Artwork by Benjamin Rojas
LATIN IS AMERICA STATEMENT
I am the Artistic Director of LA LUCHA ARTS, a production company through which I have produced several of my original works, including plays that comprise the LATIN IS AMERICA play cycle and it’s lecture performance. This bi-lingual cycle of plays will ultimately have 33 parts, one for each of the countries and dependencies in Latin American.
Performance of monologues from three plays in the Latin is America play cycle: “CAFÉ”, “LA PALOMA PRISONER” and “LA NEGRA” create an interactive event where I create dialogue and engage audiences in the themes of the work.
In my practice of theatre, I seek to always create an alchemy of the body through space and spirit. By constructing these bilingual counter-narrative plays I hope to tear down the hierarchy of institutional powers that deter and interrupt our processes as artists and our connections to audiences. I challenge myself to make the invisible and silenced – visible and heard in living forms to propel action and dialogue. My work deals with cultural identity, gender inequality and sexual violence, colonialism and economic injustice, globalization, and the rights of indigenous peoples – all themes directly related to promoting diversity and social justice.
In my Latin is America cycle of plays, I am not only writing about “the others” who are members of the Latin diaspora in America, but also those who are abjected by power in Latin America. My work connects ancient ritual from cultures that have been oppressed by imperialism and links them to modern day cultural rituals through field work, scholarly research and social festivals (communal and or social gatherings, celebrations, holidays, religious festivities). My objective is to create models and dialogue that decolonialize events, language and histories in the United States and Latin America by examining how the aftermath of colonialism and the emerging symptoms of neocolonialism affect lives.
I create anti-colonial narratives that privilege the perspectives of those whose narratives have been silenced by the pervading mainstream narratives. How we collectively preserve post-dictatorship memory, solidify it into different forms and approach it’s function in our lives today from a variety of perspectives.
The cycle is presently comprised of the following plays:
* The 1937 Haitian Massacre “THE RIVER’S EDGE”
* Mexican Drug Goddess that becomes La Santa Muerte “LA NEGRA”
* Tracing five generations on a Guatemalan coffee farm “CAFÉ”
* Rape culture becomes personal Costa Rican mythology “EL ODIO DE UN PAIS- The Hate of a Country”
*Dominican prostitutes box themselves as cargo to conqueror the Old World “THE HOPEFULNESS or LA ESPERANZA”.
*The MS-13 Gang in El Salvador are the new Lenca legends, an Agamemnon war cycle continues “AZAMEMNO”
*The Zipa people beautifying the body to honor indigenous Colombian Gods becomes a beauty pageant for incarcerated women today “LA PALOMA PRISONER”
During this process as a dramatist I have and will continue to focus on historical materials of the country, dance-ritual inspired- post-colonial dance/drama and will be creating a large scale view of history and how it has impacted current social states through personal narrative. Each play is diverse in dramatic structure and subject matter; however, each play has a hybrid structure that incorporates components of dance theatre, political protest, technology and narration-text.
Details into plays:
CAFE draws upon my own family’s history with coffee farming. While teaching a ritual theatre retreat on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, I was haunted by the questions I witnessed first-hand, the political and social challenges facing small coffee farmers of the region. Inspired by my visit, as well as the resonating loss of my own ancestor’s coffee farm in Costa Rica, I wrote this play as a live offering, a platform to help aid and heal those that have been marginalized and abandoned in the wake of progressive industrialization. Café is set on the coffee-growing banks of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. From the lens of a Mayan storyteller, the play follows an indigenous family from the ancient world to the present, as they struggle to protect ancestral farm lands from the advancing reach of colonialism and globalization.
La Paloma Prisoner tackles mass incarceration and is based on the real-life beauty pageants in women’s prisons in Colombia, selected every year as beauty queen contestants at the Buen Pastor prison in Bogota. It centers on the character of La Paloma, a vigilante imprisoned for targeting rapists. This new play interweaves the ritualistic journey of a “parade of prisoners” with Colombia’s social, political, and spiritual history. My major inspiration for La Paloma came from working as arts facilitator to women at two maximum security prisons in South Florida. It explores the beauty pageant as a metaphor, a cleansing ritual that allows women to transcend, re define their humanity, and Colombia’s history.
La Negra grapples with the issues of the drug trafficking conflict within the U.S.-Mexico border. It is inspired by the true life of Colombian drug lord Griselda Blanco and the cult of La Santa Muerte or Holy Death, a folk deity traditionally associated with healing and safe passage to the afterlife, and is also associated with violence and drug trafficking. The play centers on the struggle of a female drug lord to find love and spiritual fulfillment, despite her life of criminality and a childhood marred by sexual violence.
One of the works in progress, will examine rape culture in Costa Rica from the perspective of my family history. The play will look at the concept of EL ODIO DE UN PAIS/ The Hate of a Country through the dramatization of violence. An autobiographical and biographical piece that will explore the mainstream history of Costa Rica from the perspective of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, this play will challenge the male gaze and the colonial gaze by revealing the destructive impact of rape culture on the individual, whom I position as a metonym for Costa Rica itself.
Another play, set in El Salvador, Azamemno will be a re-interpretation of Agamemnon. Set in the present times, the play will juxtapose modern MS-13 gang violence with pre-Columbian Lenca rites of passage. I plan to look at how the MS-13 and the citizen community of El Salvador address their indigineity, the body as a tool for post-colonial reaction, marking the performative body with tattoos, Latino bodies engaging in this re-interpretation is a political act of performing Agamemnon through the Latin American experience.
I’ve lived my life in constant translation: as a child translating for my immigrant parents, and now translating the Latino culture to U.S. audiences through theatre. I navigated challenging power structures of society, race, class, education, gender and the U.S. theatrical landscape, and this navigation influences how I view, create and respond as an artist. As a female writer of color I create a process that is informed by autobiography – primary and secondary sources come from an archive of storytelling narrative. Offering an exchange between Latin America and the United States as the “New Americas” an intersection of arts and activism.
I embody the Post-colonial, reacting to the history of colonialism, both the European history and the colonized. I’m a first generation immigrant who is now an American citizen, my work is English language based with Spanish bi-lingual aspects: the ritual nature in my work is essential to the pre-colonial exploration of culture. English speakers could become aware that power is subverted –that they are the “other”, creating heteroglossic texts.
I draw upon the works of seminal postcolonial theorists, examining the work of Aurora Morcillo, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Walter Mignolo, Eduardo Galeano, and numerous others as the foundation for my resources of research and theoretical perspective.
Inspired by Walter Mignolo’s “Colonial matrix of power-The De-colonial option theory”, this matrix creates a racial/social hierarchy, based on a westernized center of knowledge value system that I challenge with bi-lingual dialogue; my argument from a cultural perspective for the need of a bi-lingual society and a theatre movement to break this hierarchy. De-colonializing has the potential of turning history on its back, a reclaiming of suppressed history, looking to the past for inheritance of narrative through autobiography. Bi-lingual language combined with Latino cultural aesthetics frames a new center of knowledge not wholly based on western dramatic structures.
I align myself with the 2050 movement, where by this date it is projected that the US will hold the largest Spanish speaking population globally; I intend for my plays to respond to the growing Latin American presence in America.
To thrust the Latin American voice into the American cannon of theatre by interrupting the hegemonic discourse and mainstream images/concepts of Latin American history. Through polyphonic discourse and an anti colonial agenda, that values the Latin American perspective of the American experience in order to cultivate a new value system/awareness with audiences and theatre makers alike. The investigation into this movement requires my participation in the United States and globally, as I continue to workshop and revise my plays with organizations, communities, scholars, performers, theatre makers, as well as marginalized populations.
As I look to a future where my work is continuing to aid organizations, movements, and individuals, theatre projects that elevate the marginalized and abandoned.
Raquel Almazan 2015
“The ghosts of all the revolutions that have been strangled or betrayed through Latin America’s tortured history emerge in the new experiments, as if the present had been foreseen and begotten by the contradictions of the past. History is a prophet who looks back: because of what was, and against what was, it announces what will be.” Open Veins of Latin America- Eduardo Galeano