For a good part of 2012, smiling tourists surrounded Joana Toro in Times Square. Strangers hugged her. Some even gave her a few dollars. Talk about getting a big head. Actually, it was all because of her big head, an oversize Hello Kitty mask she wore while working among the costumed characters that have become familiar denizens of the Crossroads of the World.
What started out as a way to make a little extra money while studying English turned into “I Am Hello Kitty,” a photo essay about the anonymous immigrants who transform themselves each day into instantly recognizable figures of American pop culture. Most are from Latin America, said Ms. Toro, who was a photographer in her native Colombia.
“It was shocking at first to see Mickey Mouse did not speak English and was an immigrant from Mexico,” she said. “It was shocking to see the Statue of Liberty having problems with the police. It was surreal. A paradox. It spoke to me of cultural appropriation and migration.”