Reality from the Barrio.  The photography and prose of native Santa Fe youth--from censorship to survival.
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The Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club saves lives. Many organizations may make this claim, but this Club truly prevents local youth from turning into the “at-risk delinquents” the media so easily glorifies.

from the director

The fact is that the circumstances of life in New Mexico are difficult: the school system ranks 47th in the country; teen suicide and substance abuse rates are well above the national average; and, since Santa Fe has emerged as a popular tourist destination, the cost of living has skyrocketed to the point where local people can barely afford to live in their own town. As a result, it takes an incredible amount of strength to grow up in this part of the world. Children and youth observe their parents struggling to survive, and many of them believe that they will always be poor, uneducated, and in trouble.

Santa Fe is my home. And while it has changed tremendously in the past 25 years, some things remain the same. There have been barrios in Santa Fe since the conquistadors settled in the region four centuries ago. The barrios are a symbol of family, community, and perseverance. In the barrio, where everyone knows each other, people help each other to accomplish everyday tasks. We care for each other’s kids, build each other’s homes, and share a strong language and culture from which we derive meaning and strength. The barrio has been an important place to learn values, share stories, and deal with difficult political and economic times. The barrios have been the neighborhoods for generations of Hispanic families. As such, Santa Fe also has a long history of turf battles and family feuds, as well as cycles of poverty, violence, substance abuse, and crime.

I’ve been the Director of the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club since 1983. The Club sits in the heart of the barrio, and in many ways it is the heart of the barrio and its people. Generations of youth have grown up at the Club, including myself. It is an important meeting place, a true community center. Many successful Santa Feans credit the Club for developing self-esteem, character, and leadership skills; people constantly say that they don’t know what would have happened to them if it weren’t for the Club and its innovative programs and excellent role models. For me, the Club was a safe, positive environment through which I learned I could take charge of my life and help my community.

Since 1942, the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club has been the main provider of educational, recreational, and human development after-school and summer services to disadvantaged youth in Santa Fe County. The Club is dedicated to providing children and youth ages six through seventeen with the academic, leadership, and citizenship skills necessary to pursue higher education, obtain meaningful employment opportunities, and make positive contributions to the community. The youth members of the Club would probably be described as “at-risk” by most people. Of course, no one knows what at-risk really means. The fact is that these young people are exceptional, for reasons everyone can understand if they only take the time to find out. These youth are strong. They are resilient. They experience the full breadth of human emotions, and they know how to express themselves. They are cautious to trust a person, but once they do, they trust you for life. They also see right through adults who are not honest with them. These youth have tremendous charisma, insight, and compassion. Because they know what it’s like to do without, they are incredibly generous. Because they have struggled, they know how to support their peers in times of need.

Reality from the Barrio started in 1992 as a project of the Photography Program of the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club. Coordinated by Director of Photography Leslie Alsheimer, the program provides free cameras, developing equipment, and a darkroom to all teenagers. Participants are free to determine the content of their photographs, process their own film, and develop their own prints.

What became apparent through this process was that these youth have talent. And when they began to realize this, they really began to shine; they exuded self-confidence and began to see themselves as artists rather than kids. Reality from the Barrio was originally a public exhibit at the Club. The public response was tremendous, resulting in substantial donations to the program, and invitations to host the exhibit at locations citywide.

At that time, and based in part on the praise of the community, the teens decided to turn the exhibit into a book. Seven years later, here it is. This book really is a testament to the persistence of the teens in the program. They have welcomed the support and endured the critiques, and they have learned quite a bit about the publishing process. Editorial decisions regarding the content and format of this book were made by teenagers, with the terrific assistance of Fred Cisneros, of Cisneros Design. All proceeds from the sale of this publication benefit the Club’s Photography Program.

The Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club currently serves 1700 children and youth at five locations in Santa Fe County, at an average cost of $350 per youth per year. As a not-for-profit organization, the Club is dependent on the support of private citizens, businesses, charitable foundations, and government sources. As government support for youth and prevention programs continues to decrease, the Club is more in need of support from average citizens, people like you and me, for financial support. If you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution, or a donation of photographic materials and equipment to continue the Reality from the Barrio program, please contact me at 505-983-6632, or write to me at Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club, P.O. Box 2403, Santa Fe, NM 87504. Thank you for purchasing this book, and for supporting the meaningful Photography Program of the Santa Fe Boys and Girls Club.


—Al Padilla
Executive Director,
Santa Fe Boys & Girls Club
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