Who were these people smiling from faded photographs at me? Were they really strangers when their eyes, lips, noses, and skin pushed out familiarity and kinships? Were they the distant cousins I never met because my grandparents fled Puebla as intellectuals, writers, labor leaders were being arrested and executed? And the names – Garcia, Alvaro, Ponce, Rodriguez, Bautista, Cantu, Cruz and Mejia – were those of people who live in my San Antonio precinct.
These faces, now, taped, stapled, nailed, and glued to fences, subway walls, telephone poles, and bus shelters, should not be forgotten. They, too, are the faces of our national experiment of Liberty and Justice for All. They are a tribute to the thousands of people whose lives tragically were extinguished so brutally on a beautiful morning, perhaps best appreciated with the view from Windows of the World Restaurant.
These photographs are purely accidental. My presence in New York City was encouraged by my friend Susan Ginsberg, a renowned contemporary art historian and dealer. She had been told a story from an NHK Japanese reporter of possible arrests and detentions of Mexican and Central American family members who had gone to the official victim search center by the INS. It sounded plausible and would be in the realm of possibility that the major media outlets would choose to steer clear of investigative stories and not pursue stories that would cast any doubt or criticism on Federal and other policing authorities. The nation needed to trust the government. There was a national unity of emotions and patriotism unseen since Pearl Harbor was attacked just short of sixty years prior to that eventful 9/11 .
With only my SONY Mavica and notebook, I arrived in New York on September 31, 2001, twenty days post-9/11. I had a low-level clearance as a photographer with access to be near but not within the high-clearance areas within the pit. The story I wanted to present had somewhat evaporated because the street talk was that President Zedillo had made a strong protest to President Bush. The practice was halted and families were released. And of course, nothing was reported in the news.
Over the next three days, I wandered through lower Manhattan and became aware of the thousands of handwritten and photocopied posters and flyers families had made and distributed in their search for missing loved ones. These were worth preserving.