“No one should be ashamed of who they are, what they wear, how they speak – why should I be ashamed of being Guatemalan?”
These are the wise-beyond-her-years words of eighteen year old Jessica Oxlaj. Jessica was one of six teenage Guatemalan women who created the “Mayan Womxn in LA” photo exhibit. (NOTE: They use the term “womxn” in all their language not women)
The project brought the girls together to create portraits of Maya womxn from 4-years-old to 96-years-old and was organized by Las Fotos Project, a photography mentoring organization in East Los Angeles for teenage girls living in communities of color.
The project empowers young Guatemalan women to document their own stories and the stories of their communities. They chose to focus the exhibit on Mayan women because indigenous women are underrepresented in the media — and when they do appear, they’re usually portrayed in one-dimensional ways. One main goal of the “Mayan Womxn in LA” exhibit was to show that no two stories are alike.
One of those stories is that of Mayán AlvArado-Goldberg, 16, who was able to use this event as a chance to talk about what it means to grow up with a multi-cultural heritage. Her mother is Guatemalan and her father is white and Jewish, “Growing up, I dealt with not fitting into both sides of my identity. It was this project and my bat mitzvah process that really helped me understand that I didn’t have to be enough to other communities – I had to be enough to myself.”
Sinnai Avila, Mayán’s model, was proud to be apart of a project celebrating diversity, in every sense of the word: “For me, it’s so important to see models of different shapes and sizes. I’m five feet I’m brown – this is not what your typical model looks like. I’m just grateful that different woman are able to represent our identity in the way we want to be represented.”
This April, the woman are planning on continuing this project by traveling to Guatemala to replicate this experience with Maya women in Guatemala. You can learn more about their efforts here: https://lasfotosproject.networkforgood.com/projects/66534-las-fotos-project-maya-womxn-in-la-delegation?fbclid=IwAR0137IGXPfIrrDUx1OaQzmlHZ_7iAxI0AdZomyACPGWNaRbCfdepxxIrHg