Navigating my Latina identity has always been a complex endeavor. I was pushed aside because of it, but ashamed because I didn’t embrace it? I was praised for assimilating with the mostly white theatre community in high school, abandoning my progress in learning about my culture. Later in the same space, I was made to feel embarrassed because I could barely speak spanish. Isn’t that confusing? From then on, it became clear to me that I had to embark on my own journey to embrace who I truly was. Could I be a performer? Growing up I was often the only Latina in the room. But in Pearl Studios in the midst of July, that was not the case.
I became an intern at R.E.volucion Latina with a main purpose of meeting other Latino artists in New York. The Dare 2 Go Beyond Performing Arts Camp is the event of the year for RL, and this summer I had the privilege of assisting with the preparation and working as a team captain.
The heart of R.Evolución Latina lies in the phrase, “Welcome to Revolución Latina! I DARE TO GO BEYOND.” All functions begin with this statement. I felt strange when I first started saying it, almost self-conscious. What does it mean to be daring and go beyond? I intellectualized it to death in my head but what did it look like in action?
That’s what I saw at the camp. When you are a kid, you are never embarrassed about anything because you are a curious sponge marveling at the world you were born in. The wonderment in the kids’ eyes at the camp was something beautiful to watch. The idea of play is innate in our youth, an essential part of our childhood. The camp was a week-long opportunity for playing, not just for the kids but for the adults as well. In the beginning of the week, it started off rocky for my team. We were in charge of the oldest kids, the teenagers, and I was nervous about that. Adolescence is intense because you feel freedom at the tips of your fingers but you are not allowed to fully embrace it. It’s a defining moment of change that one looks forward to growing up. But when you’re actually 14, it feels like no one is listening. No one cares. Your “play” is not seen, it is punished, shamed and eventually abandoned into adulthood.
Before the camp started, my team members and I came up with a rough plan for the sharing the kids were going to perform at the end of the week. However, there were no reactions to the idea of the sharing. They were quiet. The first day of anything is always difficult, but this made us nervous. I remembered when I was a teenager, speaking in group settings made me extremely anxious because I didn’t want to be wrong. I thought I only had to have the right answer rather than my answer. During small breaks, we would talk to the kids individually and learn about their interests. One of the girls’ eyes lit up when I asked her what music she listened to. Another jumped in happiness when we shared our admiration for the beautiful Anne Hathaway. When we asked what music they wanted us to play, it was always “DRAKE!” or “BAD BUNNY! PLEASE!” I knew these teenagers had opinions, we just had to adjust from talking AT them to simply talking WITH them.
With the trust they gave us, we had to return it.. You can hold onto a child as they take their first steps, but eventually you have to let them run and move. Us as the team leaders and the guest teachers encouraged the kids to never feel embarrassed to try, and to not let anyone else make you feel that way. Diving into the unknown is daunting, but finding the fun, the play and the power in it can bloom so much discovery.
As the days went on, some kids spoke louder, tried harder in class, stood up taller, and smiled more. That childlike glimmer in their eyes was reborn. On the last day before their sharing at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, we had to take the kids to a nearby park for a bit while the other groups rehearsed. As teenagers I expected them to go on their phones because the heat was too unbearable, but they climbed the playground, swung on the swings and played in the water sprouts. It was a nostalgic, touching moment. They were just kids playing. Self-belief starts with community and love.
What daring to go beyond means to me is to dare to be yourself. Dare to carve out who you are, experience things you never have. It’s a vulnerable, scary place to jump in, but growth only comes from action. That is one of the most important lessons I learned.
As Latinos, we already are facing so many prejudices against us. It is frustrating and can feel hopeless at times. But when we unite together, it is a force of power that has never been seen. I had never seen it before this internship. Since the camp ended, I am always saying it is something I wish I had, but I did have it. I want to thank RL for welcoming me into this loving community of Latinos, my first one. I am grateful for the kindness and the embracement of our differences. I am most grateful to Samantha Wallington, Denisse Ambert and Heather Hogan for their guidance, expertise and passion throughout this experience. And thank you Luis for creating this organization, where Latinos are allowed to be empowered, we can succeed.
Thanks for letting me play.
By: Maria Belisario