“La Gringa:” What Does it Mean to Be Puerto Rican?

Teatro del Sol at the Latvian Society, presents its first full production with “La Gringa” by Carmen Rivera. This 2 act play, directed by José Aviles, promises an endearing and uplifiting bilingual theatrical experience.

The play takes place in Puerto Rico and focuses on María, a 22 year old Puerto Rican, born in New York. “Nuyorican” was used in the 20th century to describe such a person, but it is never used in this play. María sort of speaks Spanish, which she learned in school (and not from her parents), and is excited to bond with her family on the island and explore her heritage. Except for some people on the island, she is a “gringa,” an American. Nevertheless, she is torn and frustrated, since in New York she doesn’t fit in either. There she is too Puerto Rican and considered just as much an outsider. La Gringa chronicles María’s search for her identity in short vignettes which depict family struggles as well as local Puerto Rican culture.

The latinx cast includes actors familiar to the Philly theatre scene: Marisol Custodio (María), Yajaira Paredes (Norma), Victor Rodríguez Jr. (Manolo), and Diana Rodríguez (Iris). José Aviles also plays Victor, in addition to directing and Daniel Melo, a recent graduate of the University of the Arts plays Monchi. Rounding out the production crew are Tanaquil Márquez, Krystal Rosa, Dalton Whiting and Eliana Fabiyi.

I saw one of the previews on April 20, 2019. The show officially opens on Friday April 26. Even though it would be unfair to critique a play in previews, suffice to say that two thirds of the audience stood up and applauded at the end of this work in progress on Saturday afternoon.

The play has one intermission and is approximately 2 hours. Don’t miss this premiere in Philadelphia by Teatro del Sol.

La Gringa by Teatro del Sol plays from April 26 to May 4, 2019 at the Latvian Society, 531 N 7th St, Philadelphia, PA 19123. Purchase tickets online or at the door. Visit their Facebook page at: Teatro del SolLA GRINGA POSTER FINAL (1)

Teatro del Sol: Bilingual Theater in Philly

I’ve written before about La Fábrica and Teatro del Sol, and the works that they’ve produced, about Picasso, Operación Pedro Pan, and authoritarian regimes (inspired by Venezuela). These newly formed theater companies, both staged plays in Spanish and English in Philadelphia for the past few years. The last production I saw of Teatro del Sol was actually a reading of a play and I saw some of the same actors and directors in the audience and on stage  that I had seen at previous productions of La Fábrica.  I didn’t voice this to any of them at the time, but I felt that a merger would be a good idea. Joining forces would pool their creative energy, and they would not have to compete for audiences, talent and donors.

Philadelphia has a lively theater scene, with larger venues like the Walnut Street Theater and the Arden Theatre, and many smaller companies which do not have a permanent space. To be able to garner enough of an audience for theater in Spanish in a city as small as Philadelphia is a challenge enough for one company, but for even more than one?

Fortunately, the minds behind these two companies were thinking like me, and they decided to merge to form Teatro del Sol.  Spearheading this company are José Avilés, Tanaquil Márquez and Yajaira Paredes. For more information about Teatro del Sol, and what they have planned for bilingual theater,  visit their website.

Coming soon, in Abril, is the popular play, La Gringa.  Although it’s been running in New York City, I’ve never seen it. I’m looking forward to enjoying it in Philly in a few weeks.


Out of the Mouths of Babes: Kid Quixote

Drexel University hosted a unique performance on February 19, 2019 at Van Rensselaer Hall on its campus. “The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote” is performed by immigrant children ranging in age from seven years old to fifteen. The group hails from Brooklyn, New York, and is led and taught by Steven Haff, in the afterschool program, Still Waters in a Storm. Dr. Rogelio Miñana, Head of the Global Studies & Modern Languages Department, was the Drexel connection. Co-sponsors included the College of Arts & Sciences, English & Philosophy, Sociology and History.

Here is a short clip from their performance at Hunter College:

On Tuesday, the students arrived by bus at around noon and first went to City Hall for lunch. Later, they squeezed in a tour of Philadelphia before arriving at Drexel to get ready for their 4:00 pm performance.  The hall, which had chairs on the ground floor and in the balconies, was packed with Drexel students. There is no stage in the space, but a small square of about 10×10 was the playing space. An electronic keyboard, guitar and ukelele accompanied. The Traveling Serialized Aventures of Kid Quixote is a musical (music composed by Kim Sherman) and it is a constant work in progress for five years. The group of 15 children and Haff are 2.5 years into the project. IMG_20190219_174237

The children, who are all bilingual in Spanish and English, have read Don Quixote and their musical play is an interpretation that relates to their own lives and current events. For those that don’t know, Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in the early 1600s. It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. This is a massive volume, and it is first and foremost impressive that children so young are reading it, and that they understand it enough to adapt it into a play.

According to Haff, the performance that they take on the road has been a collaboration. All of the decisions about what goes into the play are discussed with the youngsters and they reach a consensus. There are no auditions for this program. As they work through the script and music, they decide who should play which parts, and parts change periodically.

What makes this work so special is the fresh and natural approach to a very old classic. Don Quixote,  is the quintessential dreamer who just will not give up. The young cast revels in his heroism (actually played by a girl in this version) and is comfortable and at home with their creation.  They go back and forth between English and Spanish and it is obvious how much fun they are having. Their innocence is endearing and their passion, inspiring.  IMG_20190219_171949

Drexel’s venue was bigger than any that the group had performed in before. The audience watched as the group performed a “sound check” to see if their voices would project to the back of the hall. Once everything was deemed to be in order, the adventure began! After the show there was a short talk back and all of the children were enthusiastic to share their thoughts on the play and the process.

For more information, please visit the website: http://www.stillwatersinastorm.org/

Lens on Latin America: Photo Exhibition in Philadelphia!



photo courtesy of David Acosta

Lens on Latin America

January 7 – March 22, 2019

open daily 8am – 10pm

Juror: David Acosta, Casa de Duende

Opening reception: Tuesday, January 8 at 6pm

An art exhibiton of innovative, experimental, and radical photography inspired by themes emerging from Latin America during the 60s and 70s – a time of profound cultural and political change.


East Alcove Gallery, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut Street

lola_postcard 4×6

DaVinci Artist Alliance: http://www.davinciartalliance.org/dvaa-at-ihp/





An Interview with Visual Artist, Roger Chavez

This interview was conducted with Roger Chavez via e-mail. I met Roger in an art class he was subbing and we struck up a conversation after the class.

Deslumbrar: How did you become interested in art? Is this something you’ve always done?

Roger Chavez: My interest in being creative came at an early age through drawing, painting, or building in wood or other materials. It was an activity that always generated a joy, a challenge and a learning experience. Having this creative dialogue at an early age, it was not difficult to decide and pursue it as a career later in life and where painting became my focus.

Deslumbrar:  Does your ethnic background influence your art?

Roger Chavez:  I don’t necessarily think of my ethnicity as directly influencing my work or in other words I don’t consciously think about my ethnicity as a topic for my work.  If there is something in my work that alludes to my ethnicity, it is concealed.

Deslumbrar: What projects are you working on now? How has your art evolved?

Roger Chavez:  Recently, I have a grant from the Franz and Virginia Bader Foundation to research a group of small landscape paintings primarily executed on paper. The group of paintings are part of a bigger collection called the Thaw Collection. Owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Morgan library In New York City, I make visits to draw from the paintings and research the object files.  Studying works of art from collections has always been my way to challenge my own painting and to continue to learn all the complexities of painting. 

Studying these landscape paintings and making landscape paintings as well, I’m looking to develop an experience set apart from that of my current approach to painting. For many years I’ve worked with the self-portrait and the still-life, two subjects which are readily accessible and still. Confronting the changing landscape as subject breaks me away from everything I know, altering, adding to my approach in painting.  

Deslumbrar: How does teaching art fit into your artistic career/practice?

Roger Chavez:  Teaching has always been a positive experience. It tends to give back in how there is regeneration in energy to create as I experience the students learning and developing their ideas, concepts and abilities. This said however, teaching has always been second to my studio work in that it is the core of my learning and where I draw experience and knowledge from to teach.

Deslumbrar: Where can people see your art?

Roger Chavez:  My work can be seen at my website at www.rogerchavez.yolasite.com. I’m also represented by Stanek Gallery in Philadelphia. www.stanekgallery.com

Deslumbrar: Thank you for taking the time to share about your art!

Untitled-Still Life #36 (36)

Untitled–Still life #36


Private screening of “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados” at The Juilliard School in NYC — Spanish Song Slinger

This is an article by my friend Anna Tonna from her blog, Spanish Song Slinger.

I received an invitation from Spanish pianist Rosa Torres-Pardo to attend a private screening of a new film documentary about the composer Enrique “Enric” Granados (1867-1916) at the Juilliard School in New York City. The film is entitled “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados “ and is directed by Arantxa Aguirre. The […]

via Private screening of “El amor y la muerte: Historia de Enrique Granados” at The Juilliard School in NYC — Spanish Song Slinger

Performing Poetry: Salgado Maranhão and Oral Tradition in Philadelphia

Reading poetry seems to be a lost art these days. Many people cannot even identify a favorite poem or poet because they haven’t read any, or it has been so long since they read poetry (in school). Yet, verse and lyricism are alive and well everday in our music and in some cultures, are inherent in the language. I remember being told as a student that “In Latin America everyone is a poet.” I found this to be largely true–and I encountered a figurative, metaphorical and elegant way of expressing oneself, especially by the “old-timers,” whether in Spanish or Portuguese. I think of the expression (now mostly outdated) in Brazil, “Qual é a sua graça?” for “What is your name?” “Graça” means grace and referred to the name you were baptized. What a multi-faceted word! Grace could mean a blessing, to be blessed for example. Then there are secular compliments that extend from it, such as  “graceful” or “with grace.”  But it almost always signals something positive. When used in daily life, it seemed so special and poetic to be asked that (as opposed to “Qual é seu nome”) because of all the possible associations or references to “grace” that would be set off in my mind.

On Tuesday October 23, 2018, I was treated to 80 minutes of poetry and inspiration in the middle of the afternoon at Drexel University in Philadelphia. These moments and this context, felt like an oasis, a respite, in an otherwise busy work day. Salgado Maranhão, a Brazilian poet and composer, and his translator, Alexis Levitin, had been invited to Drexel to give poetry readings. Dr. Miriam Kotzin, of the English department, organized two readings, one at 2:00 pm and one at 3:30 pm. I attended the 2:00 pm reading. I arrived a few minutes early in time to briefly chat with Salgado and Alexis in Portuguese. From the moment I met them, I felt welcomed. Because of their engaging personalities, I anticipated an exciting reading.  Between the two of them, they have written and published many works–poetry, music and translations. Salgado is also a phenomenon since he wasn’t formally educated until he was 15. He sure has caught up and gone above and beyond in terms of his writing abilities and production!


Both recited the “same” poems from two books, Blood of the Sun (Sol Sangüíneo) and Tiger Fur (A Pelagem da Tigra), first in the original Portuguese (Salgado) and then in the English translation (Alexis). However, as anyone who has ever translated knows (or who knows both languages of a translated work, and a poem, especially), they are not the same, but two versions or interpretations. There are many reasons for this, including the variation of lexicon in each language to start with.  Also, there are artistic choices that the poet made and subsequently, that the translator must make in order to render something similiar to the original. Except, how do you represent or refer to a rhyme in the translation if the words in the second language don’t rhyme when you translate word for word? This is just one example of the challenges that the translator faces. This is particularly accute for poetry, since poetry has so much symbolism and may also include word puns, and all kinds of rhyming and verse schemes. There is no such thing as an “exact translation,” when it comes to poetry.

In this reading, Alexis talked about some of these issues artfully slipped in between their reading of a poem. For example, he mentioned how masculine and feminine adjectives in Portuguese limited the possible meanings in a particular line of a poem, to just one. Meanwhile, this limitation did not exist in English so the potential meanings and interpretations were multiplied. Alexis commented that Salgado LIKED when this happened and did not have problems with exploiting it in the translation. Incidentally, they always discussed these issues before deciding on the translation. If one looks at the two renderings side by side, Salgado’s poem, and Alexis’ translation, there will be more poetic license than what is usually encountered in a translated work. This tight collaboration between poet and translator is not always the case–sometimes the translator has permission to translate a work, but does not have to check in with the poet and has license to just translate as they see fit. Sometimes the poet is already dead or otherwise unavailable. It was intriguing to hear how much collaboration went into the rendering of Salgado’s poetry into English, and how much they were “partners” in this project.

Salgado also spoke about how language reaches its potential and maximum representation of the human soul in poetry, the discovery of poetry as an instrument of liberation, the subtext of slavery and the trauma of opression.

Overall, the event reminded me of the Brazilian literatura de cordel, a popular folk poetry tradition in the northeast of Brazil. Not because of Salgado’s poetry itself, which is quite erudite, but because of the recitation and connection to the oral tradition. Chapbooks or pamphlets of literatura de cordel could be read silently by an individual alone, but very popular was the recitation/reading of the story to sell the pamphlets, or in a circle to an audience, whether at home or in public. In this reading at Drexel, both the poet and translator are aware of this space or displacement between their languages. This creates distinctive translations and interpretations. Nevertheless, it also functions as a creative space where they dialogue with each other and with the audience in the public act of recitation. This brings the audience into the creative process, in the sense that the recitation is performance and an intrinsic part of poetry, and the audience’s participation in the discussion of  “metatranslation,” henceforth understanding what goes into the making a translation. This is simliar to the cordel performance, and exagerrated in the breaking of the fourth wall in theatre. This captivating reading emphasized the oral tradition of poetry, by breathing life into the words on a page with inflection and rhythm, and exploring  languages in contact and conflict in the act of translation.

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