Every year, the Center for Arts Leadership facilitates and supports students applying to the Social Justice Seed Grant Program. The Program offers funding to new projects by young artists trying to make an impact on social issues through their art. Past projects have included feminist commentary on gender roles in opera, after school programs by teaching artists for underserved communities, and a community choir for children of immigrants living in the Pilsen neighborhood. This year, two Theatre Conservatory students, Viviana Uribe (Acting ‘20) and Jalbelly Guzman (MTD ‘20) received the Social Justice Seed Grant for their work on Mi Latinidad, a performance aimed to represent the Latin American performers of the Theatre Conservatory and aid the current crisis in Venezuela. Last year, the members of Mi Latinidad organized a night of music, stand-up, and poetry as they celebrated the Latin American experience. We talked to the women about their experience and inspirations working on the project.
How did you two establish yourselves as student leaders among your Latinx peers?
JALBELLY: The leadership roles in Mi Latinidad are distributed as we as individuals could step up to the plate. Our ensemble has trusted us with the organizational aspects of the project, but the heart of Mi Latinidad is in our collaboration. There is no way myself or Viviana could create something as wonderful as we have without each and every company member bringing their talent, insights, and hearts to what it is that we are all trying to create.
VIVIANA: We are an ensemble based group; Jalbelly and I were just graced with the opportunity to direct the show and manage the company. The passion behind this company lies in our ability to collaborate and create community. That’s also at the heart of Latinx heritage – we are stronger together! At some point all of our ensemble members have collaborated on different aspects of the show. Jalbelly and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Why is now an important moment for Latinx people to be represented on stage?
JALBELLY: In this especially heated political climate that we live in, it is essential to give a voice to those that are being silenced. It is no secret that this country is currently living in xenophobia, and as immigrants and children of immigrants, it is our duty to stand up for our people in every way we possibly can. We are living in an age where young Latinx people are seeing their people discriminated against; it is essential to exemplify Latinx art and creativity to give our future generations the hope and motivation they need to rise up.
VIVIANA: It’s always been important for people of all types to be represented in entertainment. Right now, the political divide in our country has lead people to perceive Latinx Americans and immigrant youth to be dangerous, hostile, and criminal. Now more than ever it is imperative that our stories are told accurately, that our culture is able to be celebrated through art cultivated by us for us, and for the people who don’t understand who we are.
Is Mi Latinidad something you want to leave at CCPA or carry with you after graduation?
JALBELLY: Mi Latinidad will always be a project rooted in CCPA, that is where it was born. It is still unclear as to whether we will leave Mi Latinidad at our school, as our legacy, or if we will take it with us when we leave in a year. This will be a question for the entirety of the company to decide when the time comes, so stay tuned! Regardless Mi Latinidad will always include CCPA students and/or alumni.
VIVIANA: This is something we’ve been asking ourselves as our time here comes to a close; I don’t think we’ll have a clear answer until then. Either way, it will always hold weight in CCPA and we will continue to collaborate with our CCPA Latinx students and alumni. Mi Latinidad is bigger than Jalbelly and I; it’s bigger than our current ensemble. We started as a group of students hungry for an opportunity to create, and we’d love to keep that momentum going by continuing to support students as the company grows.
How can other people help increase Latinx visibility in theatre?
JALBELLY: Support your local Latinx artists! Latinx Theatre is thriving all over the world, particularly in our beautiful city, Chicago. Our culture is meant to be shared and everywhere you go, there are eager Latinx people hungry to bring others into our lives and share the joy of what it means to be Latinx. Be present. Share with us. Put on your cha cha heels and get on your feet! We’re here to have a good time together.
VIVIANA: Support Latinx art; there’s so much to see and so many countries have enriched their own culture into our neighborhoods, so go out there and experience them. Talk to people, learn about them and let them learn about you. Eat at local latinx restaurants – sounds odd but life experiences will always translate into art and theater. Be more active with the community and theater will follow. And the food is good honestly.
What message do you have for the Latinx people in the theatre community?
JALBELLY: Your voice matters. Your stories matter. They need to be shared in order to obtain true understanding and empathy from those who may not understand us. Our time is now.
VIVIANA: Let them love you for you. Tell your story; trust they will listen. Don’t be afraid to show who you are. Be beautiful, loud, colorful, and bold. Azucar!
These powerful women are incredible representatives of the student leaders here at CCPA, and their strength and success speaks for itself as Mi Latinidad continues to find support and advancements all over the Chicago community. The CAL is proud to support artists like Jalbelly and Viviana and are eager to continue empowering students and have their voices heard. The second installment of Mi Latinidad will hit the stage in less than one week! Come out and support Mi Latinidad: The Other Face of Latin America on May 14th at 7:30 pm at Theater Wit! Tickets start at $12 and all proceeds support ‘Casa Kolacho’, an arts organization located in Medellin, Colombia dedicated to helping youth avoid the city’s drug and crime related past by helping fuel their artistic ventures.