What is Notre Dame? Or, more importantly, who is Notre Dame?
Notre Dame sometimes seems to be purely made up of white, Catholic, upper middle-class students. But Luis Lopez-Maldonado, a Master of Fine Arts Candidate of Creative Writing in the College of Arts and Letters, fights this stereotype.
While working in New York City, Lopez-Maldondado was approached by Humans of New York — a popular photography-interview project started by Brandon Stanton that features thousands of New York City inhabitants and has garnered worldwide attention online.
Lopez-Maldondado was instantly intrigued by the project and how Stanton chose his subjects each day by strolling through the city streets. Lopez-Maldondado decided to start a similar project at Notre Dame. “I felt I needed to seek other people and find the hidden stories that exist within the ND community,” says Lopez-Maldonado.
“Humans of the University of Notre Dame” differs from Humans of New York by hiding the faces of the individuals in the photographs. This actually enhances the intimacy between the individual and the audience by removing personal appearance from the equation. In this way identity is conveyed solely through stories. Lopez-Maldonado says, “Together, their stories form parts of the University’s true identity.”
Lopez-Maldonado chooses the students featured on his Facebook page randomly. He asks if the student would be willing to share a personal story with him and be featured in his project. After the initiative gained popularity on Facebook, students began sending direct messages to show interest in being part of his work.
Behind the scenes, the interview process is straightforward. Lopez-Maldonado asks the student to answer one of two questions: “What makes you so unique to the University of Notre Dame?” or “Do you have a secret that you would like to share with the world?” Even though he asks the same general questions to every participant, each story is vastly unique, yet equally raw and captivating.
Students reveal heartbreaking stories of past abuse, sickness, and loss. They share feelings of hopelessness, depression, loneliness and regret. Instead of suppressing these realities, they pour them out for the Notre Dame community to know that they exist; they will not be ignored. On the Facebook page, students and faculty comment on the stories and offer support and solidarity.
“These are stories that people need to hear. We are the students here. We are the breath and the heart of campus, so I wanted to shed light on these stories.”
Lopez-Maldonado plans to write original poetry as well as choreograph contemporary dance solos for every story. Afterwards, he will pitch his artistic project to museums across the country, where he envisions the Design by Mary Kate O’Leary stories on a wall and hired dancers and actors reenacting the pieces.
“My senior year was quite different from everyone else’s. I had to leave the country and go to Colombia; I tried to tie loose ends with other family relatives. I was seventeen. And now, my sister lives with my dad’s brother in Colombia. And I am here in Indiana, but I really feel like I’m stuck here, and I wish I could just graduate already. There are things happening in the real world out there, and I feel I need to leave. This is maybe why I think I can’t relate to others here, because it feels just… very, like theatre sometimes... something very distant. You know, I feel I have a duty, I have a destiny, and it feels like I’m just waiting here… waiting… but when I do graduate, I want to go back to my hometown and be the Mayor, pursue activism, make a difference. Something is calling me back... but this is all for now, this around me. School, just for the now…”
“My family, both my mom and dad, are immigrants from Guadalajara, Mexico. (pause) I remember growing up … but not with the typical things most kids grew up with … No mac’n’cheese. No French fries. No ‘American’ TV or channels in English. Why? Well, though both my parents loved the American culture, they really didn’t want to let go of their Mexican culture; they wanted the best of both worlds. But that is why I am so open-minded, I think. (pause) Honestly, I am very luck to be here. To have the opportunities that I have. Going to college at the University of Notre Dame. And I know all that. Because I have always had everything I needed: love, a home, food, and clothes… nothing was missing. This is not common with some immigrant families, you know; yet, my parents risked everything to come here, and worked very hard to give me what I have.”
“My family fell apart. My dad left us when I was ten. My mother was very abusive after that; year after year, after year. And when I got into college, I noticed all that abuse was affecting my relationship. (boyfriend) My family is the opposite of hers. We are well off, we are happy, pretty content, actually, almost a perfect family. So when I met her I started realizing all the struggles she was going through, and it was very hard for me to identify with her experience. She would tell me I couldn’t really comfort her because I didn’t understand. (girlfriend) Yeah… So fall semester last year, it was very bad because…. (silence) I was struggling a lot with depression and anxiety. And my mother decided to move really close to me… she kind of followed me to college. So at the beginning of the semester it was bad, and it continues, I guess. I was failing my classes. I was emotionally not okay. I thought it was my fault, that I had to go through it alone. I took it out on everyone else around me. All my relationships were falling apart … Over winter break I noticed I was more than all my struggles, and no one could fix me except for me. I loved everyone; I knew that, so I started to try. (boyfriend) Oh, it isn’t as clean as she’s making it.”