New London – For Resurrección Espinosa-Frink, the portraits and accompanying stories of Hispanic women in New London County that she compiled in 1989 can, in some ways, serve as a guide.
“Have things changed? Did we learn from these people? she said on Saturday.
Espinosa-Frink was present at the New London Historical Society’s Shaw Mansion for the opening of the newly installed exhibit titled “Pioneers: Photographs and Oral Histories of Hispanic Women in New London County, 1989”. It is a collection of 15 portraits and personal stories – transcribed into English and Spanish – that provide a snapshot of society at the time.
The exhibit will be on permanent display at the Shaw Mansion at 11 Blinman St. The mansion is currently open to the public Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Espinosa-Frink completed the project with support from Connecticut College and the nonprofit Centro de la Comunidad, in part to dispel some myths or “fake news” about Hispanic residents at the time.
Each woman profiled, she said, spoke about “what she thought was relevant to introducing her family to a society often insensitive to their struggles.”
The collection has been exhibited at Yale University and in galleries in Providence, Boston and at Connecticut College. She said she was first exhibited at the Centro de la Comunidad in New London and was happy to have it back at her home in the city.
The stories cover generations of Hispanic women from different backgrounds, how they were received in the communities where they lived, and their stories of hardship, racism, and resilience.
Milagros Guzmán, born in Añasco, Puerto Rico, in 1920: “I arrived in New London in 1949. The man who would later become my husband lived here with his mother and sister and, as far as I remember , they were the only Hispanics in town… Life was hard. No one would rent us an apartment. A woman who was renting showed us one, and I was thrilled… When the lady saw my husband, who is dark-haired, she said the apartment was taken. I remember there was a Lebanese family who rented us an apartment afterwards, I think because they had experienced the same kind of things.
Espinosa-Frink said New London County’s Hispanic population has grown significantly over the past few decades, but stigma remains.
“I don’t think our society will truly prosper until we all come together with respect,” she said. “Is it still relevant today? I say yes because I live through the things these women talk about.
Espinosa-Frink, born in Spain, told several stories of prejudice, including a recent trip to Norwich from New London by bus. She noticed that the ride was free that day.
“I turned to the driver and told him it wasn’t right that the ride was free. He threw down his cigarette and said, ‘Woman, there’s nothing free in this country. hard-working taxpayers pay for your free ride,” she said.
“Imagine if I was a person trying to make a living here and addicted to the bus. I would be heartbroken,” she said.
In another recent incident at a supermarket, Espinosa-Frink said a Puerto Rican family had a conversation in Spanish about what kind of cookies to buy. She said the man in front of her had become furious at the Spaniards and turned to her to ask if she could believe him. She did not answer.
“Things like that tell us something about what this man expected of me as a white woman: I wasn’t going to like the fact that someone spoke Spanish. It’s very disturbing,” she said. declared.
Cathy Zall, executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Centre, spoke at Saturday’s opening and said the stories are sobering and no different from the stories she hears from homeless people: loss of work, difficulty navigating an unfamiliar culture, health issues and difficulty keeping food on the table.
She said the stories highlight “the hurt of feeling left out, being discriminated against and feeling ignored and invisible”.
She said the lesson that can be learned is to listen and learn and “celebrate where there is evidence of change”.
Espinosa-Frink is an educator, author, and poet who has taught at Connecticut College, the University of Rhode Island, and New Haven Public Schools. She is the author of “Hand: Bank Street on Stage” and founding director of Teatro Latino in New London. She is the coordinator of Bank Street Blues Bilingual and a master teacher at the Connecticut Office of the Arts.