Curator's Statement

California’s history is the story of immigration, but most of California’s immigrants have not been allowed to tell their own stories. From the gold rush to the Asian influx of the early twentieth century to the Latino movement of the last thirty years, historians have usually incorporated the newly arrived immigrant populations as the silent but necessary labor behind the Gold State narrative of economic success.

Life Cycles: Reflections of Change and A New Hope for Future Generations examines the personal histories of immigrant and migrant farm worker families that settled in the colonias of Coachella Valley, California. With the support of a grant from the California Council for The Humanities, Jacalyn Lopez Garcia follows the progress of seven migrant families to create a photographic document of their involvement in changing the California social landscape. What this photo documentary reveals is an immigrant and migrant community that represents long-neglected sites for gathering stories about California’s historic place as the land of opportunity. Specifically, this documentary focuses on personal stories of struggle and accomplishment for families, students and members of the growing Colonia communities located in the Southeastern deserts of California. These communities are unincorporated settlements sometimes located just outside of regular communities. Being unincorporated, and therefore not under the jurisdiction of any civic entity, they often lack basic infrastructural amenities such as water, electricity, sewage, or law enforcement. And they are also a primary place where immigrant and migrant laborers must necessarily live. Caught between harsh circumstances back home and uncertain prospects in an unknown place, these Colonias represent a difficult crossroads for their inhabitants. By focusing specifically on the Colonias of Mecca, Thermal, Oasis, and two Native American reservations, Life Cycles will critically examine the Colonia lifestyles in order to reveal motivating factors that cause individuals to embark on a journey to places of incredibly harsh living conditions in the hope of someday achieving a better life.

Life Cycles is an integral component of a larger project funded by a Housing and Urban Development grant Capacity Building for the Future Project and a previous grant funded by The California Wellness Foundation Ecological Health for the Future. Both grants have been awarded to the University of California, Riverside’s Ernesto Galarza Applied Research Center and will be used for research aimed at improving the living conditions for an estimated 15,000 farm workers in the eastern Coachella Valley. Lopez Garcia, served as the Director for the Communities for Virtual Research as she worked on this documentary project. Her responsibilities included the establishment of technology training centers, program development and implementation of curriculum for these projects.

Jacalyn Lopez Garcia’s photographic series reveal the harsh realities of desert living and critically examines the relationship between some of the “past” and “present” approaches used to improve lifestyles of Colonia residents. The dream of economic independence and a better life draws immigrants and migrants to these Colonias, but they often must survive in harsh living conditions that make day-to-day life a full-time job by itself. In an effort to inspire the need for social change, Lopez Garcia’s black and white images along side of each family expose the harsh realities of how, in some instances, living conditions for the migrant farmworkers in the Colonias have not changed since the 1950-1965 strike years. Her family photos and portraits focus on how improved living conditions resulted from either an individual process or action that was inspired by the desire to pursue the goals of solving human problems.

To bring further clarity and a new level of understanding to this series, researchers (including Lopez Garcia herself) conducted interviews with the Colonia residents to document their life experiences. These allowed the residents to use their own voices, instead of relying on others to speak for them. The results along with the photographs have been incorporated into an interactive website to aid awareness and inspire a global dialogue. The website will serve as a vehicle to examine, reflect, and comment on a community’s desire to change life cycles and increase the quality of living for themselves and generations to come.

Jacalyn Lopez Garcia received an M.F.A. degree in Multimedia and Photography from Claremont Graduate University. She teaches photography, art and multimedia studies classes at various community colleges in Los Angeles and Riverside County and recently retired as the Director of the Communities for Virtual Research at the University of California, Riverside. Her art works have been on display at local, national, and international museums and galleries including the California Museum of Photography; MOCA (Los Angeles); European Media Arts Festival; and the Pallace of Fine Arts (Bellas Artes), Mexico.

Georg Burwick, Curator of Digital Media, UCR/California Museum of Photography
Shane Shukis, Interim Associate Director, UCR/Sweeny Art Gallery