Students and faculty attended a discussion panel, which focused on Los Angeles Times photographer Michael Robinson-Chavez’s photographs of the poverty-stricken gold mining community in La Rinconada, Peru, March 8 in Morgan Auditorium.
The panel was made up of University of La Verne faculty Professor of Spanish Gabriela Capraroiu, Professor of Biology and Biochemistry Jay Jones, Professor of Political Science Gitty Amini, Professor of Sociology Hector Delgado and photographer Michael Robinson-Chavez.
Robinson-Chavez got the idea to photograph Rinconada after he read about it in a German article.
He became interested in the social, political and environmental issues discussed in the story.
”(Rinconada is) filled with amazing culture, mysticism and political intrigue,” Robinson-Chavez said.
Robinson-Chavez’s black and white photographs show miners working and women and children searching for scraps of gold on the mountain side polluted with sewage, trash and mercury.
“My eyes, when I saw these photographs, were always drawn to the children,” Delgado said.
Delgado shared that while researching La Rinconada on the Web, the first result that appeared was a country club with the same name.
“This captured the extremes of this world,” Delgado said.
The miners of Rinconada are so hopeful about striking gold and living a wealthy life that they submit themselves to these harsh conditions.
Since Peru is dependant on commodities such as gold, many engineers and doctors find they can make more money as miners as opposed to working in their trained profession.
“The boom is happening now because the price of gold has skyrocketed,” Amini said.
The price of gold is currently around $1,700 per ounce.
“If the price of gold goes down, people will still be up there,” Robinson-Chavez said.
Rinconada is run by a loose federation composed of three corporations.
Miners work for 30 days and on the 31st day any gold they find is theirs.
The miners are considered lucky if they are able to keep 3 percent or 4 percent of any gold they find during the first 30 days.
“It is all about business up there,” Robinson-Chavez said.
The use of mercury as part of the mining process is affecting the environment and health of the mining community.
“Mercury is used to separate the gold from the rock,” Jones, professor of biology said.
As a result of this process, the mercury washes down and often leads to the poisoning of the water in Rinconada.
Rinconada is isolated so its environmental problems are not publicized around the world as much as places like the Amazon.
Capraroiu, professor of Spanish, asked Robinson-Chavez if his photography work had pressured the government to help the living conditions in Rinconada.
“The people do not want the government around because they are worried about taxes and corruption,” Robinson-Chavez said.
Although some miners have struck gold, the money they carry is often stolen by bandits on their way home while other miners choose to spend their money on drinking.
This often means they have to resort to mining again.
This endless cycle makes them unable to improve economically.
To keep future generations out of mining, efforts such as building a school near Rinconada have been made. With any luck, children of miners will be able to become educated and live a better life than their parents.
The “Riconada de Oro” exhibit closes Friday.
The Carlson Gallery is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.