Marisol Conde-Hernandez has been out and proud as an undocumented Latina ever since she can remember, growing up in New Jersey. Now she wants to be the first undocumented immigrant in the state to be allowed to register as a lawyer.
The 23-year-old had tended bar to make enough money to help support her family and attend law school at Rutgers University, in Newark. She took the bar exam this summer and is waiting for the results.
She was smuggled across the border from Mexico at just 18 months old, in a vehicle, with fake papers. Her parents crossed through the treacherous desert and the family has lived in the US ever since.
“I’m considered to be one of the leaders of undocumented youth in New Jersey because I was the first to be public about it,” Conde-Hernandez said. She remembers first talking loudly about “being illegal” to her kindergarten teacher, before her mother quickly hushed her. She now rejects the term illegal as inhumane.
Conde-Hernandez is the subject of a film and photography project, called Newest Americans, which will be featured in a photography festival that started on Wednesday in Dumbo in Brooklyn, New York, called Photoville.
She is currently protected from deportation back to a country she has never consciously known, because she is a Dreamer – part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program, allowing eligible young people to study or work legally, which was started by Barack Obama and was earmarked for cancelation by Donald Trump earlier this month.
“I find myself needing to talk about it. What if I cannot practice as an attorney?” she said. If she gets a high enough score on the bar exam, it’s her mission to fight for legal and professional status in New Jersey. She also said, choking up, that she might need her skills in the future to prevent undocumented relatives from being sent back to Mexico, including her father.
Newest Americans is an arts project focusing on personal stories coming out of the incredibly varied student and faculty population of Rutgers University, in Newark.
It has repeatedly been called America’s most diverse college campus by the magazine, US News & World Report, which surveys and ranks US universities annually.
“It’s majority minorities. It’s a microcosm of the way the rest of the country’s demographics are going,” said Julie Winokur, executive director of Talking Eyes Media, a New Jersey-based documentary production and storytelling non-profit, who led the creative team on the project.
People involved in Newest Americans, including Conde-Hernandez and Winokur, will be part of the opening night event at Photoville on Wednesday.
“Rutgers is a place of opportunity and part of an incredibly dynamic, multi-cultural community that’s thriving. It’s basically every white supremacist’s worst nightmare,” Winokur said.
In recent statistics from the college, the Rutgers University student body at its main Newark campus was 33% white, 22% Asian, 18% Latino, 16% black and approximately 11% smaller ethnic groups or “unknown”, according to data compiled by the university’s registrar.
Newest Americans will be featured in video and photography exhibitions at Photoville, centered around evening events at the beer garden and a “village” of shipping containers dotted around Brooklyn Bridge Park, by the river, below the Brooklyn Bridge. Each one will house photography exhibitions examining different themes, and running from 13 to 17 and 21 to 24 September.
Now an annual event in its sixth year, Photoville has taken on many themes at the forefront of current affairs around the world, but particularly concerning the socio-political upheaval roiling American life since the rise and electoral victory of Trump.
Newest Americans features images of young American Muslim women wearing and discussing the hijab. A shipping container exhibition called Body Talk by online lifestyle magazine Refinery29 shows striking images of women in water at the beach in different countries, highlighting transgender rights and sexuality, and how beaches can be a source of both “empowerment and anxiety” for people, especially women.
Laura Roumanos, one of the three co-creators of Photoville, said the team decided at the last minute to feature images from the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, which quickly broke down into violence when white nationalists carrying weapons, shouting racist slogans and performing Hitler salutes were confronted by counter-demonstrators.
“It’s an example of images and issues arising from an event that many people, including me, as the mother of a two-year-old, were scared to attend. I took my daughter to the Womens’ March on Washington, but not Charlottesville. We wanted to create a space where people can have constructive conversations about such difficult issues as hate. It’s about how to rise above,” Roumanos said.
Other exhibitions look at the role climate change plays in terrorism recruiting and security problems in Somalia, images from war-torn Syria and young African American men’s sense of identity. Photographer Endia Beal’s powerful project about black women entering the workforce: Am I what you’re looking for? is also part of Newest Americans, as are pictures documenting inner-city life among low-income, immigrant communities of post-industrial Ironbound, New Jersey.