The Filadelfia Story

In this blog entry, Sabrina Vourvoulias, the managing editor of Al Día, describes the stories that can be found in the photo history, 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia
I am enamored with stories. My own and my family’s, certainly, but also the stories my friends and neighbors tell. And the ones I overhear when a grandparent explains to a child why something is significant, or a beloved custom.
Even more, I love the stories that emerge when many of us sit together leafing through photo albums — remembering food, festivals, people — in community.
For the past twenty years, Latinos in Philadelphia have read and seen their stories appear weekly in Al Día newspaper. The book 200 Years of Latino History in Philadelphia is simply an extension of that work of documentation. Book_cover_ok
In it you’ll find stories about Latinos in Philadelphia that go back to the time of the founding fathers: Like Manuel Torres, for example, the first diplomatic officer from Latin America recognized officially by President James Monroe, who was a resident of the city and is buried at Old St. Mary cemetery alongside Commodore John Barry and Thomas Fitzsimmons.
You’ll see a cabinet card of of Samuel Cruz and his family, newly arrived from Puerto Rico. He would go on to become one of the best respected of the butchers working in the meat-packing district of Northern Liberties, and an integral member of the Puerto Rican community that opened bodegas and settled their families in North Philadelphia. You’ll also see photographs of community-wide celebrations, like the annual St. John the Baptist parade, that took place along Spring Garden Street because that’s where La Milagrosa — the first church in the city to hold a regular Spanish-language Mass and considered “the Plymouth Rock of Latino Catholic Philadelphia” — was located.
la_milagrosa2012030510 SamCruz
There are stories, too, in the photographs of the Puerto Rican community taken by local photojournalist David Cruz in the decade before the Al Día newspaper was established, and in the profoundly moving photo stories he’s shot for Al Día since. In these — many of them focused on the Mexican community — you’ll find stories of tragedy, and resilience, and of the hope for a better life every immigrant packs in his or her bags when they come here.
A day without an ImmigrantThe value of this book isn’t as an exhaustive history — it isn’t one — but rather it is in the glimpses it provides of the everyday lives of Latinos of the city. It also handily refutes the erroneous assumption that all Latinos are recently arrived, unskilled laborers and undocumented immigrants. There is both honor and great joy in the way every member contributes to the vitality of our community, but our diversity is also a point of pride.
As you leaf through the pages of this book, I hope you’ll see what I did when I took on the task of editing it: There are a million stories in these images. They are worth telling. And worth hearing.

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