Lesley student and documentary photographer Mario Quiroz dedicates his work to telling the stories of fellow immigrants.
Tuesday, November 18, 2014
For years, Mario has been telling the stories of immigrants and domestic workers through his camera lens. He stages prominent photo essays and exhibitions across New England that highlight the lives of immigrants in America, including Fitchburg’s Latino communities, aging minorities in Massachusetts, and an ongoing documentary project to support the Massachusetts Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights.
“Art is the Trojan Horse for social change,” explains Mario, who will earn his bachelor’s degree in liberal arts with a specialization in photography from Lesley this year. “People are more open to seeing ideas through art than through any other medium. Civil movements need to have visual representation.”
Mario, who first started college in his native El Salvador over 20 years ago, is set to earn his bachelor’s degree at long last from Lesley University this semester, alongside his wife, Lesley student Maura Mendoza. They each have a long education journey and found a home at Lesley’s Center for the Adult Learner.
“What I really like about Lesley is that I took a really unusual path in life and they honor that,” says Mario. “Lesley University understood that I have experience and expertise.”
“Lesley was great about accepting transfer credits and they were very flexible. It’s great for artists,” adds Maura, a musician and educator who will earn a bachelor’s degree in social communication and multicultural studies.
Mario’s aunt came to the United States from El Salvador in the 1960s and worked as a house cleaner. Subsequently, her children and grandchildren have been able to go to college and enjoy successful careers.“I’ve always said the immigrant experience is an act of love,” Mario explains. “People are moving here to find a better financial future for their families, and in the process they are giving up the things they love and leaving most of their family behind.
“Domestic workers give a lot to this country,” he asserts.
His most widely-staged photo essay is “Domestic Workers: The Invisible Wheels that Power Our Economy,” which has been on view in 12 different venues already. His show, “Immigrants: A Common Wealth of Massachusetts,” is now part of the permanent collection of the Commonwealth Museum in Boston.
He exhibits the majority of his shows in public venues, including libraries and the Salvadoran Consulate of New England. He has been a full-time photographer for four years.
“My goal is to be the leading photographer on immigration of my generation,” he says.
On a recent morning in LaPete Labs in Boston, Mario worked diligently in the darkroom printing and coloring images for the Fitchburg Art Museum exhibition about Latinos in Fitchburg. He prints photos the old-fashioned way and takes pride in the craftsmanship.
“A digital print can be done the same day, but when I have more time between taking the pictures and making the print, I have less emotion and I’m more technically focused on which prints work best,” he reflects.
"Mario is a thoughtful, engaged, and passionate student and photographer,” notes Assistant Professor of Photography Christine Collins. “He has a deep respect for the history of photography and the way in which the medium has the power to affect change. This extends to his subjects, whom he treats with dignity and respect.”
Mario started college in El Salvador, and Maura attended a film and television school in Cuba.
“When I graduated high school I wanted to see the world, but instead of doing that I went to college,” Mario recalls. “It wasn’t the right thing for me. Classes were not exciting, and I wanted to do something different.”
He moved to Miami and took “a long detour in life,” working in various jobs including communications work for an immigration advocacy group in Maryland. Mario and Maura landed in Cambridge over five years ago and eventually discovered Lesley.
“The way I see it, Lesley University can help me put together all these things I know in one package, and through my degree I think I can also give back to Lesley,” Mario reflects.
Maura, who works as a multi-lingual family liaison for the Somerville Public Schools, says they value the flexibility of Lesley’s Center for the Adult Learner and that they both take advantage of counseling sessions at the Career Resource Center, the Center for Academic Achievement, and much more.
“As an adult student back in school, I take advantage of everything Lesley University has to offer,” Mario notes.
This fall, Mario is working on an independent study project with Professor Vivien Marcow-Speiser as the culmination of his degree by photographing Lesley employees, from faculty members to cafeteria workers, which he hopes to exhibit on campus as well. The project is called "1World/1University: Diversity at Lesley," and the final result will be a campus exhibition in April 2015. "Mario and Maura's commitment to social justice and the arts really epitomizes career development at Lesley University,” says Associate Dean for Career and Community Service Alice Diamond. “As they both complete their bachelor's degrees, I know that Maura and Mario will continue to make significant contributions to their communities. It has been a true joy to get to know them."
Learn more about Mario Quiroz’s photography and exhibitions here. Learn more about Maura Mendoza here.
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