A Photographer Is Capturing New Mexico’s Chicano Community Through Portraits
Photographer Frank Blazquez is paying a loving homage to Chicano culture in the Land of Enchantment. The photographer is showing the world what it looks like to be Chicano in New Mexico to highlight the diversity in a shared experience.
Frank Blazquez wants to show the world what Chicano culture looks like outside of California.
“I am an Illinois transplant, so I was fascinated, and eventually obsessed, with the differences in my ethnicity’s iconography,” Blazquez says about the inspiration behind his project “Barrios de Nuevo Mexico: Southwest Stories of Vindication.” “For example, in New Mexico, as opposed to the Midwest and East Coast, there is a strong connection to American geography. You’ll see Latino people with New Mexico state symbols tattooed directly on their faces and skulls. But refreshing similarities such as hairstyle also struck me.”
The other reason Blazquez started to document these lives was because of the devastating and widespread impact of drug addiction.
Blazquez admits to once having a drug problem and eventually overcoming those struggles. Some of the people that he photographs are former drug users or others who have sought redemption.
“I started in 2016 just walking around Albuquerque’s Central Avenue in the War Zone earning my street photography badge. When I almost died a couple of times, I started to use my Instagram page more often to set up shoots and contact homies from my former days of opiate abuse,” Blazquez explains. “My friend Emilio created the random handle @and_frank13 and I kept it after he died in 2017 from drug complications; an event that made me work harder to present portraits of New Mexicans demonstrating faces of dignity, hence my project ‘Barrios de Nuevo Mexico: Southwest Stories of Vindication.'”
Photography was a passion for Blazquez that grew into something bigger than him as he learned.
Blazquez’s interest in photography and love of his culture combined to create a photo series celebrating the people in his life. Blazquez turned his lens to the people in his life to capture a beauty he saw in his own community that is often overlooked and ignored.
Blazquez is hoping to show people that Chicano culture has spread farther than California because of an exodus.
“Homies escaping the three strikes law in California created an exodus in the ’90s that transferred new symbols from organizations, namely 18th Street, Sureños, and Norteños,” Blazquez explains about the Chicano community in New Mexico. “As New Mexico is an expanse of serene beauty that attracts people to escape from former lives, in turn, symbols were exchanged such as black and gray tattoo and font styles with purist craft structure adhering to Southwest archetypes—fat ass cursive and serif fonts with ornate filigree stems.”
He acknowledges that California is known for its Chicano and Latino communities but there is so much more to teach people.
“LA fingers do not represent the millions of brown people outside of California and it certainly does not represent native-born New Mexicans,” Blazquez explains. “I learned the Latino experience is entirely different in various locations—the California stereotype doesn’t carry itself across America. It’s enlightening to know that brown culture grows and adapts independently.”
The photographer also wants to teach people that the Latino community is vast and diverse.
“That the Latin-spectrum in America is not pigeonholed to any sole category,” Blazquez says. “Knowing that the labels Mexican, Mexican-American, Chican (a/o), Latin (a/o), Hispanic, Mexica (not Hispanic nor Latino), Indo-Latino, Afro-Latin (a/o) are just several of the hundreds of labels available to classify my culture’s diaspora is important.”
“Duke City Diaries” is a mini-series on YouTube that Blazquez has produced to take you deeper into the lives of the people in his photos.
“I knew the profound faces from my 2010’s New Mexico experience would make great art and explain an important POC narrative at the same time,” Blazquez says. “Creating the short YouTube documentary series “Duke City Diaries” was also an offshoot from my portraiture and one that created distinct reception. The hateful and racist comments kept me moving forward to show a larger audience that racism still exists.”
Blazquez is currently working on a new photo series called Mexican Suburbs diving deeper into his themes of Chicano culture and the opioid crisis.
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