The American society is a mosaic of cultures that share a land, a flag and a language as symbols of an identity.
But beneath the illusions of national unity in parts of America, another country exists.
Today 13% of the population of this country is Hispanic American.
Within that demographic, one third are Puerto Rican families searching for a prosperous life.
Life on the Block portrays the physical and mental boundaries of young Puerto Rican women living in Spanish Harlem (Manhattan, NY) today.
The women of these families provide an inner compass to explore the challenges of life and their quest for empowerment as well as their desire and inability to brake a cycle of mere survival.
Since April of 2002 I have been documenting the lives of young Puerto Rican women and their families living on 103rd Street in Spanish Harlem. This neighborhood, only a few blocks away from the affluent Upper East Side, seems like another country. There is a hardness that characterizes these streets, and innocence dies young. This community has a high rate of unemployment-three times the New York City average-and the family income is based on public assistance and often supplemented by the underground economy of the street the sale of drugs and other illegal activities that commonly lead to detention, prison, and death.
Fathers and brothers are often absent from the family unit. Girls reaffirm their existence through maternity and drop out of high school to become mothers at an early age. Women are the pillars of the community, and often the main source of vitality in family life. These strong young women of the block represent the potential elements of change in this society.
For the past five years (2002-2007) I have been observing the inner landscapes of these young women. During this time I have seen their desire to stretch their own boundaries and their inability to do so. The cycle of survival and apathy eradicates any long-term vision for their own lives. These women often choose to be somebody in their block rather than nobody in a promising new horizon. To break that lifestyle is almost a betrayal to their community. Many families in these communities live under the same values and circumstances, a pattern of existence they jokingly call the ghetto life.
This piece is an intense look at their roles as women in a machista culture, as latinas in a white society, and as mothers of the upcoming American generations.
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