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Arts & Culture

Through Children's Eyes: War Refugee Photo Exhibit

I recently told you about an exhibit called Bantu Eyez. Since then, I was able to speak to the woman who actually shot the exhibit's pictures, and the story deepened a bit.

First, if you didn’t know that San Antonio even had a Somali Bantu refugee population, you’re not alone.

"I didn’t know that and I’ve lived in San Antonio all my life," said photographer Cristina Jimenez Sanchez, who captured all the exhibit’s images, and here's why.

"I felt it was something for San Antonio to know, for Texas to know, because they’re now part of Texas history," she said. 

The pictures largely show children and teenagers peering back into the camera, friendly, thoughtful. But that’s not the whole story.

"They were placed here by government relocation because of the hardships that that they had gone through (in Somalia)," said Jimenez Sanchez. "Many of the children, if you look closely on a second viewing, you’ll see that they have cigarette scars or cigar scars on their faces. I don’t have a lot of hands in the photos, but many of their hands or fingers have been broken or wrists dislocated. Just kind of banged up by soldiers. Their stories are largely, largely tragic."

And yet the children’s faces don’t really reflect that tragedy. There’s more trust in their eyes than you’d expect, given what they went through.  

"The children were really wonderful. We spent a few weeks interviewing, not with cameras, just sitting and talking so they could get comfortable with us, and they could agree for us to take the pictures" explained Jimenez Sanchez. "Photographing began and it was even more magical, because they wanted to show us everything."

The Bantu Eyez exhibit opens Tuesday night, September 16, on the sixth floor of the Robert B. Green Pavilion Clinical Campus downtown.  

"I’m pleased that the pictures show a different side and not just something so tragic,” reflected Sanchez.

I noted that I didn't see a lack of hope on those kids’ faces. She agreed.

“There is a lot of hope in those photos, and I’m so blessed that there was,” she said.

More on Bantu Eyez at this link.