Karina Lopez kneels on a stage runway rifling through a suitcase. She is spot lit as a Spanish guitar softly strums through the silence. Behind her are colorful seats where women sit frozen in a scene of “café con comrades” (coffee with friends.)
Lopez pulls out a sequined dress, “My mother … My mother is gold!”
The music picks up and the woman springs to life with laughter.
After graduating from Cal Poly Pomona, Larry Mayorquin and Yané Garcia found it difficult to land representational work in theater. Rather than accept the prospects, the two felt inspired to create their own space. In fall 2018, they co-founded the Pomona-based Teatro Liberado, a Latinx theater group made up of Cal Poly actors with a mission in social justice.
“Teatro Liberado means family. It is a safe space where we encourage each other to know our roots and celebrate our roots,” Garcia said.
The group’s first project, “Caminos: A Mother’s Journey,” was a year-long collaborative project. Its soft public debut Sept. 1 was in the SCSF Second Stage series. This show hits close to the heart as each member interviewed his/her mother figures to retell their stories. The production outlines the struggles their mothers and grandmothers faced when immigrating and raising families in the U.S.
Former theater student Eluzai Salmeron joined as a Spanish script supervisor as well as hair and makeup specialist. She felt motivated to shed light on these narratives in the current political climate.
Detention camps continue to hold those caught fleeing across the southern U.S. border. With each passing day, public concern about the inhumanity of such actions continues to increase.
“I grew up thinking it wasn’t right [to be an immigrant],” Salmeron said. “But getting so much positive feedback really broke me. It was nice to see that there are people out there that support you. It felt nice to be understood and heard. I think that is what we are about. Personally, it’s healing.”
Sam ‘Mita’ Avila leapt at the opportunity to join Teatro Liberado and fills the role of actress as well as social justice coordinator. The group sees the effect representation and affirmation has on its community and wants to see more.
“Knowledge is power,” Avila said. “Using your privileges to assist undocumented folks can make a big difference. We want people to be inspired to use their voice.”
These stories are raw and powerful true-life events. For many, it is a peek into a world they would have never known. For others, it is all too familiar. After the final bow, the house lights came on revealing tears flowing freely down many of the audience’s faces. Many of the women who shared themselves sat front row for the opening.
Elizabeth Q. Ramirez was among them. Her daughter Rebeca Ramirez co-wrote the play and supervised the Spanish script. Elizabeth is from Guadalajara Jalisco in Mexico and her character, named Flor, is performed by Bianca Léanos.
She said in Spanish, “It’s important for the next generation to understand what it cost the women in their families to come [to the U.S.]. They come from strong mothers and families. Whatever happens, happens and we always support each other.”
The future is bright for Teatro Liberado. Mayorquin explained that its goal is to continue to bring more stories from marginalized communities to the stage. They are working to publish “Caminos” so that it can be performed anywhere the stage is set. This, he hopes, could be a way to pass them on to future generations.
If you can’t catch the show, don’t stress. The full-length performance will be on Nov. 9-10 at the dA Center for the Arts in downtown Pomona. Be sure to bring a box of tissues!
For more information, Teatro Liberado can be found on Instagram @teatroliberado.
UPDATE: In the printed version of the story, Elizabeth Q. Ramirez was printed as Estrella and Bianca Léanos was printed as Blanca. We have corrected the errors online.
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