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Pulitzer Prize winner José Galvez honors Hispanic Heritage

By Caroline Queen
On October 2, 2013

 

 "Shine, mister?!" asked a young, disheveled boy to a white-collar man in the streets of downtown Tucson, Arizona. This boy grew into Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer José Galvez. "I'm that little boy..." explained Galvez, gesturing toward a black and white photo he captured of the young Mexican-American boy with unruly hair, a dirty white shirt and no shoes. "I am but I'm not. That's not me." 

Despite his unremarkable appearance, 10-year-old Galvez was a "natural-born hustler." He shined shoes, collected recycling and sold newspapers for the Arizona Daily Star. His jobs intersected one day as he was invited into the newsroom; one of the staff members needed a shine. Galvez entered the newsroom with his shoeshine box, but left with a dream of becoming a journalist. 

One of these goals was a college degree in journalism. While the newspaper's staff encouraged Gavlez to pursue formal higher education, his school guidance counselor did not. "To be a journalist, you need to go to college..." said his counselor "...and that's not really your future." Yet Galvez admits this counselor unknowingly led him to his destiny as he suggested that Galvez "consider the blue-collar side of the business, one more suited to [Galvez's] ethnicity," and take a print shop course. 

It was in the print shop that Galvez discovered his love for photography. He purchased his first camera from a pawnshop in high school and began taking pictures of his family and the barrios (his neighborhood). He stayed involved with the Daily Star, became the first member of his family to graduate from college and then returned to the Daily Star as a staff photographer. 

"This was an exciting time..." Galvez remembered. "I photographed everything: sports, celebrities in town, little kids running through sprinklers." 

But Galvez also took time to capture his favorite subjects: "mi cultura...mi gente..."and the Chicano movement. "There's an old piece of advice given to writers," Galvez said. "Write what you know about. Well I was photographing what I knew." 

Documenting the Chicano culture in the midst of the Vietnam War, the African American Civil Rights movement, and Caesar Chavez' labor protests became central to Galvez' work. He and his peers in Tucson took a local approach, exposing inequalities in the city. Examples included coverage of a poorly designed community center that forced residents from their homes and luxury golf courses built along the borders of impoverished neighborhoods without paved roads. 

These stories and photographs did drive some social change, but Galvez was ready to take on new challenges. Galvez left Tucson in 1980 to work for The Los Angeles Times, where he became the first Mexican-American photographer on staff. 

Galvez took advantage of the diversity of neighborhoods in Los Angeles, photographing Mexicans, El Salvadorians, Guatemalans, and more. Yet when he returned to the newsroom, he had to argue his work into the paper; "Mexicans don't read our paper," he was told. 

This lack of appreciation for the Latino population prompted Galvez to propose a series on Latinos for the paper. Galvez and his team compiled and published the series despite strong resistance from their staff peers, and won the Pulitzer Prize for their ground-breaking work. 

Galvez pointed out that they were the first Chicano group to earn the award, and that there have not been many other Chicano groups since. 

Recognizing the uniqueness of his passion and talents, Galvez keeps his focus on Chicano culture to this day. Galvez's first goal is to build appreciation of Latinos among Latinos. "I photograph to show Latinos themselves and to say that they are living beautiful lives," Galvez said. "I do this with respect and love, and with the desire to safeguard the dignity of the people who trust me with their images."

Galvez's second goal is of equal importance: to create opportunities for non-Latinos to appreciate and interact with Latino culture. "My hope is that a non-Hispanic viewer will see a picture he or she likes, that the image will somehow touch them in a way that words can't, and that rhetoric can't."  

Galvez encouraged non-Latino listeners in the audience to try something new, like talking to people in the Latino community and taking time to hear their stories. 

He challenged Latinos to take an interest in issues of civil inequality and share their voices. Galvez left attendees in the Seamans Lecture Hall in the Visual Arts Center with a bit of simple meaningful advice: "Be who you are, and be that well-and while you're at it, shine!" 


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