The Facebook comments from my community shocked and enraged me.
They were hateful and harmful and they shattered an image I had about West Palm Beach that I always felt supported and protected me.
• “We don’t need to hear the story of a criminal,” one person wrote.
• “Ummm non Americans Can’t be president, just ask Schwarzenegger. And you’re breaking the law by being here. Sorry kid, but go be the president of Guatemala and make it a better place for its people,” another said.
• “Im not trying to be mean, but this little girl will probably end up prostituting to feed her illegitimate family or just for fun to fix her daddy issues,” a person commented.
Much of it was worse than that. The vile spewing from people on Engage West Palm, a Facebook forum for the community, wasn’t directed at me, but it might as well have been.
Alejandra Mendez-Roblero (9), Adicruz Roblero and Elder Zacarias Velasquez (2) color in their home on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in West ... Read More
The hatred was aimed at people like Alejandra, a 9-year-old American girl born to immigrants. I knew her story because I was assigned to tell it for The Palm Beach Post as part of the newspaper’s Season to Share project, a storytelling holiday campaign the paper and website do for more than a dozen struggling families.
Alejandra was taken to Guatemala when she was 2 and had to cross the border at age 5 to return to the United States. She doesn’t remember much about the arduous 20-day trek through the desert. All she remembers is reaching Texas on a cold night and being mesmerized by lights and shiny cars.
When I walked into her home, it struck a chord. I was 8 when I arrived in Miami after a nine-hour flight from Argentina. What I remember most are those star-shaped trees lit up by bright city lights. I’d never seen a city and I was in awe.
But once my story of the girl who dreams of being president of the United States one day ran online, the comments rolled in.
Most of them were positive and uplifting. But some weren’t. And I cringed at those.
What would happen if this girl reads this rancor about herself and her mother? I wondered about how it might shape her as a person.
It motivated and changed me.
When I saw an artist call for an upcoming photography exhibition, I instantly knew I wanted to enter. I wrote up my proposal, knowing what I wanted to portray — but not how.
The exhibition was titled “I Love West Palm Beach,” but I wanted to play the devil’s advocate. Yes, we love our community, but if you exclude residents because of their background, is it really love? If you want to get rid of your neighbors, what does that say about our community as a whole?
To my surprise, the proposal was accepted and is currently on display at the “I Love West Palm Beach Exhibition” through Monday at The Box Gallery.
My aim was to depict the state of our government and society when it comes to the protection and civil rights of minorities or the helpless.
I photographed my blue-eyed young sister-in-law and my biracial niece. I dressed them in white dresses that reminded me of Colonial dress-slips and took them to a giant Banyan tree in town. I wanted a tree with huge roots that would stand out.
The portrayal of roots was very important to me, to show we all carry similar roots no matter what part of the ground they’re connected to. I wanted to portray innocence, because after all, immigrant or not immigrant, these are exposed children.
Someone’s color shouldn’t matter. In black-and-white images, I captured the two playing tirelessly under the tree, running and laughing. I captured my sister-in-law consoling my niece after she didn’t want to take any more pictures. She balled up and put her arms around her face. No more photos. And that was my shot. I was hanging from one of the Banyan’s thick (branches), giving me a view from above of the girls tucked in the middle.
IF YOU GO
What: The “I Love West Palm Beach Exhibition,” featuring 10 Palm Beach County artists who share their art and love for the city of West Palm Beach.
Where: The Box Gallery, 811 Belvedere Road, West Palm Beach
When: Through Monday
For information: Call 786-521-1199 or visit theboxgallery.info
About the reporter
Carla Trivino is a visual reporter with the Palm Beach Daily News and raised in West Palm Beach. She loves to document life in the modern world. To see her photo adventures, follow her on Instagram at @mindofcarlita.
My aim is to choose one photo I feel depicts the state of our society when it comes to civil rights and the protection of minorities or the helpless, while incorporating the common negative sentiment among locals (pulled from public forums, social sites, etc.) who say they love West Palm Beach while excluding their neighbors due to their background. The aim is not to shame, but rather highlight the hypocrisy of saying you love a city while excluding residents because of their background.