Isabella Bernal Vega
As American As Apple Pie
+May 19, 2021
The field is full of apple trees, and the cold pierces through the coats of the hundreds of Latin American workers who carefully collect the apples that will later be served at American homes. Isabella Bernal (@bernal_isabella) meditates on the relationship between migrants, humans, economy, and nature in As American As Apple Pie.
The project intends to observe and analyze the dynamics at play in domesticated crops, as a product of the neoliberal economy. The series exemplifies how these forms of cultivation morph the natural habitat and human lives. From a more specific standpoint, Bernal seeks to show the lives, culture, struggles and dreams of Latin American migrants who work at these farms.
The series came to be when Bernal was studying in New York. When she started to feel alienated and suffocated with life in the city, different from her life in a Colombian city, then she started to look for a connection with nature. While visiting a farmers’ market she encountered the apple stand, cultivated at farms in New Jersey by latinos.
The workers on the farms are mostly from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. The housing for this people is camplike, with communal spaces close to the farms. Workers formed a community in the nearby towns bringing their idiosyncrasy and culture. Some bars serve a mix of food from their home countries and tex-mex. There you can hear music like reguetón, corridos, and Justin Bieber. There are also a couple of brothels and churches. This new hybrid culture is a combination of languages, food, music, religion, and lifestyle.
Although from different countries, all arrived with similar dreams, american dreams, about getting out of poverty, building houses for their families, sending their kids to college, and having a better future. Upon arrival in the United States, everything changes, far away from their families some of them decide to stay illegally, to keep sending money, and what was supposed to be an 8-month stay turns into 10 years. Yes, they benefit economically, but are trapped in a golden cage, Bernal says “they end up not seeing the houses they built and miss their kids' graduations”.
This is a small case of a larger experience throughout America. The project is called As American as Apple Pie because it represents the Americans of the United States and equally the Americans of Latin America, and asks the question: what is freedom to all of them?
In the bigger picture, Bernal also analyses how domesticated crops disrupt the natural course and relationship of human beings with nature. The mass production and distribution of foods generate consumerist habits. This type of production at the same time sanitizes the process of cultivation creating a more synthetic experience.
The author´s creative process is unique for the use of film cameras in documentary photography. This method generates introspection and a profound connection with the subjects and the scenery. The monochrome look serves as a contradiction of how Latin-American culture is usually portrayed: colorful and exotic. From Bernal´s perspective, color is not always the norm in the life experience of latinos.
The project is a portrait of all Americans (born in the USA or born in America), the dreams and the relationship of people, nature, and the food we consume. “The domestication of nature ends up domesticating human conduct,” says Isabella. The author wishes for people to see the project and think about what freedom means, and what constitutes the wellbeing of a human being.
Isabella Bernal Vega is a Colombian photographer and journalist. Studied social communication at the University of Javeriana in Bogotá. She has a master´s degree in Development and Conflict at Bradford University in the United Kingdom. Bernal has worked as a communications consultant at SENA. Her work has been awarded the Publics Recognition at Festival FICCI 2019 and has been a finalist for the prize of Latin American journalism Gabriel García Marquez with documentary Colombia´s Hidden Cocaine Route: El Naya. She has been awarded Wall Street Journal scholarship while studying at the International Center of photography in New York.