A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
By Jamie Solis
The golden dream has always existed within the desirous minds of Americans. It’s stated on the Statue of Liberty herself, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote from the sonnet New Colossus by Emma Lazarus has been an anthem of humankind for over a century, breathing the vision of prosperity and freedom from oppression for every person regardless of their race, ethnicity or class. This August marks 50 years since the brave Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr.’s infamous I Have a Dream speech echoed against the Lincoln Memorial. He addressed how the Constitution and Declaration of Independence ensured that “all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This marks an appropriate time to delve into our local ties—to recognize the individuals who made their way to the Inland Empire in hopes for a better life for themselves and their families—a once in a lifetime shot at the American Dream they were promised.
The Eastside of Riverside has always been a mecca for Latino and African American families looking to find success. Many African American military men migrated to March Air Force Base from the Old South, and the commercial areas that line University Avenue are littered with evidence of this—from the historic buildings that tell captivating anecdotes of Southern California’s past to the residents that still recall the importance of those who walked along these streets.
A well respected Riverside native and award-winning writer, Susan Straight, looked around at her hometown and saw that many of the old buildings were burning down and being lost to development. She felt that the stories of those that have contributed to the uniqueness of this city must be told before the chronicles are gone forever.
These vanishing memories are being recovered and immortalized at the collaborative exhibit, “More Dreamers of the Golden Dream” at the Riverside Art Museum. Straight has collaborated with documentary photographer Douglas McCulloh, to expose the populace who has contributed to Riverside’s antiquity. Through overwhelming, large-scale black and white photographs printed on cloth alongside poetic words that express intimate details pertaining to the photos, the viewer is surrounded by the moment that was once passing but is now frozen in time indefinitely.
A photo of two young African American women, Rosie Morris and Alberta Morris Sims, was contributed to the exhibit by the Sims family. While the date is unknown, the sheer volume of the subjects’ hair gives it away—this photo breathes the ‘60s. Another exhibited portrait is of the old school jazz band Edgar Hayes and his Star Dusters. The enthusiastic energy of this quartet from San Bernardino is almost contagious—each of the four men is proudly posing with his instrument to forever leave a positive imprint in the musical minds of many.
Place yourself in front of McCulloh’s commanding image outside Riverside’s Our Lady of Guadalupe Shrine, and you’ll understand why this old church has been cherished by the Eastside Latino community since 1927. This photo of Tony and Sarah Lopez on Ash Wednesday evokes spiritual emotion. It was here that they were married over 70 years ago. Another photograph of this important day of faith uses the repetition of the ceiling boards to draw your eyes along the top of the print until your focus stops at the long cross held by an older gentleman—everyone appears to be deep in prayer.
There is also a collection of photographs highlighting Zacatecas Cafe—an important part of the Eastside since the 1970s. The old colorless images provided to this exhibit by the Medina Family contrast the modern contributions by McCullogh, demonstrating how simple changes are much more evident once compared after decades pass . . . the original hand-painted sign is now illuminating the otherwise dark street corner. Inside, the family atmosphere remains almost unchanged, although the new busy photo is dissimilar to the somber and beautiful photograph that depicted the inside of Zacatecas in the years before, which speaks of a once quiet cafe.
Through this vast collection, it’s important to recognize the brave travelers who came to this region with dreams of a bright future, because without their journey our beautiful region would have the cultural vibrancy present today. We must continue to memorialize imprints of our past before they’re lost forever.
“More Dreamers of the Golden Dream” at Riverside Art Museum, 3425 Mission Inn Ave., Riverside, (951) 684-7111; www.riversideartmuseum.org. Thru July 25. Admission is $5.