Local Life | Hello As Told By

Jessyca Valdez

// By Lina Collado Garcia
Photo by Lina Collado Garcia

Jessyca Valdez first arrived in Jackson in May 2017 from Tlaxcala, Mexico. She and her husband, Emmanuel, used all of their money to buy one-way tickets to the United States. “Our main goal was to have a secure roof over our heads and continue with my college studies in accounting and finances,” Valdez says. Emmanuel’s brother had moved to Jackson in 2010. “He first spoke to us about Jackson and painted a panorama of finding a good job surrounded by nature and animals.” The couple thought Jackson sounded like a place where they could find a better path and reach their true potential, even though they knew it would not be easy.

Both Emmanuel and Jessyca quickly got jobs here. Housing was a little harder. They stayed with family for a few weeks, then moved into one bedroom in a three-bedroom house shared with seven other people. It was tight, but okay. But then Valdez learned she was pregnant. In Mexico, doctors had told her she had less than a 5 percent chance of conceiving naturally, so this was a happy surprise. But it was also stressful. Seven roommates and a newborn would make for a hard living situation, and she was nervous to be far away from her family. Through the support and efforts of a local preacher, friends, and networking, though, the Valdezes found an apartment shared with only one roommate.

Valdez’s son, Ian Emmanuel Estrada. Photo by Jessyca Valdez

Those photos will remind me that, even though we struggled through some rough times, those moments were gifts. I feel proud of how much we have grown as a family here in Jackson.”

Ian Emmanuel Valdez was born on February 28, 2018. He almost immediately inspired Valdez, who is now 33 years old, to start taking photos. “I had never seen a place as beautiful as Jackson,  and I wanted to share and document this reality in which my son was growing up,” she says. “I wanted to save these moments, for me, for him. Those photos will remind me that, even though we struggled through some rough times, those moments were gifts. I feel proud of how much we have grown as a family here in Jackson.”

Valdez started taking photos with her cellphone, and, thanks to the encouragement of friends, soon began thinking about photography more seriously. In 2021, she bought a used camera and began online photography courses and watching instructional YouTube videos. Today, a handful of local nonprofits commission her to make photos for them; she is also hired to photograph weddings, family portraits, and quinceañeras. And she works on personal projects. Her exhibit, Sentimientos de Pertenencia (Feelings of Belonging), will be on display at the Center for the Arts from March 12 through April 30, 2024. Including photographs and a short film, the exhibit highlights the lives, goals, challenges, and hopes of immigrants who moved to Jackson from four different countries. Still, “I have not reached where I want to go,” Valdez says. “I want to continue to learn and grow to reach many more branches within photography.”

As Told by Jessyca Valdez

For me, photography represents a medium to tell stories and to capture emotions and unique and unrepeatable moments. It is a way for me to connect with where I am and create my own vision. I believe photos are a way to relive memories, and, simultaneously, create a powerful tool that permits us to express something without words.

I wanted to create something for my community, in gratitude for everything we received when we needed help. Photography [and Sentimientos de Pertenencia] is something I knew I could do, and could do well. Therefore, this is my gift to our community. The idea for it came when I began to notice the many amazing things the immigrant community of Jackson had accomplished in such a small mountain town. As someone who came from the same adversities of moving and acclimating to a completely different world, I knew how hard it had been. We have been able to progress, create a better life, and strive to reach our potential.

I hope this exhibit continues to create consciousness of our immigrant community, and, at the same time, empower our immigrant community. It recognizes our immigrant community and provides a glimpse into their lives, families, cultures, and their workplace. My goal is to highlight the message of how important it is to value, respect, and appreciate our immigrant community.

I remember my first interview. I was so nervous and fearful of not being able to take the best photos. Each individual or family shared their story, their dreams, and their lives with me. They shared why they moved here, what they love about Jackson, and what has been a challenge. Each interview was full of emotions, connections, and empathy. I felt everyone’s trust in me, and that has changed everything. [Sentimientos de Pertenencia] is for them, as I am just a piece to this big puzzle. I would not be able to do what I do without their voices. This is a part of our community.

The goals of Jessyca Valdez’s photography exhibit, Sentimientos de Pertenencia, are to celebrate and empower Jackson Hole’s immigrant community. Photo by Jessyca Valdez

Sentimientos de Pertenencia
Sentimientos de Pertenencia hangs in the Center Gallery at the Center for the Arts in downtown Jackson from March 12 through April 30. “The Center is very supportive of showcasing photographs that tell the story of our local immigrant population and to provide a venue where our community can learn new perspectives and be exposed to new ideas,” says Oona Doherty, the Center’s creative initiatives director. Rather than a traditional opening reception, Valdez’s exhibit engages with the public with a bilingual panel (April 26). Several of the immigrants Valdez photographed and filmed will participate in a Q&A and share their experiences firsthand. English interpretation will be provided. At the end of the panel, Valdez and panel participants will share steps anyone in the Jackson Hole community can take to continue to build feelings of belonging with and within the immigrant community.

Sentimientos de Pertenencia is sponsored by JH Travel & Tourism, JH Public Art, The Center for the Arts, Wyoming Arts Council, and the Westaff BIPOC Artist Fund. JH

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