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Wanda Benvenutti. LBW
Wanda Benvenutti. LBW

[OP-ED]: Photojournalist with Philly roots documents Puerto Rican Life Across America

Wyoming is over 1,700-miles from the neighborhood around 5th & Lehigh in North Philadelphia where Wanda Benvenutti grew up.

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However, acclaimed photojournalist Benvenutti travelled to that far western state, that is twice as large as Pennsylvania with a population less than half the size of Philadelphia, as part of her project to photograph Puerto Ricans living on mainland America.

Puerto Ricans in Wyoming?

Yes, 575 Puerto Ricans living in Wyoming, comprising 0.1 percent of that state’s small half-million-plus population, according to demographic data.

“In Wyoming, it took me five days to find people,” Benvenutti said about her now 18-year-old project, the first modern visual history of Puerto Rican life in all 50 states that she has titled “American Boricua: Puerto Rican Life in the United States.”

Benvenutti discussed her photo project recently during a presentation at Temple University’s Klein College of Media and Communication on a special program hosted by the college’s Dean, David Boardman, who was the editor of the Seattle Times newspaper when Benvenutti worked there as a photojournalist.

Travels for work on the “American Boricua” project – often driving alone – has taken Benvenutti to places like Salt Lake City, Utah, Boise, Idaho and Little Rock, Arkansas, the city where she said she encountered the “most hostility.”

In travelling around taking photographs of “intimate every day moments” of Puerto Ricans Benvenutti encountered a consistent response from the persons she interviewed.

“So many people feel the country does not love them. They are here but they are invisible,” Benvenutti said. “One woman said Puerto Ricans are not white enough for white people and not black enough for black people. We are in the middle.”

Actions/inactions by President Trump coupled with results of a poll released last week amplify the sentiments of shunned many Puerto Ricans expressed to Benvenutti.

Late last week the Trump Administration, under widespread criticism for tepid reaction to the cataclysmic devastation in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, the second Category 5 hurricane to hit the island within a days, ramped up its response.

Last Thursday Philadelphia’s City Council unanimously approved a resolution urging increased/immediate federal assistance to Puerto Rico that was introduced by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez. 

Long-term assistance to Puerto Rico, former Councilman Angel Ortiz said during public testimony at Council, must include debt forgiveness. (Trump should know the value of debt forgiveness since his businessman practice has repeatedly utilized bankruptcy – a fiscal relief valve denied Puerto Rico due to its virtual colonial relationship with the United States.)

Poll results released last week stated 76 percent of U.S. Latinos disapprove of Trump’s performance and 70 percent believe the GOP is uncaring or openly “hostile towards Latinos.” 

That polling critical of the GOP did not boost Democrats, because only 38 percent of respondents indicated that Democrats were doing a “good job.” 

A poll finding that Latinos rank immigration reform and racial discrimination of higher interest than Capital Hill favored tax reduction is confirmed in Benvenutti’s travels.

Puerto Ricans, Benvenutti said,  “struggle against institutional racism.”

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