Feliz Navidad y “Japi Jolidais” to my RKA in LA readers,
Are you looking to give back this holiday season?
Raquel is a 21-year-old Tzotzil woman from the indigenous community of Chalchihuitán, a mountain town in the highlands of southern México. This July, Raquel graduated at the top of her high school class, an especially notable feat because hers was the first high school class to graduate in Chalchihuitán–ever. (As of four years ago, young people in Raquel’s community only studied through middle school.) Today, Raquel works to help support her mother and three younger siblings, running the family store and sometimes waking up at 3 AM to pick coffee beans. But Raquel dreams of continuing her education in the city. She wants to study psychology and return to places like Chalchihuitán, where social workers and psychologists are scarce, but needed.
Yet, for Raquel and many young women like her, college feels like an impossible dream. Economic hardship, pressure to marry, institutional prejudice against indigenous students, and gender discrimination make a young Chalchihuitán woman’s path to career opportunities and higher education steep and uncertain. With little guidance and few examples of college educated women in their community, girls like Raquel–who tells me she knows not one female college graduate in Chalchihuitán–lack the self-confidence and direction to pursue new opportunities.
But, this January, Raquel and I have been invited to participate in a 10-day training on theater and community development in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala–a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and the first stop on Raquel’s journey to personal development and higher education.
Will you help her get there?
Chalchihuitán is a small, rural municipality of roughly 12,000 people–mostly indigenous Tzotziles–located 30 miles of highland highway from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. As of 2000, over half of the adult population in Chalchihuitán could not read or write and only 5% of individuals over the age of 15 had completed anything above a primary school education. While the community’s new high school is rapidly changing these statistics, young people in Chalchihuitán–especially young women–continue to face innumerable obstacles to higher education of any kind.
Additionally, Chalchihuitán is one of the poorest municipalities in the region and among the most violent, as well, due to frequent land disputes and conflicts with neighboring towns. Alcoholism and domestic violence further contribute to Chalchihuitán’s rocky social terrain, which is simultaneously rich with centuries of Mayan culture and tradition. The people of Chalchihuitán speak Tzotzil, wear the traditional huipil, and continue to observe the “usos y costumbres” (customs) of their Mayan ancestors in a globalized world. Click here to learn more about Chalchihuitán and my work there.
Las Jades are a young women’s theater collective in its second year that I have the pleasure of leading at the recently-built Chalchihuitán Preparatoria (High School). Raquel’s class helped to inaugurate Las Jades, which nods to Chalchihuitán’s namesake, meaning “Land of the Jades.” In the group’s inaugural year, Las Jades presented an original play on pioneer women in Mexican history, were invited to perform as part of a conference on indigenous women’s leadership in San Cristóbal de las Casas, and presented the world premiere performance of “El Padre,” (The Father) a play exploring alcoholism and domestic violence by local playwright Isabel Juárez Espinosa.
This year, we are adapting a local cuento (story) for the stage, in both Tzotzil and Spanish, as well as preparing another locally-written work with the participation of the high school boys. Raquel, last year’s star Jade, recognized across town for her performance as the father in “El Padre,” will be joining me as my co-director this winter as we work together to organize a regional conference for young indigenous students interested in theater and community development. The goal of Las Jades is not only to introduce young women in Chalchihuitán to the arts, but also to build self-esteem, encourage healthy self-expression, and provide leadership opportunities, preparing each Jade to be critically engaged in her community and her world.
Raquel and I have been invited to participate in a 10-day training on theater and community development in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. This conference will bring together 500 artists from across the Americas to learn how to facilitate theater as a tool for organizing, empowerment, and change at a community level. Raquel’s participation in this training will prepare her to lead Las Jades and expose her to tools and strategies that will increase her self-confidence and prepare her to continue her education. Upon our return, Raquel and I will be working together with EDELO Casa de Arte en Movimiento y Residencia Intercultural de Diversas Prácticas (House of Art in Motion and Intercultural Residence of Diverse Practices) to organize and facilitate a regional theater conference in EDELO’s space in San Cristóbal de las Casas.
This experience offers Raquel the opportunity to receive advanced training in theater and community development, develop her leadership skills, and begin forging academic and artistic partnerships in San Cristóbal de las Casas and beyond. It will also prepare Raquel to be a director, mentor, and leader for Las Jades, creating opportunities for more young women like her to pursue their dreams.
Will you support Raquel’s trip to Guatemala for this 10-day training? Total costs for Raquel’s travel, food, and accommodation are only $400 USD and any additional money raised will be invested in a scholarship fund for Raquel, who will be taking the next college entrance exam in July of 2012.
Donate to Raquel’s trip to Guatemala
For those who wish to support Raquel’s training in theater and community development, you will receive video updates (with English subtitles) from Raquel and I on our trip to Guatemala, as well as periodic emails throughout the year updating you as Raquel prepares to take her university entrance exam to study psychology.
This Christmas, give the gift of self-esteem, personal development, and continuing education–tell Raquel, “¡Sí, se puede!” (Yes, you can!) and help her get to Guatemala.
Publications on my work with Las Jades in Chalchihuitán:
- Social Development and Theater in Indigenous Chiapas, published on Vagabond Journey
- Why Artful Resistance Is So Hard to Resist, published on Eye See Media
- The Language of Theater: Speaking in Tongues in Chalchihuitán, published on Latina Fatale
- Yes! And vs. Awkward Silence: Improv for “Beginners”, published on RKA in LA
- Back to School in Chalchihuitán, published on RKA in LA
- Curtain Call in Chalchihuitán, published on RKA in LA
Make your Christmas donation now