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Sueños captures the Latine/x community of Northwest Arkansas

Sueños: Dreaming with Our Eyes Open by Jesus David López
Jesus David López
Sueños: Dreaming with Our Eyes Open by Jesus David López

To honor National Hispanic Heritage Month, the University of Arkansas’ Multicultural Center partnered with the Anne Kittrell Gallery to showcase a portrait gallery celebrating Latine/x university students, staff and community figures.

Sophia Ordaz is the cultural programming coordinator at the Multicultural Center. The MC is a student-centered space that affirms difference and explores shared humanity through cultural celebrations, intercultural public events, arts-based community outreach, educational forums and partnerships to promote diversity education at the University of Arkansas, according to the website.

Her role at the center is to work with events and programs that are geared toward minority groups on campus, with a special focus in serving the Latine community since she is Chicana herself, Ordaz said.

This past month, Ordaz was able to serve as the creative director of the featured gallery that relates to their own culture and identity.

Sueños: Dreaming with Our Eyes Open is one of the many projects highlighting the diversity on campus, with previous portrait galleries featuring Black and AAPI students for their respective heritage months, she said.

“Whenever September rolled around it was time for Sueños to take over the gallery space which is a gallery dedicated to putting a platform, uplifting and honoring Latine students, staff and faculty at the University of Arkansas,” Ordaz said.

As a student and a staff member on a predominantly white campus, Ordaz says that it is really important to create spaces for openhearted conversations revolving around the Latinidad community. Sueños was brought together with the goal of finding a unifying thread between all of the different experiences in the variety of Latine/x communities, they said.

Jesus David López and Kaylon Powell were the two photographers who captured the dreams to be displayed in the gallery.

“The Sueños element, the dreams, that’s what brings us together. That’s what weaves us together because we are only here because of our ancestors' dreams and that’s what I wanted people to think about when they walked into the gallery: how are you honoring your ancestors’ dreams and how are you manifesting your own,” Ordaz said.

Heritage countries represented in the project by over 40 participants include Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Panama involving both those from the countries themselves and the Latin American diaspora, the children of immigrants who moved to northwest Arkansas decades ago, she said.

Locations of the shoot ranged from local Hispanic-owned businesses in Springdale to Walker Park in Fayetteville.

“We really wanted students to tap into their inner child and allow themselves to dream with their eyes open, which is the subtitle of the gallery,” Ordaz said. “Because I feel like a lot of times with Latinos and Latinas and Latines we have such a grind mentality. It takes a lot of hard work to accomplish the so-called American dream. And we don’t let ourselves rest a lot and we grew up seeing our elders not allow themselves time to rest or to play or to have time for recreation so that was a lingering sentiment I wanted people who go to the gallery to reflect on.”

Powell says that he could see the theme of dreaming with your eyes open throughout the process.

“I will say, being a part of the Black and brown community, not Hispanic African-American descent, just hearing and seeing how purpose driven, tenacious spirit(ed) and hard working that the Mexican (and Hispanic) heritage is very important and how that correlates with the photos… everything they’re doing now they’re doing for their parents cause they didn’t have that opportunity and we tried to display that they best we can in the photos,” he said.

The shoot itself spanned over two days with both photographers involved in capturing the portraits.

“The first day was definitely based on where people grew up here in northwest Arkansas and the Hispanic heritage here in Arkansas which involved a lot of (East) Emma (Avenue,)” López said. “That’s where I grew up going to places to with my parents and that’s where I shot a lot of the times… but just kind of landmarks of Emma and the Hispanic culture.”

In addition to E. Emma Avenue, the group went down Holcombe, to the Audrey Vega House and other areas of Springdale that were full of Hispanic culture, he said.

For the second day of the shoot, Powell said the photoshoot was more interactive in the culture with dancing, singing and playing.

“Traditional activities in the Hispanic culture so we had soccer which I feel like was a pretty universal thing for Latin speaking countries or Hispanic speaking countries… we had people bring flags from their countries and different types of hats so we had people bring sombreros,” López said. “Pretty much bring all the cultures together.”

Within the physical gallery itself, a mural by University of Arkansas alum Lupita Albarrán is on display along with interactive collages that visitors can contribute to.

“(The collages are) comprised of photos that were taken on a small kodak camera… models in their down time when they weren’t in front of the giant DSLR camera they took photos of each other. So the photos you see on the collage boards, many of them are of the model’s perspectives on the experience so it's a lot of fun (and a) lot of candid. It has a really spunky DIY element… We also collected childhood photos of the students to coincide with this theme of paying tribute to the dreams of your ancestors,” Ordaz said.

For the portrait gallery to be showcased during National Hispanic Heritage month, López expressed that the project means a lot to him.

“I never expected to be in the Anne Kittrell Gallery,” he said, “that’s just not something that I never would've imagined…being able to show other people who look like me what you can do in this area I think that's a big part of what (the project) means to me.”

For Ordaz, having projects that give representation to the Latine/x community is vital.

“During the (opening) reception, we had some gallery attendees who are graduates that came to the gallery and during their time as a UARK student, they never saw this kind of embrace of who they were and so that is something that we want to amend and something that we want to grow from,” Ordaz said.

Sueños: Dreaming With Our Eyes Open will remain on display in the Anne Kittrell Gallery through October 9.

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Victoria Hernandez is a news intern for KUAF and currently a senior dual majoring in English/Journalism with History and Gender Studies minors at the University of Arkansas.
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