Salud! Here's to Chicago's Immigrant Youth and Their Stories
I am an unrepentant stage mom. I have watched my son be fully himself, completely immersed in a character on stage. From being cast as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” as a ten year old, to performing in an ensemble cast in high school in the “Laramie Project,” theater has been an important propellant in his life’s trajectory.
Not surprisingly he has chosen drama as his college major, one of those allegedly impractical majors that lead to nowhere.
I don’t see it that way. I see writing, directing, acting - all of the theater arts - as ways for young people to practice most of the skills they will need to succeed in life. It takes discipline to learn lines, attentiveness, inventiveness, respect and collaboration to act in an ensemble, follow direction, and inhabit the persona of your character. And, it takes courage, self assurance and a certain tolerance for risk-taking to perform for a live audience.
As I contemplate the power of theater to shape young people’s lives, I’m having another stage mom moment. I am reliving my trip to Chicago to experience Salud, Healing Through the Arts, the first of our New Routes projects go public with their immigrant created media.
On August 15, 2008 I joined a standing room only crowd to watch forty of Salud’s vibrant and enthusiastic youth performers present original radionovelas and teatronovelas about immigration and health. These youth spent an intensive and focused summer writing and producing stage and radio drama about their immigrant experiences. Working under the direction of three emerging leaders in the Chicago theater and radio production world, Ricardo Gamboa, Steve Beaudion, and Jesus Sanchez, the Salud youth shaped their words -- a fusion of Spanish and English -- into poignant, funny, sobering and powerful stories.
Performing in front of proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends, they were able to tell huge truths about their lives that would have been difficult to simply talk about across the dinner table. The audience learned that in some respects Latino youth are right in the mainstream of the coming of age experience in urban America - they struggle over their sexuality - they experience peer pressure and gang violence-they are trying to find their authentic identities in a media saturated pop culture. But they have additional worries that most teens in the USA don’t contemplate. They worry about their future - will they or their loved ones face arrest or deportation as they seek higher education and good jobs? What will happen to them and their parents if someone becomes sick or disabled? What level of responsibility do they have to help their parents get the health care and economic security they need?
Over the coming months many of the youth will continue the work they began this summer. Teatro Americano has scheduled Salud performances at numerous venues throughout Chicagoland, and the Radio Arte’s radio novellas are being repurposed and expanded for classroom use and community discussion. As Salud outreach plans take the performances to new audiences, I suspect we will see new leaders in the Latino theater scene emerge. I'll bet that youth Gamboa, Beaudion, and Sanchez will look on with pride, experiencing a few of my stage mom moments of exhilaration as they watch the youth in this troupe step into their future, secure in the skills they have learned in telling their own stories.
Watch and Listen
New Research & Recommendations
This report (PDF 3.8MB) offers guidance for community organizations and those who fund social change in how best to harness the power of local media-making for community health improvement. Spanish-language version is now available. Una versión en español de este informe esta en la web.