, honesty, humor, and simplicity.
Esteban Loustaunau, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Spanish
Immigrant Perspectives of Life in Worcester