I Share These Stories
This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series!
A little over three years ago I read an article in the Sunday LA Times that grabbed my heart and shook my soul. The article focused on unaccompanied children from mostly Central America risking their lives to seek refuge in the United States. The day I read the article I reached out via email to two women quoted; San Diego State PHD candidate and Fulbright scholar Elizabeth Kennedy and Georgetown University professor Susan Terrio, who at the time was in the process of writing her book Whose Child Am I? Both these women responded to my email that very Sunday. I took it as a sign and decided to create a project on this subject. Since then I have been sharing the stories of these brave kids through a play I wrote, Shelter, that performed at Lincoln Park in LA, at the 2016 TCG Pre-conference, at the Kennedy Center, and continues to tour in various forms in conferences and community gatherings.
In the process of making this play I interviewed several recent arrivals at a local high school, and they had the courage to share their harrowing experiences with me. They also shared with me their hopes and dreams and were part of the process of the making of this play, along with a great team of artists from CalArts where I teach, and Mexico City based director Martin Acosta. We were a team of artists and community members working together to create something that speaks on an issue we all felt strongly about. Most of us on the team are either first generation or immigrants ourselves, so the project had particular relevance for each of us.
The process of making this work and keeping these stories alive has connected me to a deep drive and passion unparalleled in my artistic career. All of us involved in this project felt that profound satisfaction of making relevant, urgently needed theater that was speaking directly to our communities and the challenges we are facing. I share these stories because it is an honor. I share these stories because I cannot bear to see these brave young souls categorized as rapists and criminals when that is precisely what they are fleeing. I share these stories because I feel driven to shake people from their amnesia bubble and remind them these children are not so very different from their parents and ancestors, but they had the misfortune to be born at a time when the laws in this country are particularly severe towards them. I share these stories because I want to open hearts and help them get to a place of empathy, which is sorely lacking in our country at this moment. I share this work to bring healing and a path towards processing for those who have lived through similar ordeals, I share these stories because I must.
Right now I see so many artists rising up and making work from this place of urgency and civic engagement. It’s nothing new, but this particular moment in our history compels us to bring forward work that challenges a political tide that seeks to push us back to pre civil rights era agendas. The work that is desperately needed is a work that makes us as artists listen carefully to the communities we travel in and to hear their laments and hopes. Then we need to, in our most imaginative and soulful ways, bring forward the work that sheds light on those hopes and laments.
Lorca, when writing about the singers of Flamenco and the Duende they connect with in order to sing those songs said, “Through these chanters the race releases its pain and its true history. They are simple mediums, the lyrical crest feathers of our people. They are strange but simple folk who sing hallucinated by a brilliant point of light trembling on the horizon.” I believe all artists have this same task Lorca speaks of. That hallucination and brilliant point of light guiding us is what he describes as “the spirit of the earth.” Right now the spirit is strong, and it is manifesting the power of outraged collectives into movements for change. We as artists need to bring our best selves forward, our best work forward, as we release our societies “pain and its true history.”