Humans are social creatures. We are constantly looking to form links with the people and the world around us. When it comes to art, we are often drawn to the pieces that express feelings and experiences we’ve had. This desire to see ourselves in the work of others is at its core a need for connections, to see that we are not alone in our struggles, our concerns, and our dreams. \n\nOne of my first tasks at the Getty Museum as a graduate intern in the Communications and Public Affairs department was to review the Spanish translations for the online exhibition [Early Mexican Photography]. \n\nThe collection consists of 19th-century daguerreotypes (photographs on copper plates coated with silver), ambrotypes (photographs on glass), and tintypes (photographs on metal coated with enamel or lacquer). They are very small portraits, cased and framed as familial keepsakes, meant to be carried by loved ones when apart. \n\nI immediately connected with the exhibition because it spoke to me both as a Mexican and an emigrant living far from my relatives. \n\nThe exhibition takes us back to a time in Mexican history when photography was a brand-new form of technology. Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre’s photographic process arrived in Mexico in 1839, only months after it was made available to the public in France. \n\nBut having your portrait taken in 19th-century Mexico was a luxury inaccessible to most of the population. Only the elite could afford this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. \n\nI made an appointment to visit the study room in the Getty Museum’s Department of Photographs to see the works in person. Curatorial assistant Carolyn Peter brought a cart with neatly organized cases, and one by one we viewed the collection’s 72 images. We talked about Peter’s research for the online exhibition and about how cherished these portraits must have been at the time of their creation. \n\n### Building Personal Connections\n\nIn Mexico, ethnic identity is rooted in the concept of the *mestizo*, the mix of Indigenous and European blood. By suggesting that everyone shares the same homogenous past, the narrative of the *mestizo* has obscured issues of racism that are painfully evident in society. \n\nDue to their prohibitively expensive prices, most of the photographs at the time would have portrayed Europeans or those of primarily European descent, and this collection is no exception. We see light-skinned and rosy-cheeked children, some accompanied by notes from the photographer emphasizing their “European features.” \n\nMany of the subjects resemble my pale, blue-eyed grandmother. The rare examples of darker-skinned people and those with Indigenous features are striking. They remind me of the ignored or lost Indigenous trace missing from my family and many others, probably because it was considered undesirable. Today, Mexican society continues to battle deeply ingrained racism, demonstrated by commonplace statements such as “*mejorar la raza*” (improve the race), meaning “have children with someone with lighter skin than you.”\n\n### Missing Stories\n\nAfter seeing the exhibition, I immediately called my parents in Guadalajara. I realized what I had been looking for—the missing faces of my ancestors—and asked my dad to tell me again about his family history. \nMy great-grandfather emigrated from the province of Guangdong, China, around 1890. He arrived as a teenager to the state of Sinaloa, on the northern Pacific coast of Mexico, hidden in a cargo boat with his brother. Many arrived in California attracted by the gold rush and worked in mines and helped build railroads. Others, recruited on the coast as laborers, were taken by deception or by force to the Caribbean and to Central and South America.\n\n\n : https://artsandculture.google.com/story/early-mexican-photography-part-i-the-j-paul-getty-museum/cAWx5E8vE43-Dg?hl=en People had migrated from China to Mexico since the 1600s, thanks to the trans-Pacific trade route from Manila to Acapulco (known as the Manila Galleon). But mass migration occurred in the late 19th century, when Mexico encouraged immigration and many Chinese fled the corruption, starvation, and war in China. After the Exclusion Act of 1882 suspended Chinese immigration to the United States, Mexico became an attractive alternative. Many young Chinese men settled in the northern states of Mexico and formed families. \n\nAlthough these men started off as laborers in mines and the railroad, they quickly became merchants. Through hard work, frugal living, and the support of their communities, they succeeded in their entrepreneurial endeavors, even becoming the largest food dealers on the Mexican west coast in the 1920s. Chinese businesses were initially welcomed, but their success also created anti-Asian sentiment. Local governments, particularly in the state of Sonora, began aggressive anti-Chinese political campaigns to break the resilient Chinese communities. The 1930s and 1940s were marked by mass expulsions of Chinese and Mexican-Chinese families from the country.\n\nMany families Hispanicized their names as a survival tactic and suppressed any indication of their heritage. They adopted Mexican clothing and spoke only Spanish. My great-grandfather is one example of this forced acculturation. He exchanged the surname Liu for Sánchez and lived a humble working life. Most of his life story is unknown to us, including his full name. My grandfather—his son—never learned Cantonese and didn’t talk about his heritage, leaving a lot of guesswork for the next generations. Research on historical Asian-Mexican populations has been predominantly fueled by scholars such as Dr. Evelyn Hu-DeHart and universities in the United States, particularly those in the border states, where the stories of Chinese-Americans and Chinese-Mexicans are intertwined. Only in the past 10 years has the world of Asian-Mexicans become a flourishing field of study in Mexico with the establishment of research networks at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Colegio de México, and the Universidad de Guadalajara. \n\nThe small familial keepsakes featured in *Early Mexican Photography* inspired me to reflect on a variety of themes related to history, identity, and art production. I hope that others will similarly find inspiration to uncover the mysteries of their heritage. We continue to research the stories of the people portrayed in our exhibition, and would love to hear any information you can share about them. Please email us at email@example.com.