Local Latino voices brought to life through audio recordings and interpretive art.
Story by Daisy Dow
Marina López understands the value of someone who’s willing to listen, especially given her background working as a mental health counselor for immigrants to the United States. As she would counsel other Lowcountry residents, López found echoes of her own immigrant experience while hearing others’ stories of overcoming heartbreak and challenge. At the same time, López’s frustrations began to mount as she saw in the media negative portrayals of the Latino community and mischaracterizations of an entire population. She needed a way to amplify her Latino neighbors’ voices and help them reclaim their images as people rather than pawns within the cities and towns of the Lowcountry.
In conjunction with the Citadel’s Oral History Program, López co-created Las Voces del Lowcountry with history professor Kerry Taylor. This oral history archive contains thirty recordings of interviews that López conducted in Spanish with immigrants across the Lowcountry. The stories in Las Voces speak directly to border crossings, evolving immigration policies and the day-to-day experience of living in South Carolina as an immigrant.
López came across the idea of using oral histories in 2009 when she attended an oral history workshop at the Citadel, where she now co-directs the Oral History Program with Professor Taylor. “When Marina came to the workshop, I saw at once this is an opportunity to explore arguably one of the most important demographic and political developments in South Carolina over the last 20 years,” Taylor said. López had found someone who recognized the importance of Latino voices within the community and was willing to put in the legwork to make sure those voices would be heard.
Using López’s connections with the Charleston Latino community, Las Voces tracked down “dreamers,” artists, advocates and community members whose personal stories highlight larger issues and social concerns for the Latino community. Each interview was conducted in Spanish, but Las Voces ensured their accessibility by offering Spanish and English transcripts on its website so listeners can follow along at their own pace.
“The original intent was that we could have a space for telling our own stories in our own voices,” Lopez said. Since its inception in 2012, Las Voces has grown in size and meaning.
Thanks to a collaboration with support from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Las Voces developed a visual component to complement its auditory base. With its partner Palmetto Luna Arts, Las Voces selected nineteen Latino artists that reside in South Carolina to visually interpret the audio narratives. Under the art direction of Diana Farfan, Ecos: Resonancias De Historias Latinas De Carolina Del Sur has traveled across South Carolina for the last three years, presenting previously untold stories of Latino people.
Through September 10 the original artworks of Ecos are on display for the last time before the pieces are returned to their creators. The Public Works Arts Center in downtown Summerville is displaying each sculpture, painting and photograph that has been crafted in response to a conversation that was recorded almost a decade ago. Ecos’ website articulates its mission as “an invitation to appreciate the work of Latino artists and to value the lives of Latino immigrants. It is an assertion that their stories belong to the history of South Carolina and that they too belong.”
“The part that I really love is that we have been able to use the collection to visit recent immigrant students,” Lopez said. “We have been talking about these stories with teenagers in high school and middle school, just normalizing the stories. It is wonderful that they can say ‘we have a story, we can tell ours, and this is similar to my parents.’”
While an integral aspect of both Las Voces and Ecos is to document a forgotten history, Taylor foresees Las Voces playing a key role in shaping the Lowcountry’s future. “[Las Voces] might serve as a resource for the political maturation of Latinos in South Carolina. People who are involved in human rights and civil rights organizing would be able to use the kind of material and research that we are gathering.”
What was sparked by a desire to let neighbors know that they were heard has helped López and Taylor curate an extensive archive and art exhibition. As Ecos makes its last stop before its pieces are returned to their creators, check out these artworks in person. Given its mission of promoting storytelling, documenting and listening, a project like Las Voces will never end as long as there is a desire within the community to support one another with an empathetic ear.
ECOS: Resonances of SC Latino Stories The Public Works Art Center in Summerville is presenting this free exhibition featuring artwork from 19 South Carolina Latinx artists. The exhibit is on display until September 10. publicworksartcenter.org
VeMe (Venezuela-Mexico) A collaborative exhibit at the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage in Ridgeland features the works of four Latinx artists of the Lowcountry. The exhibit will be on display from September 4 through the rest of 2021. morrisheritagecenter.org