…In Puerto Rican culture, from the island to the Bronx, it’s an expression steeped in meaning, and roughly translates from Spanish as “forward” or “onward.” It gained currency as street slang amid the community activism and fight for Puerto Rican self-determination that grew out of Spanish Harlem in the late 1960s.
These days, Pa’lante speaks to a new generation of Puerto Ricans who recognize that their spirit of moving forward, of hustling, and persevering is an important collective “culture train” that energizes them as the economy of Puerto Rico faces a historic meltdown.
The Pa'lante portraiture series explores the perspectives of young Puerto Ricans pursuing a variety of different fields. It aims to portray the hustle mentality of the present day, something people can learn from. It teaches us about the hope of people, born without privilege, who are willing to fight for a chance at a better life.
"It's my senior year. I am in the honors class and college is definitely the next step. As far as what college, I have no idea. I struggled with a lot of things this year and as far as my GPA, I dropped the ball. It's like an 81 there's really no hope of me getting into a crazy good school but I just want to get something that will get me on the right path. I want to be a public speaker. I was given this opportunity in this school to speak at a Gala. To see 300 people, all of them sitting in front of me, eyes glued on me was the scariest experience of my life. I told myself, "Isaac it's time to start speaking."
-Isaac Baum. Bronx, NY.
"What I have experienced ever since middle school is that most black and latinos I know are straight up unemployed so they have to find other ways to make a living. Personally I've just been hustling. I refuse totally and completely in my fiber as a human to sell drugs and rob people. But I do know a lot of people who have and i can't be mad at them because I know why they do that. There is always a way out....the american way is not to tell you there's a way out. You make your own way out. You make your own business or your own invention. Look at most people who are successful that are Americans. That's just part of the American way."
- Chief 69. Bronx, NY.
"We have pride in who we are and where we are from.. I have been a Resident Aid at a Domestic Violence shelter for 4 years I just got promoted as a senior RA. I am doing this because of my own personal issues. I am a domestic violence survivor and my experiences breaking out of that world would be able to help other people in these situations."
- Zuly Molina. Bronx, NY.
"What motivates me is that I know I don't have the resources others have, but I know I can give the same potential or more. It's not a pride that you shove on others but it's a personal pride that if you can do it here, you can do it in other places. In these poor neighborhoods in Puerto Rico there is a lot of talent and intelligence. People have to push themselves forward."
- William Valentin. Barrio Buen Consejo, Puerto Rico.
"I always loved ice cream trucks because they bring a nostalgic feeling of visiting as a kid with grandparents or when you went out on a date. I wanted to bring that feeling back. The original idea was to have something to stop people from leaving the island, since there is such a large exodus. We want Puerto rican hands making the ice cream and delivering in the island."
- Maria Jose Delgado. Santurce, Puerto Rico.
“I have 7 years working at different restaurants and hotels since I was 18 in Florida. I was already looking to have something that's my own. I studied Culinary Arts in Miami but I found life in the United States to harsh so I ended up coming back. I wasn't doing well. In the long run, I decided to stay here because Puerto Rico has a lot of potential and you can find good local products. The food here is really good. Also I am trying to find a way to help the island and create more jobs.”
- Luis M, Diaz. Caquas, Puerto Rico.
"Touralo lets you visualize a space without visiting it. Using virtual reality and 360 degree photography and video. You put on some googles and your going to be able to see a house, a facility, a beach and feel like you are there. I am working with real estate agents and architects to be able to transport their clients to a space without physically visiting." - Pedro Cruz. San Juan, Puerto Rico.
I worked with a 30-year-old Hasselblad film camera, with only 12 shots per roll, and hand developed the film in the basement of the Bronx Documentary Center.
This traditional process allowed me to work slowly and think carefully about how to best tell compelling stories in a formal portrait series. My inspiration came from photographers such August Sanders and Walker Evans whose work has shown me that portraiture can serve a strong documentarian purpose.