“Pa’lante” is the street form of the Spanish words “para adelante”. It means to constantly move ahead with one’s life and be optimistic about the future. I’ve heard it in a variety of contexts but it is most frequently used in an upbeat way when people meet and pass in the street. Sometimes it is accompanied by the gesture of a clenched fist making a positive forward motion.
I began photographing in the North End community in Springfield, Massachusetts in August, 1990 and right away started hearing “pa’lante”. Over a period of time, I realized that it represented an attitude and response for life that I was seeing reflected in the lives and faces of many of the people I met and photographed. The word seem to convey and communicate an ever present and, underlying source of strength and optimism. This strength was visible even in those individuals who had lived a life of much hardship and strife.
I still photograph in the neighborhoods of the North End and continue each day to intensely feel the spirit of ‘palante”. No longer do I just observe it from afar, but more and more I feel its influence on my own attitude toward those people around me. It challenges and moves me to look at the world with honesty, directness and compassion. Sometimes, I’m up to the challenge, at other times I’m not. But it doesn’t matter. When I approach a stranger and hear those familiar words, my heart grows warm, I smile and the world just feels right and maybe a little bit smaller.