This Pulitzer Prize winner captures a view of Latino life in NC that many never see

When Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist José Galvez moved to Durham in 2004, he immediately began driving around the state and documenting what he saw.

He captured images of quinceañera dresses and bridal gowns being sold from a shack in Mount Olive, brothers loading Christmas trees raised on their Ashe County tree farm, children lined up for their first Communion in a Catholic Church in Durham, and an engineer studying project plans in Kitty Hawk.

All are Latinos.

All are evidence of the vibrant Latino communities found throughout North Carolina.

Those snapshots are captured in 51 black and white photographs as a part of the “Al Norte al Norte: Latino Life in North Carolina,” a traveling exhibition organized by the North Carolina Museum of History that chronicles the diversity and strength of the state’s growing Latino community from business owners and farm laborers to grandparents and kindergarten graduates.

Al Norte is now on display at the City of Raleigh Museum until March 10.

The growth of the Latino community in North Carolina has been unprecedented. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 8.4 percent of the state’s population is Latino. Just 20 years earlier, this community made up only 1.2 percent of the state’s population.

Galvez, 69, shot the images over eight years. The photographs, grouped into categories of family, faith, celebration and work, depict the daily routines of Latino North Carolinians adapting to and shaping life across our state.

Diana Bell-Kite, the curator of Cultural History at the N.C. Museum of History, first saw his photographs at N.C. State University. She was impressed. “They captured a diverse community with a huge range of skills and lifestyles,” she says. “They were entrepreneurs and professionals … people working a variety of different jobs.”

Bell-Kite worked with Galvez to put together the Al Norte show.

“Just through the content of his photos, it helps us to dispel stereotypes that people have about Latinos,” Bell-Kite says.

His photos also give people a glimpse into another culture. The images from a quinceañera, which celebrates marks a girl’s passage from girlhood to young womanhood in many Latin American cultures, capture the excitement on the 15 year old’s face — an image that translates in any language.

When Al Norte first opened at the N.C. Museum of History in spring 2012, it was the first exhibit to focus on the state’s Latino community and also the institution’s first bilingual exhibit. It featured both English and Spanish descriptions of the work.

From a shoeshine box to a camera

Galvez, an Arizona native, says he grew up poor.

As a 10-year-old he would collect soda bottles for deposits, deliver the Sunday Arizona Daily Star newspaper and shine shoes using a shoeshine box his father made for him.

The shoe shining led him to journalism.

A reporter requested that Galvez be allowed in the newsroom so he could get a shine. “I started hanging out in the newsroom,” he says. “Over time the managing editor took me under his wing. I became captivated with journalism.”

He became fascinated with one of the photographers. “He was a colorful character. He had a cigar in his mouth and he would come and show his photos to the editor. He invited me to his studio and darkroom and later assignments. I would carry his bags to football games.”

After college, when Galvez was asked by Arizona Daily News editor to choose between being a reporter or a photographer, he chose photojournalism. He preferred the freedom of being able to roam between subjects and the landscape instead of being confined to one beat.

Several years later, he moved on to the Los Angeles Times. In 1984, he was part of an L.A. Times team that won the Public Service Pulitzer Prize for a 27-part series on Latino life in Southern California.

Galvez went on to become a freelance photographer working for East Coast companies and moved to North Carolina to be closer to his clients and wife’s family. But his mission to present Latino life never changed.

“I want to present a positive portrayal of the Latino community here in North Carolina,” Galvez says. “This is not a photo exhibit on immigrants in North Carolina. These are the citizens of North Carolina … the parents, students, teachers, entrepreneurs, the homeowners and the home builders. The kid you see playing in the park or marching in the ROTC parades. Latinos are just like you and me. We work. We hire people. We are citizens. We are from all different nationalities. I want people to think about that especially at this time.”

Bridgette A. Lacy is a freelance writer and the author of “Sunday Dinner: A Savor the South cookbook” by UNC Press of Chapel Hill. Reach her at


“Al Norte al Norte: Latino Life in North Carolina” is on display through March 10 at the City of Raleigh Museum, 220 Fayetteville St., Raleigh. Open Tuesday through Sunday and First Fridays from 6 to 9 p.m. 919-996-2220 or