Painting a cultural bridge

Oct. 28, 2013 @ 04:53 PM

While the rate of growth of the Hispanic and Latino population here has slowed a bit, the change in the past two decades has been striking.

Today, roughly one in seven people in Durham is Hispanic, according to the U. S. Census Bureau – and the census data probably undercounts the demographic group. As recently as 1990, Hispanics accounted for barely 1 percent of our population.

While Durham’s deep-seated reputation – at least in modern times – for tolerance and acceptance has made that demographic shift here go more smoothly than in many areas, it inevitably is not without its bumps. There is still, and probably long will be, a cultural divide that separates our diverse communities more than we would like.

So it was uplifting this past weekend to see people wielding paintbrushes at a highly visible West Main Street location to create a mural celebrating our Latino community.

The mural is the work of Two-Way Bridges at Duke University, a project trying to bring the Duke community closer to the Latino communities in Durham and beyond.

“The central goal of this project is to expand the bridges we have begun building between Duke and the Durham Latino communities,” says the project’s website. “We will seek to offer means for the Latino community to have greater access to our university and to have Duke students engage the community both in the community and here at Duke.  Duke can be changed by these relationships, as will the community that surrounds us; thus the metaphor of the two-way bridge.”

The mural on the side of Torero’s Mexican Restaurant at West Main and North Duke streets features two arms grasping each other, a train and an image of a Latino youth. It reflects the story of Latino migration, according to Manual Rojas of Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and one of several instructors involved in the project.

Partners on the project include the Center for Documentary Studies, the Spanish Language Program, The Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, The Program in Latino/a Studies in the Global South, and DukeEngage on the Border/Encuentros de la Frontera – and local organizations representing the Latino community. 

Two key Durham collaborators are visual artist and muralist Cornelio Campos and filmmaker Mauricio Andrada.

Some of Campos’ work has dealt with immigration issues. “I also talk about the struggle once we come to the United States,” he told The Herald-Sun’s Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan Sunday as he and several others – including five mural painters from the Dominican Republic – worked on the Torero’s mural.

“This project will teach the various constituencies the geopolitical implications surrounding immigration, immigration policy, border crossing, and integration of diasporic communities into local and national communities,” the project’s website says.

That’s pretty dense academic language, but the painting emblazoned on a highly visible wall in the Bright Leaf district will be a poignant reminder of the struggles many of our Hispanic neighbors have faced, and will indeed be another important bridge between our communities.