The University of New Mexico libraries have added a few extra faces on the walls, smiling down at students and community members as part of a new exhibition by Humans of New Mexico.
“The Humans of New Mexico project is an online platform where we collect oral histories from everyday New Mexicans,” said Rafael Martinez, the organization’s project director. “The goal is to go around the state and talk to ordinary people about their life, their experience, their stories and traditions and culture and what it’s like in their part of the state.”
This effort allows Humans of New Mexico to share the information they have already put on their website more directly with the University audience, which helps prompt students and community members to interact with and think about communities across New Mexico, including their own, Martinez said.
Nightmare Miller, a 14-year-old hip-hop and break dancer and business owner from the Santa Fe-Albuquerque area, was among the interviewees. His mother, Kathleen Perry, said she enjoyed being a part of the project.
“It was the best experience that we’ve had in a really long time,” Perry said. “Good people. They made us feel awesome. They were interviewing my son, but they included me, which was really cool. They just made us feel like rock stars.”
“I believe it’s important for students to be able to connect with these stories, because lots of times here at UNM, or any college campus, we become isolated in our own worlds and often think about issues in very particular ways, in our own disciplines — but we don’t think about the human element, the human voice behind some of these issues,” Martinez said.
Each exhibit in each UNM library has a specialized theme that is meant to reflect the discipline of the library that houses it, Martinez said. One exhibit in the Fine Arts Library features more musicians and artists, while the Parish Memorial Library has more business-themed features.
“It wasn’t meant to be a traditional exhibit where everything was lined up symmetrically,” said UNM Director of Access Services Cindy Pierard. “It was really meant to be where can somebody have an unexpected encounter.”
There will also be a few panel discussions with the individuals featured in the library exhibitions, Martinez said. The panelists will vary in occupation, such as artists and business owners, and age, from high schoolers to senior citizens.
Perry said that being involved with Humans of New Mexico and having her son speak on one of the panels has opened up opportunities for the both of them.
“It’s been a really good community bonding thing, so we make new friends,” Perry said.
One of the goals of Humans of New Mexico is to ensure that community members have a voice on important social issues, since many of their stories are not often heard, Martinez said.
“We hear from our key politicians and elected officials about issues, but we never hear directly from the people and how they’re experiencing the state of New Mexico,” he said.
“I think that not everyone feels like their stories are in libraries, and not everyone feels like a library is a place where they are welcome or where what they do or what they say is important,” Pierard said. “Having the chance to work with Rafael and Maria (another member of Humans of New Mexico) on this project, I hope (we) can make the library feel more comfortable to different people and also me, as a librarian, to think about how we can give people spaces to tell their stories.”
Martinez said the volunteer-based organization, made up of students and community members, allows its participants to experience things they might not otherwise get to explore, he said.
“One of our photographers works in the construction industry — nothing to do with any of this (traditional) academic work,” Martinez said. “But he’s an amazing photographer who is self-taught, and for him to be exhibiting some of his work here, at the library, that’s an opportunity that many of our members previously or currently don’t have.”
Humans of New Mexico projects are diverse, Martinez said. Contributors work with photography, oral history, transcribing, video production and an audio production team that collaborates with KUNM, he said.
The project began with Martinez’ own interest in the popular social media organization that has also been mirrored elsewhere, Humans of New York, he said. He started a Facebook page and had a few interviews before realizing the potential New Mexico offered, Martinez said.
“New Mexico is very different from New York, and so our project, in my opinion, is much more oral-history-based and more in-depth with the storytelling rather than (Humans of New York’s) aim, which is more street photography and more of a ‘quick snap’ of that person’s story,” Martinez said.
He said he would be interested in someday collaborating with other Humans projects.
“As far as social media and web presence, I really see our project becoming one of the leading media projects in the state of New Mexico in the long term,” Martinez said. “I do see our project becoming the largest ongoing oral history project of the state of New Mexico too.”
“I think this is going to go far and I really believe in what is behind it,” Perry said.
Along with collaborating with community partners who find people for them to interview, the group has a link on their website that allows people to submit interviewee suggestions.
The UNM Libraries exhibition will continue through Nov. 27.
The next panel discussion will be on Friday, Nov. 10, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. in the Fine Arts Library.
“I hope that people might engage with some of these stories, with some of these people, and through that process, come to see the wonder of New Mexico and the people who live here,” Pierard said.
Ariel Lutnesky is a culture reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ArielLutnesky.