To interview a cadaver is to choose a revealing role for what you believe may be a stranger you hope you can trust.
Many of us grew up learning about our ethnic heritage, acquiring and choosing important information as a result of that identification. It helped to get good grades, to become politically active, and to become special-needs carers, just to name a few different positions of influence. For others it was just one part of a complicated identity, a take on Spanish the way the Roman Catholic church viewed matriculation.
That is true of several diverse U.S. women who came together in the 2012 pages of Vanity Fair and felt strongly that we needed to emphasize their Latino identity and their roots in that part of the world.
For Alexandra Orozco, it was a big role. As a New York Journal-American correspondent who covered Hispanics for years, she always felt like she was a Mexican-American from the South Bronx and had a deep understanding of Latin-American life. Her relationship with her mother and grandmother, and the greater New York area, took a back seat to her reporting career. Orozco, who was one of the New York Times’ Foreign Section’s outstanding reporters in 2014, was curious about the country she called home and the subculture that enveloped her as a child in Fort Wadsworth, Queens, and left it after a year, amid poignant protests that broke out because of school closures and undocumented workers who had been hired illegally.
Photographer Hector Enriquez engaged the Syracuse University couple in conversation about their own upbringing in this obituary. Orozco’s mother worked hard to provide for her family but often lacked enough money to send her daughter to extracurricular activities. Orozco herself, Orozco said, “would go to class,” play sports, and make friends. But the stories she wrote about her neighborhood, and the people she encountered in the courses she was attending, reflected her mother’s efforts to motivate her daughter. “My mother had plenty of excuses to give for not trying to provide for me,” she told Enriquez. “How she could be so upset about [the other students] I went to, the tuition fees and books and clothes and school, was appalling.” Orozco told Enriquez that the work ethic that put her and her mother into the top of the class at her South Bronx public school made her concerned about her education. “My mother, the best I can say is that she was proud of me, and I would appreciate it if I felt her pride,” she told Enriquez. “She does love her children more than anything. But I think I had to learn a lot from her and we had to learn a lot from each other to make it work.” Enriquez noted in the obituary that Orozco, “at times, in those stories,” used a strong sense of commitment to her mother. But he also said that Orozco’s experience was not unlike the experiences that Latino immigrants faced when they arrived in the United States. “When they come to the United States and they have not gotten enough opportunities and have to work that hard, what’s the recipe for success?” Enriquez asked. “It’s not one single piece of infrastructure, it’s not a county to manage, it’s a parish to manage.” Orozco agreed. “There were many Latinos who were very left-wing as people in South Bronx – incredibly left-wing. In those days, it was not really a language [convoces] for them.” In some ways she channeled the work that her mother would have done in the 1970s.
The New York Times obituary. Alexandra Orozco’s story is “Latinos of a Different Kind” in New York.