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How Home Has Changed In Small-Town North Carolina

Courtesy of Keith Dannemiller
Playing the part of an angel, Esmeralda Villanueva is on her way to a Christmas presentation performed by students of the Sallie B. Howard School for the Arts and Education at a nursing home in Wilson.

What does home mean, and how does the idea of home change over time? Mexico City-based photographer Keith Dannemiller explored these questions during a month-long residency at the Eyes on Main Street program based in Wilson, North Carolina. 

Dannemillerphotographed daily life in the small town and talked to many Mexican immigrants who live there. His interest lies in the tension between the longstanding myths about what home means in a small Southern town and the changing demographics of the South, which have created a more dynamic concept of home.

The photos he took during his residency comprised the project “Wilson,” were featured in Wilson until the end of July. The photos will be on display, along with the rest of the Eyes on Main Street residents’ photography, at the Pingyao International Photography Festival, September 19 to 25, in Pingyao, China.

Host Frank Stasio talks to Dannemiller about the project, his own personal connection to the South, and the stories he heard about what home means.

Interview Highlights

Dannemiller on the many different ideas of home in the Mexican diaspora in the United States:
This idea of asking a question about home, there's no simple answer. There's people that will say: I've become Americanized. This is where I want to be. This is where I want to live. This is my life. And there's the other end of the spectrum … I have a friend … [who is] a photographer in Minneapolis, and she said: I was born and raised in Mexico, but I've lived in the U.S. for the good part of my adult life. My life has become an interesting duality: two languages, two cultures, two homes, two lives. However, I'll always be Mexican first.

A white boy at a Mexican restaurant in a sombrero with frosting on his face.
Credit Keith Dannemiller
At the Fiesta Cancún Mexican Restaurant in Wilson, a young Anglo boy is serenaded with the traditional Mexican birthday song ‘Las Mañanitas’ and later has his face gently pushed into his birthday cake (another Mexican custom) as the staff of the restaurant chant MORDIDA! MORDIDA! (BITE! BITE!).

Dannemiller on his photograph, above, of a white boy participating in a Mexican birthday tradition:
When you go down to take the bite, someone gently pushes your head into the cake. And so the photograph is when he came back up with the front of his face covered with frosting from the cake .. It’s an extremely simple photograph … Graphically simple. But at the same time it embodies a lot of that cross-fertilization and that infusion, shall we say, of Mexican culture.


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Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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