By Beatriz Reyes
Liberation can be achieved with love, strength, and… a camera. Such was the message of Pocho1, a photographer who gave a talk sponsored by HOLA, the IGS Department, the Spanish Department, Art Forum, Sewanee Democratic Socialists, Cumberland Center for Justice and Peace (CCJP), Asian Sensation and OCCU (Organization for Cross-Cultural Understanding) recently in Convocation Hall.
Salvador Sánchez Strawbridge, also known as Pocho1, is a 30 year old half-Irish, half-Mexican from Los Angeles. As a child in elementary school, he was embarrassed to say his last name, Strawbridge, aloud in class. He hated his identity; what kind of Mexican had the last name Strawbridge? His identity issues arise from the fact that he is an assimilated Mexican-American that grew up in California, lacking the culture of an immigrant from Mexico. Such insecurity led him, at age 12, to join a gang.
“Gangs come from a screwed up system. It can give you all that you don’t have,” Strawbridge explained. In other words, they gave Pocho1 pride, association, and family as well as money, drugs, girls, and respect. It was a quick fix for the larger issue of his identity, but he was still lost and full of pain and violence. “Gangs exist because their members just lost hope,” he summarized.
It took Strawbridge years to open up and begin to understand what he was doing and who he really was. The student organization MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) helped him realize who he is. MEChA loved him, appreciated him, gave him the opportunity to get a higher education, where he discovered his intelligence and his desire to learn. He owes so much to this organization he even tattooed their symbol next to his heart because it saved his life. He provided many examples of this, all of them reasons why one must “always move forward”in order to get stronger.
His nickname, Pocho1, comes from this realization. The meaning says it all: Pocho is a derogatory term used by Mexicans towards Mexican-Americans. When he decided to embrace his identity, he chose that as his nickname. He created a term for his service, Liberation photography: “It liberated me from myself and helped to liberate other people.”
He’s not the paparazzi; his lens always has an intention, from documenting the history of American Indian communities to the activism of Immigrant Rights Movement. His biggest reward is to see his work in a permanent exhibition where he will stay there, stamped, for generations to see. The exhibit serves to uncover “the unseen” and help social movements to fight good causes.
Pocho1 is not just a photographer; he is an educator as well. His camera works as a pedagogical tool for his students that helps take them off the streets and out of gangs. The school system labels them “at risk” (based upon their race, socio-economic status, age and sex, they are more likely to be exposed and join in violence) but Pocho1 uses the term “highly resistant” because it doesn’t label the students as doomed, it gives them with the potential to overcome. He trusts them, and provides a chance for them by giving responsibility, transforming them from self-defeating human beings to confident citizens that graduate from college and succeed in a way that they had not expected.
Pocho1 talked for an hour and a half, but time flew for the audience. Everyone left the hall with several powerful and positive messages to apply to our own lives and the people all around. Everyone in attendence became liberated.