Bantu Eyez: Somali Bantu of Texas
Photographer Cristina Sanchez shows story of San Antonio’s newest immigrants
SAN ANTONIO – “They blew away part of his knee with a rifle shot, clubbed him in the back of the head and then stabbed him through the face with a bayonet. They thought that he was dead.”
This is an account from one of Tom Rein’s writings on the Somali Bantu living in San Antonio. Rein, a licensed social worker, has worked with San Antonio’s Somali Bantu community since 2004. Four years later, circumstances brought Rein together with photographer Cristina Sanchez, and together, they have given a face to San Antonio’s Somali Bantu refugees. Sanchez’s photo exhibit, “Bantu Eyez: Somali Bantu of Texas” will be displayed Aug. 29, 2012 to Mar. 3, 2013, at the Institute of Texan Cultures.
The Somali Bantu were a lost tribe in Somalia’s war and political upheaval in the 1980s and 1990s. Some 200,000 fled to camps in Kenya, only to clash again with Somali refugees from other tribes, who were already at the camps. International efforts to resettle the Somali Bantu refugees resulted in some 12,000 relocating to several U.S. cities, including San Antonio.
Sanchez was a freelance photographer growing her business when life’s circumstances changed her direction. In 2008, Sanchez’s brother, Eduardo Jimenez, introduced her to Tom Rein, who was teaching at Robert E. Lee High School. Rein had been accepted into the Somali Bantu community after working with the Somali Bantu children at the school. Rein enlisted Sanchez to help transform San Antonio’s Somali Bantu from a people living in fear in a third-world country, to real people in a real-life situation, in San Antonio.
“This project taught me to feel blessed for what I’ve been given, and about what it means to be a parent,” said Sanchez, whose daughters were, at the time, the same ages as many of the resettled Somali Bantu. “It taught me the beauty of our neighbors and the beauty of looking beyond our own shoulders. It’s taught me to look through other people’s eyes and see what they’ve gone through.”
Despite the hardships of their new homeland, many Somali Bantu have made astounding steps to establish themselves in their adopted community. Many of the school-aged children have achieved “gifted and talented” status at their schools. They’ve become computer literate. Several members of their community hold regular jobs. Through various channels, many have become citizens.
The “Bantu Eyez” exhibit at the Institute of Texan Cultures will include 14 images at any given time, with 32 scheduled for display during the run of the exhibit.
“Before we brought their story to the Institute of Texan Cultures, it was as if they were just visiting,” said Sanchez. “They can call Texas home now.”
“People have come to America and Texas for so many reasons, including the opportunity to start a new life,” said Angelica Docog, ITC executive director. “San Antonio’s Somali Bantu have faced true horrors and they have endured. It is our duty to tell their story and this exhibit shares their challenges and triumphs.”
The Institute of Texan Cultures is located on the UTSA HemisFair Park Campus, 801 E. César E. Chávez Blvd., a short distance from the Alamo and the River Walk. Regular hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults (ages 12-64); $7 for seniors (ages 65+); $6 for children (ages 3-11); free with membership, UTSA or Alamo Colleges identification. For more information, call 210-458-2300 or visit TexanCultures.com.