Posted on September 21, 2023

By Matthew Skala

Mexico America — Work resumes

Since tracking my time for the last film study I wrote on Delicatessen, I realized that there are other projects I need to be spending time on instead of film studies—at least for now. One of those is my photography project Mexico America (previously Common Ground).

Last year, I designed a huge photobook that proved too costly to print. So this year, I scaled it down with a redesign and got a couple of copies printed. It’s really great to hold something physical in my hands that closely represents the full vision for a published book. I’ve been submitting it to publishers and other outlets and have garnered some interest from a couple of them.

Also, I printed and matted the portfolio. Here is a little BTS video:

This project has materialized over the course of almost thirty years. It started with a house-building trip to Mexico as a teenager, where exposure to a culture of hard work and happiness in the face of poverty had a deep impact on me. It continued as frequent travel through the country inspired enormous curiosity, to a point where anthropology became a hobby. Then it started to feel important when our (United States) negative attitude toward the country seemed to be getting worse. So, I started thinking about how this body of work might be able to help, at the very least encourage someone to draw their curiosity away from the beach and onto nearby cities and towns where they can experience an extraordinary deep-rooted culture.

Since that first trip as a teenager, I’ve been questioning where those attitudes have come from, why they persist, and why they clearly contradict the values so many Americans claim to have. That last one is the most troublesome and elusive. However, approaching the matter through history, anthropology, and personal interactions offers incredible insight.

In my pitch to publishers, I slugged it with “Shining through ages of endless adversity” and mentioned things like:

As of 2021, eighty-six million people in Mexico live in extreme poverty. Local governments across the country are corrupt. And the drug trade proliferates a culture of violence in many cities and towns. Thousands of families are displaced every year. When seeking refuge in the US, many are exploited, rejected, and misunderstood.

I struggled to write this because it feels like common knowledge to me—at least the gist of it. And I questioned whether I’d be insulting people’s intelligence. But if it’s so common, why the attitude? Seems like the default response should be empathy, not fear, bitterness, privilege, or whatever it is.

I continued with a little background on how my own perspective was shaped, then tried to convey the potential for this project based on some experiences I’ve had sharing stories and images with fellow white people in the US:

Growing up in white middle-class US, I’ve witnessed how negative stereotypes have proliferated a culture of fear and apathy towards Latinos. The line between people who care and people who don’t is getting sharper and sharper in today’s political climate.

Fortunately, I’ve also seen how quickly those attitudes can change when human connections are established. And in my photobook Mexico America, my goal is to break down the stereotypes, expose one of the richest cultures in the world, and lay down a foundation for human connection. The coverage includes an overview of pre-colonial, colonial, and modern-day Mexico.

Oh, so grandiose, hopefully it’s not wishful thinking.

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