Smart technology gives a voice to Latin American migrants

More than 180,000 Latin Americans are living in the UK today. They contribute economically and culturally to the shaping of British society — yet remain unrecognised officially as an ethnic minority.

Thanks to an experiment with smart technology designed by researchers at The University of Nottingham, visitors to a powerful exhibition can not only meet members of this thriving, diverse community through a series of striking portraits but also hear them tell their stories in their own words.

The documentary photographic exhibition, Uncovering the Invisible: A Portrait of Latin Americans in the UK, is on display at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester until May 8. Featuring 22 photographs by sibling Mexican-British photographers Pablo and Roxana Allison, the exhibition aims to bring into focus this ethnic group which has been hitherto invisible in British society.

                               Emerging technology

It is one of the first temporary exhibitions to experiment with the use of Near Field Communication (NFC). NFC is an emerging technology which, for instance, allows NFC-enabled mobile phones to access information embedded in smart tags. The experiment, designed by Dr Laura Carletti, a research fellow from the University’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Hub, aims at exploring how to enhance visitors’ experience through the seamless interplay of physical and digital spaces, and is part of the Horizon research on creative visiting. 
Among those giving their experiences of living in the UK are Fernando from Paraguay who works in the banking sector; primary school student Sabrina from Ecuador and documentary filmmaker Lucia from Guatemala.
Many speak with affection about their homeland, traditions and cultures while often also talking about the acceptance they have encountered in their adoptive communities.
Dr Carletti said: “Uncovering the Invisible is a temporary and touring exhibition, so the main challenge was to design for a sustainable experience, as well as for a rapid and replicable deployment. So, the experiment was developed around the use of personal smart phones and off-the-shelf technologies. The exhibition opened in March, and the first visitors’ feedbacks on the augmented experience have been very encouraging.” 
The exhibition has been funded by Horizon and the University’s Centre for Advanced Studies (CAS), and supported by the  Instituto Cervantes in Manchester, and involves collaboration with three community organisations, the Latin American Recognition Campaign (LARC), the Coalition of Latin Americans in the UK (CLAUK) and Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS)
It supports the aims of the Latin American Recognition Campaign by presenting the faces and stories of the individuals who constitute the Latin American community to a broader UK public. LARC — set up in April 2010 and strongly endorsed by the Mayor of London — has been lobbying for official recognition of the community since its launch and has achieved its objective in Southwark and Lambeth, where Latin American is now recognised as a specific ethnic minority.

Dynamic resource

It builds on a strong partnership between the photographers, Horizon Digital Economy Research, Professor Catherine Davies in the University’s School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, the charitable foundationLatin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) and Southwark Council in London on the theme of the Latin American community in the UK.
The original research project, Women and Independence in Latin America, led by Professor Davies and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), aimed to stimulate debate by building on public interest in women’s involvement in the Independence Wars, triggered by the bicentenaries, and women’s unprecedented presence in Latin American politics today.
Hosted by the University’s Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies the project centred around providing a dynamic community-contributed and community-driven online resource to allow participants to exchange ideas and information about the Independence struggles and what they mean for Latin American women today.
Catherine Davies said: “We used the statistics in Professor Cathy McIlwaine’s report on Latin American migrants in London (No Longer Invisible). Pablo and Roxana have put faces to the stats, and Laura’s technological know-how has put voices to the faces. So now we can see that each person is Latin American but also a unique individual with an interesting story to tell.”
Uncovering the Invisible: A Portrait of Latin Americans in the UK, runs at the Instituto Cervantes in Manchester until May 8. The exhibition will then move to the City Hall in London, where it will be on display from June 16 until July 4.                                

More information is available from Dr Laura Carletti on +44 (0)115 823 2557,