I got my first review on Howl Round!
Breath of Love: Jelisa Jay Robinson’s Stories of Us
by: Ursula Simone Walker
Labels. “Mexicana.” “Afro-Latino.” “Black Enough.” Just to name a few. They’re the first thing you see as you enter the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) performance space in Austin, to watch Jelisa Jay Robinson's Stories of US. However, you’re distracted by the music—it pulls you in. Groovy pulses of remixed Cumbias, Hip Hop, and Salsas fill the space. You can't help but sway and smile as you watch others do the same.
The lights shift, bringing a rainbow of colors together to create what could be the interior of a club. The ensemble (Irving Calderon, Tarik Daniels, Si Mon' Emmett, Krysta Gonzales, Stacye Markey, Adam Martinez and Lori Navarrete) enters, reads the magnetic labels and begins fumbling with them—shifting and swapping them before selecting one they feel is most representative of self. Another quick move and then, “click”—their camera phones sing as they snap a selfie with their selected “identity.” Appropriate. Then, the world inverts and the actors begin to make snap judgements to place the labels on audience members. Whether they are right or not isn’t the point; the stereotype is set. And as quickly as they entered—and while the metaphorical mic hits the ground—they are gone.
This introduction forces a moment of self-reflection as the audience is left reckoning with how many times they have done the same thing—assumed someone’s appearance to be indicative of their cultural background, or ethnicity, or race, or—the list goes on. The truth is that each label lends more definition to our differences. The more differences that are highlighted, the harder it is to find a connection.
This play is all about the connections.
Stories of Us, written by Houston-based educator and alumna of the University of Texas at Austin, Jelisa Jay Robinson, directed by local theatre educator and practitioner Florinda Bryant, and produced by Teatro Vivo, had its world premiere at the MACC from April 28th to May 8th 2016. Robinson's work is a composition of interrelated vignettes that expose the often hidden narratives of people who embody Afrolatinidad—culture and experience sprouting from the intermingling of Africans, African-Americans, and Latinas/os. As this play expresses, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to exist in this cultural space; nothing dictating the bounds of what it could or should be. There is just being.
The trouble is in the moments of disconnect within our communities, when people from a certain ethnic group perpetuate violence and disrespect towards another group. This reaction could be expected when varying groups of minorities find themselves competing for resources, respect, and (especially) romantic partners within a limited socio-geographic space. Add in the existing language barrier and--
This town ain’t big enuf fer the two of us!
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