Sunday, January 3, 2010

Reflections from Residency at Alma de Mujer

I can’t imagine a better place for me to work than Alma de Mujer. As a local artist based in Austin, Texas, I am lucky in that my residency was not the first or only occasion when I had spent time with Alma. I have attended artist retreats and workshops, volunteered at the 2009 Women’s Activist Gathering, taught at Alma’s youth summer camp, amongst other more informal visits to colleagues and friends. From my first trip to Alma, however, I was hungry for an uninterrupted stretch of time with the land. I awaited my residency with great anticipation.

I am a theatre artist, educator, and cultural activist who specializes in the creation of original works for the stage, with/for both youth and adults, individually and in ensemble. My current writing as a solo performer, the beginnings of a one-woman play that I am currently calling “Mud: offerings to the Guadalupana,” is a conversation between Latina/Chicana/indigenous women and their bodies, and with the historical legacies of colonialism, patriarchy, and all the messiness of mestizaje as represented in the figure of the Vírgen de Guadalupe. It is also a conversation about and between the elements of Earth and Water, and how female bodies, particularly female bodies of color, have been constructed as particularly tied to or like these elements in the Western mind; in patriarchal discourse, these constructions have been utilized as tools with which to convince women of their weakness and inferiority. In “Mud,” I subvert these myths, searching for hidden sources of power within them.

In short, my writing is activism. I am (re)writing myths to compete with those that have, for too long, dominated and wounded our psyches as women of color. I am calling on the diosas of Earth and Water whose names and powers were once widely known, but now largely forgotten in much of the world, to help me in doing so.

Much of this writing was born at Alma de Mujer, even before my residency, in Adelina Anthony’s Teatro Q, and also in late nights, sitting on the front porch of the main lodge, mulling over the day’s conversations with students, artistas, activistas, and the land. It was during my residency, however, that I was able to clear enough space in my consciousness to make sense of what I had been writing, to begin placing scraps of ideas together into what is now the first draft of my play.

When I was teaching at one of Alma de Mujer’s youth summer camps, I began the practice of starting each day at Alma by visiting the Madre del Mundo, one of Marsha Gomez’ famous sculptures, honored in a meditation grove overlooking the water. I continued this practice during my residency. My daily walk to the Madre was meditation, my body settling into itself, coming alive once more.

I breathe in the day. I notice. The air is cold. The familiar green hillsides, cradling this land, are now spotted with orange-brown-gold. Fog rolls in, sweeps over us. My forever faithful writing companion, my dog, runs in leaps and bounds to greet the day. I smile at her movement, seek stillness.

I kneel at the Madre’s feet. I offer her a sip of tea, a bit of my breakfast, whatever’s mine is hers. I lift my chin to meet her gaze. She looks angrier today. Or perhaps just more resolute. I beg for her patience with me. To guide my research, send my eyes to the pages that will best feed my soul, ignite my imagination. To force closed the piles of open books when they become my crutch, when I ought to be guerrera struggling with pen in hand, trusting my own intuition. Trusting that I am a vessel for words that She has been waiting to say. “Madre, help me stay out of my own way,” I say.

Gazing at the Madre, I am always acutely aware of the legacy that she represents, of all the brave women and men, stewards of this land, who have come before me and made my time here possible. Today it is me who enjoys the fruits of their labor. Tomorrow I will return to the land, and work to make others’ time here possible. I am part of Her family now.

But today, I forget all other commitments, obligations, traffic lights, phone calls, hurried emails, sprinting from performance to meeting to class to rehearsal to bed, struggling to scrawl notes about tears, blood, water, mud; a voice, a rhythm, a rhyme that won’t let me be; in the margins of my lesson plans, hidden in my meeting minutes, post-its tucked away in the corners of my desk. Today, I smudge my studio. My studio. Light a candle to the Vírgen. I sit. I write. Without guilt or shame. This is what I am here to do. Have been called, chosen to do. The voices of ancestors and comadres breathe through me, as wind-ehecatl ripples through the grasses on the far side of the field.

“Madre, help me stay out of my own way.”

I am humbled, and so grateful to have been selected as an Artist in Residence at Alma de Mujer. As a young artist working in the margins of what is mainstream theatre, my residency was an invaluable opportunity not only to practice my craft, but also to establish my reputation as an artist. It is challenging for those of us working on the fringes, activistas, to establish legitimacy, and to do so in contexts that support rather than suppress our vision. I thank Alma and all of her familia for making this possible.

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