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ART : Portraits From the Street : Watercolors of day laborers and photographs of detention centers and street vendors put a human face on the immigrant issues and stereotypes.

April 02, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly about art for The Times

About three years ago, on a day when she was particularly eager to paint, watercolor portraitist Mary Heussenstamm was frustrated by a client who canceled an appointment. Heussenstamm, who lives in Tujunga, impulsively got in her car and drove to the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Pinewood Avenue, where day laborers congregate in the hopes of getting work.

She asked one of the men to come home and pose for her. She paid him for his time, and then returned him to the corner. He became the first of many day laborers who gathered at that site to have his likeness painted by Heussenstamm.

Several of those portraits are on view at McGroarty Arts Center in "Intersecciones: el Trabajo, la Calle y el Documento (Intersections: Work, the Street and the Document)," a bilingual exhibit that tells the stories of some recent Latino immigrants in Los Angeles.

Often without documents required by employers to get regular jobs, the laborers have created their own economic system in the only place open to them--the street. Besides waiting at various locations in the city for temporary work, many immigrants have become street vendors.

"Street vending has a history going back to the Aztecs and marketplace culture," said Daniel Veneciano, the exhibit curator.

Heussenstamm's work and the day laborers in the Tujunga area were the impetus for Veneciano to organize a show that puts a human face to the media stories, rumors and xenophobia that beset immigrants, he said. "It gives background as to why these people are here and what they're doing here.

"They're here for all the same reasons that our parents and grandparents are: for a better opportunity than they had in their home country." At the age of 5, Veneciano came from Argentina to Los Angeles with his family.

Heussenstamm's portraits, which remain part of her personal collection and are not for sale, illustrate the range of attitudes and the ages of day laborers. Some appear to be teen-agers.

Also included in the exhibit are several of Lisa Hartouni's photographs, which with her accompanying text reveal the Immigration and Naturalization Service's practice in the 1980s of using private property, such as vacant hotels, for the detention and deportation of immigrants.

Her images from a 1987 rally in front of the Mardi Gras Hotel, then a detention center near Los Angeles International Airport, document protesters who had come to "draw attention to the detention center, and to the INS practice of detaining minors as a way of luring undocumented parents into INS hands," Hartouni writes.

Another series of Hartouni's pictures captures moments from a 1990 demonstration in downtown Los Angeles where 400 people protested the practice of detaining children.

Diego Cardoso's photographs of street vendors taken between 1986 and 1987 record the waning days of vending on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. By the following year, the city had cracked down on vendors there, confiscating their wares.

Olivia Olea's video documentary, "Por la Vida: Street Vending and the Criminalization of Latinos," provides an in-depth report on street vending today, including a look at its roots in earlier Chicano and Latino political movements.

Several of the street vendors in Lynn Flandera's photographs, shot between September, 1992, and February of this year, are women. Maria Anjelica Pena Tenorio came to Los Angeles from El Salvador because of the war there.

"When the war broke out, I found myself alone with my children, and only through sheer effort, dodging bullets, did I escape in order to work for the sake of my children," she said in the photo series' supporting text.

But life is not easy here for her or for most street vendors. Flandera's text explains that in this city, one can be charged with a misdemeanor for street vending with penalties equivalent to drunk driving or brandishing a knife--180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The Assn. of Street Vendors has fought for legalization of street vending since its inception in 1986. An ordinance that would legalize vending in special districts within the city is pending.

Saturday, a Town Hall Meeting, "New Latino Immigrants in Los Angeles," takes place at McGroarty, beginning at 10 a.m. with a screening of Olivia Olea's documentary, "Por la vida. . . ." A panel will include representatives of day laborers, the Assn. of Street Vendors, CODDES (Committee on Democracy and Development in El Salvador), the Los Angeles Police Department and the City Council.

On April 8, CHIRLA (Coalition for Human Immigration Rights in Los Angeles) will present a workshop on labor issues for the Spanish-language immigrant community.

WHERE AND WHEN

What: "Intersecciones/Intersections."

Location: McGroarty Arts Center, 7570 McGroarty Terrace, Tujunga.

Hours: Now through April 12, Sundays, 12:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; April 13 through 16, open by appointment only; April 18, 12:30 to 5 p.m.

Call: (818) 352-5285.

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