Gallery Exhibit: Taquerias of Southmost
In 2012 Texas Folklife and the Brownsville Historical Association (BHA) partnered on “Taquerías of Southmost,” a research, documentation, exhibit, outreach and promotion project. Texas Folklife conducted fieldwork in the Southmost community as part of its National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)-funded statewide survey of food traditions. The goals of the project were to create a start-up cultural program to provide services to an underserved community and to bring significant promotion to a neighborhood with rich cultural and culinary offerings. Photographs in the exhibit include research and documentation by Cristina Balli, Michelle Mejia, photographer Chuy Benitez, as well as other Texas Folklife staff members. Balli is a bilingual cultural manager with expertise in Mexican-American music history and Michelle Mejia is a film producer; both are natives of Brownsville, Texas with strong ties to the Southmost community.
The Southmost area of Brownsville is home to almost a third of the city’s 175,000 residents. Geographically it is located on the southernmost populated tip of Texas along the banks of the Rio Grande and bounded by the infamous border wall. It is a tight-knit community of immigrant families whose cultural heritage is expressed daily in their traditions, celebrations, music, gardening, religion, lifestyle and food. Economically, historically and culturally it is the most underserved area of the city, but the local Mexican food restaurant industry is booming. More than 20 locally-owned taquerías have established within a three-mile radius of Southmost Road, the main artery of the neighborhood. Locally it is known as “Taco Boulevard.” The Taquerías of Southmost photography exhibit provides an entrance into an otherwise closed and guarded population, easily mistrustful of outsiders.
Taquerías of Southmost is a collaboration between Texas Folklife and the Brownsville Historical Association with funding provided by the National Endowment for the Arts which believes a great nation deserves great art, Texas Commission on the Arts, and Humanities Texas.
Chuy Benitez is an internationally exhibited and collected panoramic photographer and photographic educator. He comes from a bi-national family that has lived on both sides of the El Paso/Juarez border for generations, and now lives and works in Houston. He earned his B.A. in Studio Photography from the University of Notre Dame in 2005, and his MFA in Phototraphy and Digital Media from the University of Houston in 2008. He has contributed his time and efforts to helping Fotofest, serving on the Board of Directors for Houston Center for Photography and Lawndale Art Center, and being on the National Board of Directors for the Society for Photograpic Education. His work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Austin Museum of Art, Mexic-Arte Museum, the Gilberto Cardenas Collection of Latino Art, and En Foco, Inc. (NYC). In January 2014, he received the Houston Press MasterMind Award for his impact on Houston's art community. www.chuybenitez.com