Institute for Texan Cultures

A Maverick's Texas

High school students present snapshots of life in Pasadena

"STEPS TO PRIDE" by Stephen Alcala

Students from Pasadena, Texas, recently put their stories on display; stories of culture, heritage and life in Texas.

Earlier this year, Pasadena Memorial High School became the first high school in Texas to display an exhibit at UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.

The institute's leadership wanted an opportunity to pair students with Griff Smith, photo editor of Texas Highways, where he has been a photographer for more than a quarter century. The hope also was to include students from outside the San Antonio area to show a wider view of Texas.

Ashlie McKenzie, an education specialist at the museum, contacted Pasadena Memorial where she formerly worked as an AP history teacher.

"We wanted them to be able to tell the story of their town," McKenzie said. "To show Texas through their eyes."

And show Texas they did. "I was just blown away with what students captured in their pictures," McKenzie said.

Named for the school's athletics teams, "A Maverick's Texas" was open from March 12 through June 17.

Before accepting student submissions, the school invited Smith as a special guest to speak to students. He explained some essential photography techniques, such as the use of lighting when capturing a shot.

"The kids didn't know who he was, but I knew who he was," said Tish Eubanks, assistant principal at the high school. Originally from Alabama, Eubanks learned much about Texas and its history by reading Texas Highways. It wasn't until the students visited their exhibit and viewed the "Griff Smith's Texas: A Retrospective through the Lens & Images from Texas Highways" that they realized Smith's contribution to Texas photography.

[Top to Bottom] "REMINISCENT" by Shawnna Hill, "CARROTS" by Sadie Burt, "VIOLIN" by Myrna Rodriguez

Fernanda Varela, 18, submitted an image of one of the Mavericks in her photo titled "High School Football." For her, the image represents Texas heat and one of the state's favorite sports.

"I've always been into photography," she said, but it became a passion for her during her senior year. As she graduated in the spring, the exhibit became an exciting send-off, and she plans to continue her education studying art, photography and journalism.

"Not many people my age get to have their photo displayed," she said. That's true. Out of hundreds of submissions, only 30 photos and 10 drawings were chosen to be included in the exhibit.

Unlike Varela, some students were new to the photography world. Amy Truong, 16 and a junior, submitted a photo for the fun of it. After being selected as one of the exhibitors, Truong wants to become more active in photography. "I'm already taking more photos," she said.

"My parents think it's a great opportunity for me," she said, adding that the exhibit marked her first time visiting a university campus. She decided she would like to attend college to pursue art in some way.

A former art teacher, Eubanks worked with the head of the art department to select the best images.

Some photos had special meaning for the young photographers. For example, Sadie Burt submitted a photo of a bunch of carrots, which was one of Eubanks' favorite images. The carrots were part of the last crop to be harvested from Burt's grandfather's garden before he passed away.

In another photo, a violin represents Myrna Rodriguez' heritage of Mexican music. As a Mexican-American, she plays mariachi music and in an orchestra. For her, the violin is a connection between those cultures, Eubanks said.

"We don't teach enough about what goes into making a Texan," Eubanks said. "This gave our students an opportunity to see what really goes into making a Texan. The students got to learn that culture is about people.

"Culture is in the eye of the beholder," Eubanks said. "It's carrots for one and a violin for another. These kids deserve to know who they are and where they come from."

Photo Slideshow