New exhibit at Columbia University pays homage to poorly paid Latino immigrant workers who overcome long odds to survive and prosper in New York City
By Douglas Feiden / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Published: Sunday, November 11, 2012, 4:00 AM
Poorly paid Mexican immigrant workers who battle valiantly to feed and clothe and shelter their families in New York City — while also sending cash to loved ones south of the border — are the great unsung “superheroes” of America.
That’s the message of a captivating new photo exhibit at Columbia University that pays homage to the strong-willed women and tough-as-steel men who overcome long odds, bad bosses and lousy labor conditions to survive and prosper.
Titled “Superheroes: Latino Immigrants Who Make New York,” the show, which opened Thursday at Columbia’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity & Race, features ordinary people in their workplaces — clad in the costumes of extraordinary superheroes.
The photos of 38-year-old, Mexico City-born U.S. immigrant Dulce Pinzón portray a laundermat worker dressed as Wonder Woman, a window washer as Spiderman, a cabbie as Batman, a waiter as Mr. Elastic, a deliveryman as Superman, a nanny as Catwoman.
“This is a time of increased demonization and stereotyping of Latino immigrants who are typically excluded from all kinds of heroic narratives,” said Frances Negrón-Muntaner, director of the Columbia center and curator of its gallery.
“These works should redefine our idea of what a superhero really is — and show the enormous sacrifices and enormous contributions these workers make to the wellbeing of New York City and America and their home communities.”
A fast-growing presence in upper Manhattan over the past decade, Mexican-Americans by the tens of thousands have been flocking to East Harlem, a traditionally Puerto Rican area, and Washington Heights, which is historically Dominican.
It’s tough enough for the new arrivals to eke out a decent living for their families in high-rent New York, but here are a few of the worker/superheroes do so much more:
* Bernabe Méndez, a window washer who poses as Spiderman, sends $500 a month home to his family in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
* Federico Martínez, a cabbie who dons a Batman cape, provides $250 a week to loved ones in Puebla.
* Maria Luisa Romero, a laundermat worker also known as Wonder Woman, wires $150 home every week, also to Puebla.
They may lack the supernatural powers enjoyed by their comic book counterparts, but they’re superheroes all the same.
And to see them in action — or at least their photos — go to the fourth-floor gallery at Columbia’s Hamilton Hall, 1130 Amsterdam Ave., near the 116th St. Gate. The exhibit is free and open to the public, Monday to Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., until May 15, 2013.