Photo Essay By Leonard Adame
Dirty. Animals. Lazy. Beggars. Criminals. Parasites. Abnormal. Stupid.
These are terms (and so many more) aimed at the homeless, and at people of color. Surely, you the reader have read them in news accounts, especially these days with reports about the murder in Ferguson, Mo., and the arrival of desperate Latino child refugees.
I would guess that some readers have thrown these words at the homeless and people of color, maybe not verbally, but in the form of hidden thoughts. I would bet that many readers and people in general have thought themselves superior to the people I’m writing about, thinking that they would never let themselves fall so low, that they’d never ask for handouts or apply for welfare or be on the street begging, slouching around dirty and without self-respect (these are assumptions of course, but they exist in the uninformed views of too many people, many of who claim to be Christians).
I’d also bet that there are even worse adjectives and thoughts specifically targeted at these disenfranchised people.
In fact, before I returned to Fresno in 2011, after an 18-year stint teaching college, where many students were homeless and hungry, I too either didn’t bother to think about people less fortunate, assuming that they were as they were through their own shortcomings of one sort or another. But since I’ve been writing about the homeless now for a couple of years, since I’ve been taking photos of them, I’ve realized what I shouldn’t have had to: that they are human beings and like all human beings, they too wish for better things down the road, wish for a living space, for a decent job; they too wish to own and direct their lives, to have equal chances at whatever they wish to do and have.
What’s stopping them from having the things and a station in life that so many people have? Many suffer from psychological problems, something they didn’t choose to have. Many come from homes where they suffered physical and sexual abuse, where drugs were normal, where violence was judge and jury. Many have been incarcerated and can’t get back on their feet. The list of reasons goes on and on.
But my strong wish is that you readers put aside your assumptions about the homeless and people of color. Look at these portraits, at the eyes that reveal, if you study them, entire lives, emotions that come from places so deep that nothing can measure their depth. Look at their body language, whether they’re smiling or not, whether they’re intense and burning, whether they’re seemingly disinterested. In short, see them as human beings who are just like you, like all of us. Appreciate their dignity in the face of incredible deprivation, their refusal to turn to despair, their willingness to speak with strangers even if they ask for a few cents. They are gregarious, they are inquisitive, and they don’t hesitate to tell you their story—perhaps because of a need that all humans have: to connect spiritually and deeply.
In a way, these photos constitute my Christmas card to Community Alliance staff and readers. I hope you let yourself be affected by these people, who are as kind and as mean and as needy as all people are.
Leonard Adame has retired from teaching college English. He now plays drums in various bands, takes photographs, reads mystery novels to a fault and has published poetry in college anthologies. He most enjoys re-learning about human beings from his grandkids. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.