Growth has a variety of timetables. Growth through life’s Big-T and Small-T traumas is more difficult for some than others. All do not ripen at the same time or in similar circumstances.
Miriam Alarcón Avila, a visual, multimedia and storytelling artist, was born in Mexico City. She was 14-years-old when an 8.1-magnitude earthquake killed 10,000 people, including some of her friends. At 16 she ran away from home with a journalist ten years older with his promise of giving her a pawnshop camera and Fujifilm. Taking hundreds of pictures but never developing the black-and-white photos, Miriam dropped her love of photography to study science, marry a scientist, and emigrate with her family to Iowa.
Both her husband and children found dream educational possibilities. Miriam won a scholarship for a university course in black-and-white photography. By assisting her professor in his photography lab, she harvested her old photos and rediscovered parts of her legacy. Miriam’s dream was to work for National Geographic magazine; instead, her ripening took longer than she wanted.
Her husband completed doctoral studies in Iowa and planned a return to Mexico. Miriam and her two children did not want to let go of their own educational possibilities, so the family unit separated. Miriam and her children became “undocumented,” as her ex-husband’s visa as a foreign student no longer sheltered them. Years of stress-filled work allowed her to pay the bills, but it was a last-minute decision to attend a photography symposium one day that ripened her dream.
Miriam recalls crying at seeing the work of others. Warm encouragement was offered by a symposium speaker, Jonathan Woods, a photojournalist and producer at Time magazine. He told Miriam that she could pursue her dream when her children were in college in 4 years; he advised a 4-year plan. Miriam attributes this pearl of permission as a turning point: “In that moment, my brain just exploded.”
With a grant from the Iowa Arts Council in 2017 Miriam created her photo documentary project, Luchadores Immigrants in Iowa, with portraits of heroic Latino immigrants wearing masks (that she made herself) to protect identities. Miriam recalled a childhood hero, El Santo, a Mexican professional masked wrestler. A luchador is a person who fights or struggles to achieve goals. When her luchador subjects wear their custom-made masks, they feel empowered.
Harvesting hidden voices, Miriam interviews her photographic subjects and writes their history in poems. Her admirable goal is an effort to fight the false narratives of Latino immigrants to the U.S. She describes her work as fostering “…people from different cultures to see that in essence, we are all the same.” For other poignant immigrant stories, read Somewhere We Are Human, edited by Reyna Grande and Sonia Guiñansaca.
The time may be ripe for you to harvest some old dreams.
Pearls of Peace (PoP) Quiz:
133. When in your life did you drop a dream?
134. Is there a possibility to harvest some aspect of that dream today?