Finding a community’s vibrancy anywhere, in anything or with anyone, means having the ability to fully experience the world with energy and passion. Twelve Las Fotos Project students explored this concept of their communities being full of life in the Digital Promotoras: Vibrance class through environmental portraiture, photojournalism, and visual narratives. Their photos explore subjects and issues to communicate important messages, promote awareness, or simply to share moments of beauty in their environment.

Portraits of family, friends, neighbors, and local heroes, taken by the students, create digital diaries that evoke unity and allyship. The students capture people in action, at work, and being expressive with gentle smiles, mysterious glances, or euphoric laughs. Simultaneously, they point to civic concerns like political participation, infrastructure, or littering and waste. By incorporating the landscape and places of worship or showcasing cultural displays and arrangements of household objects, the students document how communities work together and what resources are considered valuable.

The detailed storytelling within the students’ photos unfold different realities. While seemingly effortless interactions may be noteworthy, and microscopic observations could allude to bigger ideas, the students’ lenses collectively inspire action. They are a reminder to look closely and pay attention to the world around us.

TEACHING ARTIST
Riana Gideon

MENTORS
Carolyne Corelis
Gabby Tilley
Louis Heilbronn
Megan Pennings
Miriam Plascencia
Rebecca Arranda
Sydney Krantz

Angel Mia Torres

My name is Angel Mia Torres, and I’m a 7th grader at Chaparral Middle School. I was born in Simi Valley, CA, and currently live in Moorpark, CA. In the future, I want to be an artist who uses art as a form of activism. I want to use my voice to help others. My goal is to be able to help someone whether it’s a huge issue or a small one. I want to be able to express my opinions on what I think is wrong and needs to be addressed in the world.

Pantries that care.

My project is about the importance of pantries in smaller communities and how the pandemic is affecting them. I photographed my local pantry and subject, Patricia Calderon, the director. While photographing and interviewing them, I learned how much the pantry was involved with my community and its families. Due to the pandemic, more families were looking for help, needing food and clothing resources. As a result, there were fewer supplies to give families. This showed me how the pandemic has affected and impacted the people in my community.

A Moment of Education. Here Patrica is speaking to a family about proper child nutrition for their baby. She reminds families to incorporate fruits and vegetables into their baby’s diet. Patrica makes an effort to inform and educate families about good health and nutrition.

Big Donation. The pantry received a large donation from a local community member, making Patrica excited over the new amount of resources to give back to the community.

Thanksgiving. The pantry calculated the number of families they would be able to provide a Thanksgiving basket. This year around 50 more families than last year needed baskets due to the pandemic. With limited donations, the pantry fed the number of families they could provide for.

Disbursement Day. Families line up to get their monthly food disbursement. In each box, you can find canned goods, fresh produce, dairy, and some baby items such as diapers and food. The current need in my community consists primarily of food.

Receiving Daily Lunch. The pantry not only provides food for families but also lunches for laborer workers, such as construction workers, field workers, and custodians.

Filled With Joy. The man in this photo was picking up a Thanksgiving basket with his wife. They were happy to be one of the lucky families to receive a donation basket and have food for their Thanksgiving dinner.

A Woman Who Cares. Due to the pandemic, things in the pantry have changed. Patricia (Left) was discussing the changes on what they were doing for Christmas, considering they usually have a high demand. During the holidays, the pantry coordinates two events to give out food and toys to families that can have over 400 individuals attending. This year she has limited volunteers.

The Ruben Castro Center. Named after Ruben Castro, who started the pantry from his home garage after seeing the need in my community. He worked at the pantry for many years before he retired. Today Patricia Calderon is the current director of the pantry. Moorpark Pantry Plus works with many community partners to help feed, clothe, and shelter the most vulnerable in the community.

One Family Statue. This statue is a tribute for Ruben Castro (middle), to represent how the pantry brings the community together into one family and is located near the front of the pantry’s courtyard, where families line up to sign up for food, clothing, and Christmas presents.

Lack of Resources. Volunteers sort, organize and pack food and resources to distribute to families in need. Due to the pandemic, the pantry is experiencing a shortage of food donations, causing a large portion of the storage room to be empty with nothing other than empty boxes.


Catarina Encinas

My name is Catarina Encinas and I am currently a senior at Mendez High School. I love the arts – one example would be performing arts. I love to design clothes, paint and take pictures even when I’m on road trips. I get so inspired by everything, even nature. I have a Pomeranian named Sparky. He has helped me with my sadness and I am forever grateful for my best friend. I love music such as Harry Styles, Selena Quintanilla, and Kali Uchis, along with that I love musicals such as Hamilton, Aladdin and Wicked. They have always been a big part of my life and I’m grateful for that, because if it wasn’t for musicals, music and art I don’t know what I would be doing right now! Life is short so you should live it.

#MovingAwayFromHome

My work is called Personal Perspective: Moving during A Pandemic, I feel like the title suits the project well because that’s exactly what’s going on and there can be people out there going through the same exact process as I am which is very tiring and has a long process. What I hope my audience experiences while reading/seeing my work is that it is not easy handling school and in the process of moving all in one it can be so tiring you feel like giving up and quiting because your body can’t take all of this stress. I also hope that my audience can at least see what it is like to see up close and personal on what is going on. What I learned is that it is definitely not easy to unpack/pack especially if I have classes every day of the week and a busy schedule its fun to move and decorate your room just the way you want it but in the end of the day you feel alone and overwhelmed.

Two Ghosts. I feel stressed and ready to sleep but the stress is never ending. Merced, CA 12/20.

My Best Friend. Sparky is my emotional support buddy and best friend, he has helped me through the moving process and making it better little by little. Merced, CA 11/20.

Closet(ed) Feelings. Here is the top shelf of my closet, there’s nothing just a little empty right? It’s how I felt when I just barely moved away from all of my close family members and friends. Merced, CA 10/20.

Safe Space. My bed is my safe place from the outside world and helps me think. Merced, CA 11/20.

Sweet Creatures. These two artists, Harry Styles and Kali Uchis, have helped make moving a better experience because their music is so meaningful and personal to me. Merced, CA 11/20.

Building Up. My stepdad built my bed for me so I can at least have some comfort and a nice way to sit and do my online school, thank you. 11/20.

Cozy Area. I handmade these three posters that you see on the wall because I am artistic in my own way and I wanted to have a couple artwork I personally made on my wall. Merced, CA 11/20.

Unpacking. I’m unpacking all of my personal belonging that I have not touched since June. Merced, CA 10/20.

Lights Up. I am slowly making my room on what I want it to look like,the progress is coming a long good. Merced, CA 11/20.

I think that now I have officially moved in and settled, everything is going to be okay and that I can make new friends here and explore more. I think I am slowly, but surely finding myself to be happy again. Merced, CA 11/20.

Isabella Reyes

My name is Isabella and my hometown is Pasadena. I am 13 and in the 8th grade and go to Blair middle school. I want to be a photographer when I grow up. I make art for other people to feel the emotion I am feeling at the moment or even relate to what the picture is saying. What I most like about art is that you can show your emotion and feeling.

#Family

My calling to action is that family is very important especially during these times every moment matters, even it the little things matter, so spend time with your family even though you might hate each other, just do it because you never know if it is your last time you get the chance to hang out with them. Even though we are living in a hard time that we can have a good time and that we should enjoy every moment.

La Chancla. This is Maya being silly by throwing the chancla and this was the day before her birthday.

Mom. This is my mom, and here she is listening to a voice message that her aunt sent her.

My Tio Ronald. This is my Tio Ronald. He sadly passed away, but through all the pain and crying, his passing has brought love and togetherness.

Izaiah. I took this picture by messing around with my brother. This is Izaiah. Izaiah is a smart kid— he loves pokemon and history and also likes anima. He enjoys learning about history.

Dad. This is my dad, and even though we could not celebrate his birthday as we plan to because of Covid, we found a way to have a small family gathering and have a lot of fun during this pandemic.

The Power Couple. This picture was taken at CPK when we were celebrating my grandma. The one with the blue cap is my brother Jamie, and the lady next to him is his girlfriend, Alicia.

Mask Up.  This is a new normal that we have to get used to and even though we don’t want to we have too.

The Fire. Although we are in a pandemic, my family and I found a way to respect ower ancestors safely. This is a firekeeper. She or he is in control of the energy of the circle of the Danza.

The Three Sisters. The commonly told legend of the three sisters, Meehni, Wimlah, and Gunnedoo, lived in the Jamison Valley as members of the Katoomba tribe. They fell in love with three men from the neighboring Nepean tribe, but the marriage was forbidden by tribal law.

Maya. This is Maya, and she is laughing. I think we were talking, and she thought something was funny, but we are celebrating my grandma’s birthday. My sister Maya is 10-years-old, and she loves to do art and likes to sing with her older sister. She loves to look for new anima so her older sister can finish it before she can.

Julieta Littin

My name is Julieta Littin Egaña. I was born and raised in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, and moved to Los Angeles about four years ago. When moving to LA, I was entering the new and scary stage of adolescence and leaving my child-self behind, as I was simultaneously leaving my bubble and home-country and entering a new and different reality. While trying to adapt myself to this new life with the urge of becoming more involved in my community, I joined a street photography summer camp. That’s when my enthusiasm for photography sparked, and when I became fully aware of the intensely diverse culture that this city has to offer. As I started developing a more profound perspective on myself and my surroundings, I was subconsciously guiding my growth by expressing myself through the visionary poetry that photography grants.

A necessary outdoor escape during the pandemic.

As we entered the lockdown due to the quick spread of COVID-19 during March of 2020, people’s yearning to go outside and connect to nature became evident. When spots of Griffith Park and other public areas began to slowly open up again, and we witnessed how fast they became crowded and full of life. With the need to experience something other than our restraining homes and feel the inner and outer expansion, a walk or hike in the Griffith became for me and my family, our treasured daily dose of freedom. In the absence of urban public spaces, which we would experience in our day to day lives, we realized there were no other outlets to distract ourselves from reality besides the most essential of all, mother nature.

Paso a Pasito. With matching trousers and walking sticks, two older men wearing their masks take a hike in one of the crowded trails of Griffith Park on a Sunday morning during the harsh months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fishing the Air. One of LA’s favorite view spots, Griffith Park’s helipad now less crowded than ever in comparison to non-pandemic times when the usual amount of tourists is noteworthy. Now can be enjoyed during sunsets by the local people. The amplified landscape of the city provides an outstanding atmosphere and space in time that is magical to all who come across it.

Moonlight Solo. The owners were not around, it was this lonely motorcycle and I. My shutter speed was very low, making this moment feel like years were passing by in front of my eyes. All while the moon, round and bright, was elevating higher up with the pass of time, and I, holding my breath, was now, just observing and waiting in total stillness so I wouldn’t mess up.

Their Usual. After months of not being able to do their usual, going for a hike and having a picnic afterward— these two ladies sit on the bench of Cedar Grove Park that overlooks Los Angeles City are blissfully getting to see one another. Adapting this riskless and innocent activity it once was, these cheerful older women full of life get to go out in nature and enjoy their company once again. This area is a unique, beautiful patch of trees and green that’s unique to all Griffith park; there are picnic tables, large rocks, and logs that one can sit on, and displays a mesmerizing view of the city.

Wild World. People’s activities have shifted. Now that we’ve stopped consuming from the city and going out with friends, we’ve found different ways to consume the city by going above and alone to observe and reflect on it.

Urbanized Nature. Even though the essence of the helipad is the view it displays, the main protagonist of this image is the panorama you are not able to see. It can only be admired by the different people in it. Being one of the most popular spots of Griffith park, the diverse gathering of subjects that takes place on this peak of the mountain creates formidable energy.

The Return of the Dog, Now a Man… Coming from an isolated at-home life, the owner of a dog resumes her daily hikes deciding to now style the social image of her dog.

Man and Dog. Looking over a polluted Los Angeles, man and dog face towards the Griffith Observatory. Although it seems like the shot was taken during the evening, it occurred in the early morning; signs from the nearly 30 wildfires that were taking place across the state of California at the time became apparent in the landscape of our city, affecting the atmosphere.

Walking Back to Earth. Dense, dry, and dusty. Rough, tense, and yellow. Lonely, quiet, and long-lasting. Lifeless? No, the end is now visible, but only if she raises her head.

The Sound of Silence. People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening. And the vision that was planted in his brain, still remains, within the sound of silence. -Simon & Garfunkel

Kyra Saldana

My name is Kyra Saldaña and I’m a 17-year-old Senior at Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona. My friends would describe me as vibrant, headstrong, and passionate. I started my journey with photography during quarantine in 2020. My dad is a huge influence on my life and he took up photography a couple of years back; he inspired me to start and motivated me to continue. I love taking pictures, it’s helped me feel more connected to the world around me and find the beauty in everyday life. Las Fotos has taught me a lot about the storytelling aspect of photography and helped me fall in love with taking photos even more. I hope one day to incorporate my passion for photography into a career and become a journalist.

Think Globally. Act Locally!

“Win It Lose It Fred” is documentation of local electoral politics and campaigning in a COVID-19 world. I photographed Jennifer “Fred” Mahlke, a Diamond Bar Councilwoman who was appointed to her seat in January 2020 after the retirement of the original seatholder. This election cycle, her seat was up for re-election, and she campaigned as a Democrat in a very conservative small city. Through documenting her campaign, I witnessed the harsh realities of politics, even at the local level. Through my liberal California bubble, I believed that we were making lots of progress, but after being out in the “real world” I realized that we still have a long way to go. Many Americans are indifferent about local-level politics when in-reality, the real change begins not in the White House but your community, your own house. My favorite thing about Fred is that she’s not a politician, she’s just a person who cares a lot about her community and wants to make the world a better (and more equal) place, starting in her backyard.

Listening. Leading. Lasting Change. Jennifer “Fred” Mahlke, a Diamond Bar Councilwoman, runs a yard sign pick-up event to support her election campaign at a Wienerschnitzel parking lot. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person interactions with Diamond Bar residents are far and few between, making it extremely hard to campaign, especially for small local campaigns with little funding. Only one person showed up to this event, exemplifying the general indifference of Americans to local level politics and the impact of the Coronavirus on the 2020 elections.

Creativity During COVID. Fred, an experienced professor, understands the limitations of online meetings and does her best to create meaningful fundraisers and events. Here is an example of one of her staple fundraisers: online Bingo with homemade goodie bags and fun prizes.

Socially-Distanced Canvasing. Fred was extremely cautious about the COVID-19 pandemic during her campaign. She went out and canvassed, but instead of talking to residents, she just dropped campaign literature door-to-door. During our walks between neighborhoods, she told me about the harassment she was getting from community members who strongly opposed her Democratic Party affiliation. Some people opposed to her found her house phone number, stole her yard signs, and ran smear campaigns against her on social media platforms.

A Different Type of Campaign. Fred is a professor teaching Communication at Cal Poly Pomona and is known for her charisma and lively presence. Back in January, knowing she was eventually going to have to run for election, Fred felt comfortable accepting a seat on the city council in a conservative small town because her strengths lie in her communication skills. The backbone of her liberal-leaning campaign rested on her canvassing throughout the city and having as many meaningful conversations with residents as possible. That was in January. Most of her interactions with residents amidst COVID have been through this Zoom call format.

The Other Side of the Screen. Fred works on a makeshift desk—a foldable table. She now works from home and Zooms for hours every day, as she teaches her classes and attends several city council meetings online. She is close to her family and has a strong support system, so she also makes weekly Zoom sessions with the people she loves most. Here she is seen chatting with her parents.

2020 Vision.  If 2020 could be described in a word, it would be “dizzying.”

Strong, Smart, Bold. The motivation behind Fred running for the city council is simple: she loves her city and neighbors. Before being appointed to the council, she served on the Diamond Bar Planning Commission since 2015, and previous to that served four years on the Diamond Bar Traffic and Transportation Commission. She’s also known by youth in the community as she volunteered for “Classroom Mom,” served on the PTA, and was “Team Mom” throughout her children’s childhood. With a history like that, it’s not unlike her to be volunteering to aid the struggling residents of Diamond Bar through a weekly food donation, pictured here. Knowing her influence in the city, she also is very intentional with the clothes she wears, rocking a t-shirt with the words “Strong, Smart, Bold.”

Passion in all She Does. As an incumbent, Fred had to juggle campaigning with the duties of her seat on the city council. While many of those duties aren’t necessarily the most “fun,” there are many enjoyable events that city councilors attend. Here Fred is shown competing in an eating competition to support Diamond Bar’s Restaurant Week. It was a nice break from all the stress of the campaign trail. Fred, unlike her competitors, showed great passion in the competition; she even came up with a new fusion, the “chicken nugget pizza”! This tenacity is shown in all that she does, from her personal life to her professional.

Vote! Voting is crucial— just one of the ways to do your “democratic duty.” As the United States approaches election time, many political scientists and newscasters review previous elections, hoping to ease the anxiety that arises when staring down an uncertain future. Often elections aren’t decided by who voted, rather by who didn’t. While there is often an emphasis on the general election, like the presidency and other federal seats of government, remember that real change begins at the ground floor. Local elections often are decided by a small number of votes, so it’s important to get involved locally if you want to start making bigger changes.

Results. The 2020 Election was unlike any other, with the general public waiting days and weeks to receive the final results due to the high number of mail-in votes. Sadly, after many long days of vote-counting, the results came in that Fred lost her seat on the Diamond Bar City Council. Throughout the campaign, through every obstacle she faced, she kept her head held high embodying the spirit of: “win it lose it Fred.”

Leilah Rosado

My name is Leilah Rosado. I was born in Boyle Heights and currently, Lincoln Heights. I’m 13 years old, and I’m in 8th grade at Anahuacalmecac School. Adjectives I would use to describe myself would be hilarious and open-minded. When I grow up, I would like to be a geologist. What I probably like best about myself is my personality. If I could live anywhere in the world, I would probably choose somewhere in the desert because I love the desert. I enjoy photography and video editing. I love watching anime, listening to classic rock, and love playing video games.

#CommunityAdvocate

I hope my audience feels inspired while seeing my work. I learned a lot, but I think I learned how to take better pictures of people and subjects.

Maria in her office doing her work on the computer. Maria checking her emails and writing.

Outside Maria’s Doorstep. Maria outside her doorstep, ready to go to a protest with her signs and microphone.

Signs. Signs, phone, clipboard, microphone, drum—Things Maria would take to a protest.

Diosa Chanclas. Maria’s Diosa chanclas.

Yes on 21. Yes on proposition 21 is to keep families in their homes—Maria is currently working on that. A shirt, stickers and paper brochure.

Outside of Maria’s House. Maria holding signs and a microphone.

Maria’s Office. This is where Maria does her work.

Linette Suarez

My name is Linette Suarez I am 13 years old and the youngest of three sisters. I love playing the guitar and ukulele. I love learning and being informed about the problems in my community. I love reading books about people who are facing injustice situations weather it be police attacks, discrimination against the LGBTQ community or immigration problems. I have experienced traumatic events and domestic violence which was a bit of a problem in the beginning but I am facing them and learning from those events. My dream is graduate from college and be a children’s licensed therapist to help those kids who have gone through similar situations like mine or just need help. I would love to teach the kids or teens in my community many things weather it be in music or any type of art. The person who inspires me the most is my older sister because she is a hard working determined motivating independent women and I am so proud of all the things she has done. If I could live anywhere in the world it would be where I live now or Miami simply because in these places Hispanic culture is really involved and represented. I would simply describe myself as a curious, adventurous, and outgoing person. I love exploring and trying new things which is why I also want to travel and take pictures of the places I go and people I meet.

Sister Love

Many people think my sister is my mom, and I am not surprised. My sister is like my mom because we love to spend time together. She is the funniest person ever and also the strictest person, especially when it comes to school, but I know the reason she does it is that she cares about me and wants the best for me. I am so glad to have her as my role model and my best friend. When people read my work, I want them to not only get to know me but also my sister because she deserves the world.

My Favorite Smile. My sister is the best friend I could never get rid of and I am glad she is.

Abuelita. La que siempre me consciente. La que me abraza muy fuerte. La que me entretiene con sus cuentos. La que me quiere con ternura, mi abuelita.

My Wonder Woman. My sister is my favorite hero, she works for the state and helps kids get removed from their abusive homes.

Wedding Stress. Being the two sisters of the bride was stressful going up and down, but it was such a beautiful experience, and I wouldn’t have traded for the world.

No Makeup. Even without makeup you still look beautiful. I know how you are insecure about your acne, but you don’t need makeup because anyone can see how beautiful you really are.

Here Comes the Bride. On the day of my sister’s wedding, I tried my best not to cry, but I failed. She looked so beautiful, and I could see the love my brother-in-law had. We always knew they were soulmates, but the way he looked at her, I could see the love he had for her, and I am so glad because I know that he will love and protect her.

Soulmates. I am so glad Tony has come into my sister’s life. He treats her well, loves her unconditionally, and supports her. The love between them is unconditional.

Birthdays. My sister and I like to go all out for our loved ones.

Cousin Love. On this day, we celebrated my cousin’s 25th birthday. We had so much, and my cousin is probably one of the funniest people I know. Being the baby was and is a blessing because they all want what’s best for you. P.S. This isn’t even 1/8 of us.

Mother and Daughter Love. This picture reminded me of the unconditional love they have. They have their arguments, but at the end of the day, that’s my mom’s baby, and that’s my older sister.

Meiani Wright

My name is Meiani Wright, I am 14 and a freshman at North Torrance High School. I was born in Harbor City, CA, and raised in North Torrance where I still go to school and attend most of my activities. I started photography two years ago because of my aunt. I look up to her more than anyone else, she’s always there to help me with my projects. In the future, I hope to be a journalist and a musician and travel the world. I also hope to live abroad for a few years before I come back to the U.S. I’m proud of being able to start my music class with my aunt because the classes are helping me to make it big one day.

Cleaning our neighborhoods for us, the animals, and the planet. 

While working on my project I opened my eyes to a different world. Sure I knew that the trash problem in LA, especially around downtown, was. During my process though, the trash seemed to be getting worse. I was realized that some cities are cleaner than others. Was this caused by neglect by the county? Or neglect from the people that live in it? I hope that people will look at my project and realize the differences between communities. No one deserves to live in filth, especially if they are barely holding themselves up financially.

Alley, 1. I took this picture to capture the backside of one of LA’s busiest streets. I also wanted to capture the neglect that LA county has shown to its city.

Neighborhood Chaos. Going back to the question of who neglected the neighborhood, you can see here that it was the residents fault this time. There are other ways to leave trash out for the garbage truck, leaving it out separately and in places where it can fly away isn’t one of the correct way.

Alley, 2. This picture compared to its first part shows the difference between the cities and how much they show they care about their residents. Both pictures were taken in the same type of neighborhoods as well.

The Block Junkyard. Another example of resident neglect. Only this time it’s much worse.

Picture Perfect. This street in LB looks like an amazing place to take fall pictures and is an example of when residents take care of their street. Along with the city, the neighborhood looked much better than the one in LA. It looks like they have a steady trash schedule while the LA neighborhood looked as if there was no trash truck at all.

Overflow. Along with trash everything gets to be overflowed. Whether it’s life, school, or work this picture represents what it can feel like when there’s too much on your plate (or too much in your trash can).

Beauty in the Dirty. With everything going on in 2020 it’s good to take a break. Find your smile again even in the not so clean places.

Protecting Ourselves and Wildlife. Although not very well seen in the picture, there was trash all over Griffith park where wild animals roam. We have to do better, for our and their future. So remember to keep your mask on and clean up your trash.

Trash Day? This trash looks like it’s ready to be picked up by the garbage truck. The only problem is that there are no trash cans in sight, just the trash on the lonely street.

Michelle Montenegro

My name is Michelle Montenegro (she/her/ella) and I am a 16-year-old first-generation woman of color living in the 818. I am a true Virgo, meaning I am a very dedicated, loving, and ambitious person. I love my community of Black and Brown folks, and I enjoy practicing artivism, whether it be through photography or organizing/mobilizing youth like me. I’ve always been attracted to the arts and have continuously found myself looking for ways to express my creativity in any environment. My community has played a vital role in my creative process and continues to inspire me every day. My community is very important to me, and I enjoy putting all my efforts to uplift and bring more resources to others. Some of my hobbies include dancing, modeling (freelance), styling, and photography. I also enjoy anything outdoors whether that be hiking or just watching a sunset. My goal is to get accepted to UCLA and continue my education by studying Ethnic Studies/Latinx Studies/Sociology. I want to better serve the BIPOC while still being able to explore my hobbies and grow through them as well.

Honoring

This project documents my best friend Sarah Mulato’s journey in connecting with her indigenous Oaxaca roots. Although her family emigrated from Mexico to the U.S., she holds a strong connection to Oaxaca and strives to keep their cultural traditions alive. When her mom Lorena Casas passed, she found comfort in connecting to her roots like wearing the traditional folkloric earrings her mom used when dancing istmo, pinotepa, and chinas or setting up her altar on Dia De Los Muertos in honor of her mother and ancestors. Through this project, I hope to honor her mother Lorena Casas, and celebrate Sarah’s journey connecting with her Oaxacan roots. I hope my audience has a magical experience when seeing/reading about my work. I hope they feel empowered and seen. Throughout this project, I learned more about my creative process and potential. Despite the circumstances, I was able to create something beautiful to share with my community.

Altar Sagrado. As November continues, the petals of the Cempasuchil fall one by one.

In Abuelita’s Jardin. Sarah stands tall in her Abuelita’s garden in Koreatown, gripping onto a photo of her uncle and her father dressed in a penacho oaxaqueno.

Piel Morena. Morena como la tierra.

En Honor de Lorena Casas. To honor the spirit of her mother, Lorena Casa, Sarah makes an altar for Dia De Los Muertos. This allows her to communicate with her mother and ancestors from Oaxaca who’ve passed onto the other side. Lorena was always someone of vibrant high spirits. She was a light of sunshine wherever she went and carried the widest smile.

Con Amor, De Oaxaca. In preparation for this photo, Sarah’s Abuelita braided her thick dark hair. She strapped on the huaraches Sarah wore on her sweet 16 birthday and attached the “yech” (Zapoteco) to her huipil.

Identidad – Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla. In a small apartment in Los Angeles sits Sarah with two flags hung behind her, an American flag and a Mexican flag. She holds onto a photo of her great-great-grandma, dressed in a traditional Oaxaca huipil. This photo represents her complex identity as a first-generation Oaxacan American WOC.

Poderosa. Sarah wears traditional Oaxacan folkloric gold earrings, the same ones her mother wore dancing pinotepa and itsmo. Danza is a tradition she hopes to continue to keep her mother’s spirit alive while connecting with her culture.

Color Naranja. The bright orange flowers reflect resilience and power.

CEMPASUCHIL. Cempasuchil or marigolds thought to attract the souls of those who’ve passed on and used on special celebrations like Dia De Los Muertos. Before the Spaniards arrived in the Americas, the flower was domesticated by different indigenous groups and used for a variety of purposes.

Olor de Copal. The smell of Copal surrounds the room as Sarah lights the velas on her altar.

Stephanie Gutierrez

My name is Stephanie Gutierrez. I’m a 16-year-old girl, I was born and raised in East LA. My community is something I take pride in. The culture, the people, everything surrounding me will always have a place in my heart. There is so much beauty in your community. Whether it be people’s actions or surroundings, we tend to ignore what we see every day. However, if you stop and look, you notice how wonderful it is. I love capturing photographs of my surroundings, appreciating the nice and bad things, and bringing them to light. I enjoy letting others see what I see.

Focusing on your mental health is vital to happiness. 

My project focuses on mental health during covid. Specifically how my family has dealt with their worries and tips on how to lower stress. Learning how big of an impact covid has had on mental health has been mind-blowing. I find it comforting to know I’m not alone in my struggles, so I hope this project brings a bit of comfort to you.

Family. This is four of my family members, excluding my brother, because he is difficult. My project focuses on mental health/anxiety during covid. With anxiety being at a high, I find it helpful to learn different outlets to cope with stress. However, I also find it comforting to know I’m not alone in my struggles. Overall my goal with this project is to help achieve some sense of calmness during these frightening times by sharing my family’s struggles and how we’ve dealt with them.

My Tea. The APA President Bruce Schwartz stated, “During this time, it is important to do what we can to maintain self-care and manage the stress.” Surprisingly a common and effective way to quickly relieve stress is through tea, specifically, green tea. However, tea generally does the job as well. On the website Nature, it states, “Researchers have found, for instance, that tea lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

A Man Fishing. Commonly talked about, however effective is picking up a hobby. The key is not forcing something, but spending time on an activity you enjoy. Based on the news outlet Head To Health, “spending time on an activity that you enjoy can improve your mental health and wellbeing.”

Maria is Tired. In July, various surveys were conducted— 53% of adults in the United States reported their mental health was negatively impacted by covid. 69%, an astonishingly high number of Americans were anxious about losing a loved one. 57% of Americans are worried about running out of food, and 59% are having a serious impact on day to day lifestyles/finances.

A Lovely Walk. Exercise may be physically draining. However, it benefits your mental health. 52% of adults who exercise or walk daily say it helps them with anxiety and stress. 33% of adults who suffer from high-stress report exercising lowers their stress.

This is Martha. This is Martha, my older sister. She’s currently a college student and the oldest of three. She stated, “As the oldest and in college, I’m expected to have a certain level of responsibility, especially with my siblings at home and my parents at work. I’ve had to focus the majority of my time on them and my grandfather, who fell ill to covid. So having school online has been a challenge because my grades have been negatively affected. All this together has brought anxiety and a heightened level of stress.” She picked up a hobby—makeup. She believes it levels her back to reality, thus bringing her some sense of relief.

Best Part of the Day. Staring at a screen all day within the walls of my home has been mentally draining and extremely straining on my eyes. Being a Senior, these past months have been extremely stressful, with college applications, six classes, and multiple after school activities all online has made my world revolve on screen. The best part of my day is going on a walk, connecting at least a little bit back to reality. I feel the calmest while walking, and once I arrive home, I feel relaxed and no longer as stressed as I was prior.

Escape. My younger brother Juan, age 14, enjoys playing video games. He states he forgets about the state of the world while playing and afterward feels “happy and free.”

SoulMate. My grandpa got ill to covid and thankfully has made a full recovery. However, he lost his job and has become dependent. He’s felt stressed about income and his health. He’s found a sense of relief through music. Music is the way he starts his day and what he listens to in his free time. It allows him to enter a state of peace.

Allison Coloring. Overall, statistics prove mental health has been negatively impacted because of covid. Finding something we each individually enjoy doing, I believe, has been the most beneficial step my family has taken to improve our mental health.

Thank you to our Digital Promotoras: Vibrance Student, Yvette De los Santos (not pictured) for your dedication to photography and creativity this semester.

This exhibition was made possible thanks to funding from USC Good Neighbors Initiative, L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs, The Annenberg Foundation and Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation