Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White is an arresting and moving personal story about childhood, race, and identity in the American South, rendered in stunning illustrations by the author, Lila Quintero Weaver.
In 1961, when Lila was five, she and her family emigrated from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Marion, Alabama, in the heart of Alabama’s Black Belt. As educated, middle-class Latino immigrants in a region that was defined by segregation, the Quinteros occupied a privileged vantage from which to view the racially charged culture they inhabited. Weaver and her family were firsthand witnesses to key moments in the civil rights movement. But Darkroom is her personal story as well: chronicling what it was like being a Latina girl in the Jim Crow South, struggling to understand both a foreign country and the horrors of our nation’s race relations. Weaver, who was neither black nor white, observed very early on the inequalities in the American culture, with its blonde and blue-eyed feminine ideal. Throughout her life, Lila has struggled to find her place in this society and fought against the discrimination around her.
The deep South of the early 1960s was a world with a deep division between black and white, a time explored in this debut autobiographical graphic novel. When the Quinteros, immigrants from Argentina of mixed Indian and Spanish extraction, settle in Marion, Ala., they fit on neither side of that divide. Lila is at first anxious to blend in, refusing to speak Spanish in public or reveal that her family s breakfasts don t consist of grits and bacon. The turning point for both Lila and American society comes in 1965, as the civil rights movement inspires African-Americans to demand their voting rights. A brutal, bloody crackdown on an assembly in the Marion town square ensues, resulting in the shooting of Jimmie Lee Jackson, whose death spurs the march from Selma to Montgomery. As a witness to injustices and cruelty, and influenced by her pastor father, Lila becomes more reconciled to her differences and hostile to overt and systemic racism in Marion. In beautiful gray-shaded drawings, Weaver depicts the reality of the segregated and newly integrated South and her struggle to position herself as an ally to her black classmates, only to find that it s a path fraught with pitfalls from both sides of the divide.