Billboard 29

Billboard 29 – “Carlos Parents on Mattress,” El Paso, TX
Located at Frankford Ave & Tyson Ave

Billboard 29 – “Carlos Parents on Mattress,” El Paso, TX



Excerpt from “America”-

“El Paso, TX-

Carlos and I met at the hotel where I stayed in El Paso. He was working at the front desk and I don’t remember how we started talking, but he mentioned that he served two tours in Iraq and I was really interested in his experience. After about ten minutes of talking, I asked if I could come over to his house later on in the day, and he wrote down his address and we set a time for after dinner.

Carlos told me he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, like almost everyone who comes back from war. And his reentry medical exams sounded like a fucking joke. Severe chest pain? Whatever. Carlos is a pretty put-together guy, but he divorced when he came back from Iraq and had to move back in with his parents, and it was evident that the war had hurt him. It’s obvious to say that war changes and scars a person, but there was something about Carlos that made me really feel it. Maybe because he had a real sense of responsibility and a real sense of self, I don’t know.

So I showed up at Carlos’s house, just some stranger he’d met earlier in the day, and I came in to hang out. I know, it’s completely nuts. I met Carlos’s parents, his grandfather, his sister, and her kids, and couldn’t believe how generous and hospitable his entire family was to me. I’m so grateful for their kindness.

Carlos and I were in his room and he showed me the tattoo of his son’s name that he’d gotten two weeks before. And then he showed me the two photos he’d always kept with him when he was in Iraq. He had these photos with him at all times during both tours. One was a photo of Carlos and his son half-lying down, facing each other and embracing. The other photo was of Carlos’s parents. It looked like it had to be taken in the late seventies or early eighties. It was a beautiful and tender snapshot, and Carlos said, “This is the greatest photo ever taken,” and looking at it right then I found it hard to disagree.
He put the photos on his bed and I made images of them, and I made some images of his dress blues, too.

We talked for a while and then his mom fed me this amazing dinner, and his dad went and picked some fruit from a tree outside and served it to me with chili powder on top. Carlos’s dad busted out a Cinco de Mayo card that Carlos had made out of cardboard and mailed home from Iraq and his dad told me how he cried when he got it.

Before I left El Paso, Carlos and I exchanged e-mails, and we still keep in touch.

From me to Carlos:
Date: Tue, 29 Jul 2008 20:27:24 -0400
Here’s what the design team is proposing for the back cover of the
book…are you good with this?
I LOVE IT!!!!!

From Carlos:
On Jul 30, 2008, at 8:35 AM , Carlos Gallegos wrote:
OH MY GOD!!! Zoe you know how i feel about this picture and to see it like this is so great! i love it!! it made me choke up, i cant wait to see it on a book! congratulations on all of your accomplishments Zoe…i am so excited for you!

From me:
From: Zoe Strauss
Date: July 30, 2008 10:08:17 AM ED T
To: Carlos Gallegos
I am so proud to include that photo…and I’m working on a little one page story for the book about how we met, coming to your house and the meaning of that photograph. There’s many difficult photos in the book and the photo of your parents on the bed is so beautiful and hopeful that it helps to balance out so many of the painful and brutal realities that are addressed in the book. You, and your family, have made a significant impact on my life, and in my work and I’m so happy to have met you and so thrilled to let people see the photo that went through two tours with you. How nuts is it that I asked to come over to your house like ten minutes after I met you and you let me! And now this photo will be on the back of the book! IT’S SO CRAZY!

When I show that image, I feel like the photo itself is enough info, that photo is so filled with love to me it transcends just talking about the war. But for the book I’d like to mention where this photo came from, where it went and how it returned. Against or ambivalent about the war (and you know my feelings about the war and the Bush administration and their agenda), regardless of political leaning or ideology, my hope is that people will see the tremendous love and trust in this photo, even if they don’t know where it’s been, and have a connection to you and your beautiful family.

From “America,” 2008


El Paso- edited out of the book


“Some say an army of horsemen, or infantry,
A fleet of ships is the fairest thing
On the face of the black earth, but I say
It’s what one loves.”
― Sappho


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