University of Minnesota Alumni Association


After the War

Photographer Xavier Tavera captures the lives of Mexican-American veterans.

When Xavier Tavera (M.F.A. ‘17) moved to the Twin Cities in 1996 from Mexico City, he swapped a future law career for life as a photographer. But he also underwent an even more profound personal transition. 

“In Mexico, I’m nothing,” he says, referring to the fact that he can’t easily be labeled in a society where so many of his fellow citizens look like him and speak his native tongue. “But here, I’m Mexican and an immigrant and a person of color.” Understanding how that experience has impacted his fellow Latinos and their Minnesota subcultures has become a guiding force for his work.

His most recent show, “AMVETS Post #5,” which is at the Minnesota History Center through April, includes 35 portraits of Mexican and Mexican-American military veterans who have returned home to St. Paul’s West Side from the battlefields of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Many of Tavera’s subjects enlisted in order to become U.S. citizens, only to see their rights undercut when they returned home. Some felt abandoned by the country they fought to protect.

Documenting their stories turned out to be profoundly moving for Tavera, who also teaches photography at the U. “Being Mexican, I was always very cautious about the military and was very anti-war,” he says, sitting in his office in the Regis Center for Art on the West Bank of the Twin Cities campus. It’s the day after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck his hometown, and while he knows his family is safe, he’s got his phone on his desk in case anyone needs to contact him via WhatsApp. “I realized that it’s easy for me to be anti-war when I’ve never personally had to see the horrors of war.”

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