Focus sharpens on Saratoga's Latinos
Photo shows an intimate look at track workers, community
By LEIGH HORNBECK, Times Union, August 15, 2009
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Bety Hernandez walks horses by day at the Saratoga Race Course and watches over them by night. She has worked behind the scenes for nine summers at the track, sending money home to Mexico to support her mother in Guadalajara. Tuesday, Hernandez was the center of attention when she received the "best of show" award for a photograph she entered in the exhibit, "Vision, A Look at Life Behind the Scenes."
When she accepted the award, Hernandez said in Spanish, "It's very important for people to see what the Latin community is contributing to this community."
The goal of the exhibit is to do just that. A project of the Latino Community Advocacy Program, which is run by the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council, Vision was started three years ago. Latino workers in the area who take English classes through the EOC were asked to learn about photography and then take disposable black-and-white cameras home and to work. Eight workers signed up this year and their work shows an intimate look at the men and women who care for horses at the track, work on the county's farms and in its restaurant kitchens. The EOC sells the prints to raise money for the advocacy program. The reception at the race course Tuesday raised $14,200. A digital gallery of the photos will go on display next week at Saratoga Arts.
Hernandez, 46, took a picture of her sister cooking on a picnic table on the backstretch. Jeans hang in the foreground and Hernandez's sister has her hands in a mixing bowl, flanked by pots, pans and a portable griddle plugged into an extension cord. Hernandez called it, "buscando una manera como cocinar" or "finding a way to cook."
This year's exhibit opened just weeks after a Salvadorian restaurant worker was arrested and charged with violent felonies and three other Hispanic workers were arrested and charged with carrying forged identification papers.
Julie Hoxie, executive director of EOC, said the news has sparked distrust among the community toward Latino immigrants. In an opinion piece published in the Saratogian newspaper, Hoxie said the growing Latino community plays a key role in the county's economy but immigrants need assistance to break through isolation caused by language and cultural barriers.
Hernandez, through a translator, said she loves Saratoga and has never experienced discrimination. She works for trainer George Weaver. From 4:30 to 11 a.m. she works as a hot walker and from midnight to 3 a.m. she's a night watchman, preparing food, meeting veterinarians if necessary and preparing horses for races. Hernandez is tiny -- less than 5 feet tall -- but stocky and strong, she said, flexing her arm muscles. She is not afraid of the tall, often temperamental horses she cares for.
After the Saratoga meet is over, she will travel to Florida for work. Although she supports her mother in Mexico, she hardly ever sees her. Last year she was in Mexico for only four weeks -- nervous that staying any longer would endanger her work visa.
As part of the prize for her best in show photograph, Hernandez received $150. She said part of the money will go home to her mother and part she will save for her future.
Leigh Hornbeck can be reached at 454-5352 or by e-mail at email@example.com.