Story by Elizabeth Campos Fitch Contributor, Photos courtesy of Zuly Garcia zulydelarose on Instagram
Born in the U.S. to Oaxacan parents, 21-year-old South Los Angeles photographer Zuly Garcia has taken it upon herself to portray indigenous women and their beauty through a project entitled “Flores Politicos,” which translates to “Political Flowers” in Spanish.
Garcia, also known as Zuly de La Rose on Instagram, gained popularity on social media when she released her project on July 18.
A photo of a dark-skinned Oaxacan woman with long brown hair, almond-shaped eyes and a yellow off-the-shoulder dress brought Garcia into the spotlight.
Reposted by political websites such as Undocumedia and public figures like “Orange is the New Black” actor Diane Guerrero, Garcia’s message of self-love to Latinx folks blew up unexpectedly.
But self-love didn’t come easy for the photographer, who identifies as “Crenshaw proletariat,” which is exactly why she decided to use her art as a tool.
She explains that internalized racism was always present in her life—that the Latinx community largely considers European features to be the one and only beauty standard.
In fact, Garcia confessed that she and her parents would discuss getting nose or knee surgery in order to look taller and have a pointy nose. Garcia regularly wore long-sleeved shirts, put on copious amounts of sunblock and stayed indoors to avoid getting darker under the sun.
It’s important to note that Garcia was born in the U.S. but lived in Oaxaca until the age of four.
Her experience living both in Mexico and the U.S. made her realize that being Latinx comes with many layers to explore.
“A lot of people are really proud of being Mexican,” she said. “But not a lot of people applaud people from the southern border of Mexico, so I feel like saying that we’re proud as a whole as Mexicans is not entirely true because we still bash on others.”
These issues of racism and colorism are apparent in the fact that darker-skinned and indigenous folks are labeled with the derogatory terms “prietos” and “indios,” says Garcia.
Garcia’s journey to self-love was difficult because she constantly dealt with her parents’ blindness to these issues. She says that this continues to be a problem to this day.
Garcia recounted a time a family friend was recognized online for bringing Flor de Piña, a traditional Oaxacan dance, to the U.S. Rather than celebrating this, Garcia’s mother looked down on it.
Garcia also says that her father tries to dress “American,” dyes his hair lighter and once considered nose surgery.
“I can’t really be upset with them because it’s kind of a cultural thing everywhere,” she said. “It’s harder for them to accept that because of the generation that they come from and because of their own parents hating them for that. They internalize that and then they think it’s okay, and they do it to their kids and so forth.”
This generational internalized racism took a toll on Garcia, especially during her junior year of high school, when she also realized she is bisexual.
But over the years, she grew closer to the Crenshaw community and realized that she wasn’t the only one struggling with insecurities and the stereotypes surrounding the people of South L.A.
She decided to begin asking people to participate in her “Flores Politicos” project.
“I choose who to photograph based on availability and depending on what they represent,” she said. “I can’t work with people who don’t have the same mindset as me because when I introduce them to the project they’re going to see it as ‘other’ or ‘weird.’”
Now that she’s developed an audience for her project, Garcia wants to reach out to more indigenous folks. She’s even considering traveling to Oaxaca to find more indigenous women to photograph.
Garcia found that the problems she had been dealing with repeated themselves in her friends’ lives too.
Monica, the Oaxacan woman photographed in the yellow dress, told Garcia that her mother had begun to reconnect to her roots after seeing her daughter’s picture.
“That’s great, that’s the whole point!” said Garcia.
But Garcia never expected her project to be received so well.
“I thought people would hate it,” she said. “I was scared of what people would say.”
Although a majority of folks reacted positively to “Flores Politicos,” Garcia received criticism pointing out the lack of Black women in her project.
She explained that, living in Crenshaw, she was constantly exposed to Black culture, but acknowledges that she cannot relate to the struggles of Black women and therefore, trying to represent them in her project is a harder task.
So far, “Flores Politicos” has portrayed only non-Black Latinxs. Garcia thinks it is time to connect with more folks from different places in order to expand representation.
Garcia hopes that her project will inspire others to connect to their culture.
“Grab onto [your] roots,” she said. “Hold on to them as much as you can to counteract patriarchy and hate.”