Like most women who have immigrated to the United States, when I moved to New York I had to leave behind a lifetime of memories and was only able to bring with me a few prized possessions. The objects that traveled with me symbolize what I cherish most: my family and my culture. The longer I have lived outside Mexico the more important these objects have become to me, and the more they have shaped and influenced my own personal identity not only as a Mexican woman, but as an immigrant in the United States.

Selections from In Reference To: Mexican Women of Idaho & Oregon

Photos by Alejandra Regalado

In Reference To: Mexican Women of Idaho & Oregon explores how a group of 100 Mexican women who immigrated to the U.S. at different points in their lives, went through the process of choosing which personal objects, among all of their belongings, were important enough to take with them on their journey. These precious objects are literally references to their past lives, backgrounds, cultures and femininity.

About the Project

In Reference To is a photographic project about Mexican female immigrants across the U.S. In Reference To explores issues of cultural identity, femininity and the relationship between these themes and personal objects. When completed in 2014, In Reference To will be a five-part series: New York, Idaho & Oregon, Texas, Illinois and California. Each will feature 100 Mexican women who immigrated to the United States at different points in their lives, alongside the 100 personal objects each woman chose to represent their most personal connection to Mexico and the lives they left behind when they immigrated to the U.S.

The influence behind the format and composition of the women’s portraits and the photographs of the objects come from two very different sources. The women were photographed in a square format against a white background as a reference to the American passport photo, which is a 2 x 2” square. By way of comparison, the Mexican passport photo is 3.5 x 4.5 cm. The influence to feature the objects isolated against a white background comes from the way pre-Columbian archeological artifacts are cataloged and celebrated throughout Mexico.

The women featured in this project live in Idaho & Oregon and span a wide range of ages and socio-economic backgrounds. The youngest girl in the project is 8 years old and the oldest is 76. They come from 22 states in Mexico including: Aguascalientes, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Colima, Distrito Federal, Estado de México, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, Querétaro, San Luis Potosi, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Yucatan y Zacatecas. These women work in a wide variety of professions including: business executives, students, artists, house keepers, project managers, nannies, teachers, personal assistants, sales representatives, sorters, lawyers, farm laborers and restaurateurs, just to name a few.

The objects of this series are also references to the connection of these women and their beloved ones: family portraits, a sweater knitted by her mother, wedding bands, religious images that have been in the family for generations, mortar and pestle (molcajete y tejolote), hot chocolate frother (molinillo) and tortilla presses to cook Mexican food for family and friends.

These precious objects are treasured not only because they represent their lives back in Mexico, but also because they are the only real piece of the past that can be held onto as reminders by their future generations. Each woman and her object tell a unique story; taken together, they form a visual narrative that has a life of its own.

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University or the School of Public Service.

  • This was a very moving article. I hope to see the exhibit when it comes to Idaho.

  • BAX-NYC

    This looks really interesting! I’m excited to see your work tomorrow at the opening reception at Pregones Theater in the Bronx.