March brought an unexpected experience that has changed my perspective and given me great cause to think about the blessings we take for granted in a free country full of education and employment opportunities. My friend Jeff decided to tackle a play that invited more of the Latino population of our school to participate. Our student population is over 50% Latino. Yet, the percentage of Latino students participating in the arts or other extra-curricular activities does not reflect the Latino student statistics. We decided we really need to do what we could to change that cultural issue. A fellow theatre teacher recommended Bocon, a one act play. I read the play and realized that Bocon was funny. It was timely. It was relevant to immigrant children from all parts of the world… or to any child who needs to find their own “voice.”
Near the beginning of the play a young Salvadoran boy, Miguel, says that when we lived in his village he noticed that a lot of people were disappearing. The villagers nickname Miguel “Bocon” – big mouth in Spanish – because he wonders out loud about all the disappearing people. “Does the earth just open up and suck them in? Or do demons trap them in caves?
Miguel discovers the truth when both of his parents “disappear” one day for having big mouths of their own. Some of life’s lessons are hard. In Miguel’s world, disappearing people are as real as ghosts that fly through the night, trickster demons, and helicopters that fly down and interrupt life.
The author, Lisa Loomer, offered so much for me to ponder. The show offered adventure, magic, music, actors speaking in multiple languages and directly to the audience. The show was a win/win all the way around. Kids would enjoy the story. People from all cultural differences could come together. Adults could ponder the depth of the brilliant writing and grounded political reality of the plight of refugees from around the world.
The rich imagery and allegory allowed the show to be more then one of those cute children’s shows. It was perfect!
In the story Miguel flees a repressive military regime and journeys to Los Angeles.
Miguel loses his voice when his parents are taken and begins his journey to the north.
Along the way he meets an unusual traveling companion, La Llorona, the legendary “Weeping Woman” of Mexican and Central American mythology. My research into her was pretty freaky. She was scary! But the play pointed out that she was lonely and misunderstood. Through their magical friendship, Miguel finds his voice and the courage to start a new life far from the world he knew.
Coaching a whole new group of kids opened my eyes to the realities that many students face. I began to ask myself questions. Why do we insist that these students reject their culture and language and histories? We do we not celebrate their cultures and histories? Why do we make this about “us” and “them” when in reality we are “we?” Isn’t the United States of America all based on a melting pot community? All we all not foreigners (at least our ancestors) in a land of promise?
While I was helping in classes this semester I met a few students who had much in common with Miguel. One student came because there was no work for his divorced mother in Mexico. They were starving. At least here they could work and earn enough money for food. I asked him if he liked it her and if he missed Mexico. The answer was yes! He liked that he could eat. However, he missed home. He hoped to get an education so that he could start his own business and to use that business to help people in Mexico. He business idea was to make packs to help people through natural disasters. A noble wish.
I met another student who was couch surfing because his family wasn’t all together there. He survived by the good graces of others. He wanted to do well in school so that he could support himself and to be able to help others in need.
These kids were hard working. sure. It was hard to get enough kids to audition for the play. We got plenty of girls and had to beg to get enough Hispanic boys. Many of them missed rehearsals because the culture of theatre and rehearsals was new to them… and they held down jobs, kept up in school and helped out within their families..
But their families stepped up too. We had a mariachi band at intermission – all students. One of the families brought their taco business and sold $1 tacos. It was party! So happy! So full of life! I have never experienced anything like it.
It was so popular that we had to change how we presented the show. We started having the audience on stage with the play. However, we had so many audience members that we couldn’t add enough chairs.
Through this experience I learned more Spanish ( I understand more than I can speak). I learned to observe the needs of others. I learned to find simple joys in life. I learned it’s time to step up and ask more questions. It is time to embrace the differences we all have and to celebrate them!
All of these lessons learned have motivated me to make changes.
I have changed how I present material in class to include more people from more cultures.
I have decided to work on my Spanish.
I have worked with my friend Jeff to present a new class at school – World Theatre. I just finished curriculum maps and lesson plans. I am so excited about this new class that celebrates performing arts from all over the world. Plans include dances from around the world, shadow puppets, devised theatre, and a Latino one act play. This class will be our 5th production in our 2017-2018 season. This is a big deal! Few if any other schools offer a class like this… a chance to integrate all the populations of our school and to celebrate what really makes us great. Compassion. Insight. Open-mindedness.
In the end this show presented a wonderful opportunity for enjoyment and for discussion in areas many students and their families struggle. Hispanic members of the community could mix with mainstream community members. The Hispanic community audiences glimpsed themselves onstage and the mainstream audience members were trilled with the fantasy, learn more Spanish words, and learned a fresh insight. This was most definitely a highlight for my school year.
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