¡Saludos! This past weekend, I attended the Breath Of Fire’s Cafe con Drama poetry reading event held at the restaurant, Bistro 400 in Santa Ana, CA. The Breath Of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble gives Latinas and anyone else who wants to participate in an opportunity to be involved in visual and performance arts.
I was very fortunate to have been able to witness, interview, and meet two amazing poets that I personally found very touching and purifying to the soul, Claudia Breña, and Joese Hernandez.
Vanessa: How did you guys get into the Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble?
Claudia: I co-founded a group called, Barrio Actors which is like a theatre workshop for teenagers, and so we partnered up with a Breath of Fire, um for artistic support in some ways. So that’s how I got to know Sarah, the founder of Breath of Fire, and then I’ve been working with her in different projects, so its been fun. I really believe in what they do.
Vanessa: What’s Breath of fire? I lightly looked upon it.
Claudia: Breath of Fire is a Latina theatre and what they do, um productions, and performance in the community. They just recently went nomadic, they had a space next to El Centro Cultural de Mexico, it was a place where you can explore different performances, and different performance works. Yeah, they provide a space for Latinas, and Latinos in general.
Vanessa: Where do you guys get your inspiration from for your performance art?
Joese: Well, first of all the way I got in touch with a Breath of Fire was through a play that they did way back called Nine Digits Away From My Dream, they talk about the undocumented student struggle with coming to grips with the fact that they don’t have the same benefits as documented students, and you know and what they do with the struggle. So that’s how I first got in touch with it, and most recently I’ve been getting I back in touch with Breath of Fire, and I very much believe and support what they do, and I think that it’s great that Latinas have a place where they can share their creativity. What was the second question?
Vanessa: Where do you get your inspiration?
Joese: Just from people, from life, the experiences that I’ve had. I’ve been blessed to go through a lot of things. I was born in Mexico, came here when I was five. I was an AB540 student. And its been a journey trying to assimilate the fact that I’m Mexican and I’m trying to fit into an American society, and so just finding myself through other people, and being able to write about that. Yeah, life and the many beautiful experiences I’ve searched and found.
Vanessa: How do you do that? Finding yourself? What do you do in order to help yourself identify with your culture and community?
Joese: What I was able to do I was able to go back to Mexico. And I think that was crucial, because every time I went back to Mexico it made me understand more who I was, and a lot of people here don’t have the ability to travel, because they don’t have a green card or whatever. They don’t have the ability to go to the pyramids, and see that our people built those things, or to understand the culture that is the Mexican culture, or the Peruvian culture that allows you to understand who you are, whereas you come here and it’s a materialistic and consumerist society, and you know, I wanted to assimilated and learn English so well and so fast, and then I did, but then I felt so unsatisfied, so I had to go back to Mexico and find my roots, and learn where I came from. And from those two things I was able to come to a grander understanding of who I was, and who I am, and who I’ve grown to be.
Vanessa: For people that don’t have that option of going back and forth to their home countries, or their other half, what do you suggest they do? Because I know personally, I have identity issues at times. I’m Mexican, I was born here, but to me I always have trouble with identity. So what would you suggest people do with that? Personally, I can’t go back and forth to Mexico and stuff like that.
Joese: Right, and most people cant and some people don’t want to. Because the necessity to belong is such a strong riding force that you’re willing to give up your sense of individuality, your sense of identity for the sake of fitting into the social group you find your self surrounded in. So I think the biggest thing that I suggest to people is to go into a cocoon like phase where they read about people, and about the struggle, and about where they come from. And that starts thinking, and start really meditating and pondering from the stories of other people that are cemented in who they are, and that have been able to balance their Mexican identity and their American identity, and that are able to fuse it into a new society. I think that there’s a difference between a society and culture- a culture is what we’re trying to build. That’s a personal struggle, and most people wont do it, because I said, they’ll be caught up in whatever is cool right then, instead of, wow this is who I am, and what I’m about and I don’t care about what everyone thinks about me anymore, and I’m not gonna let them pigeon hole me into thinking that they know me, when I don’t even know myself. It’s a process and it takes years, so instead of getting engulfed with trying to learn all these facts and figures in school, that’s important, but what I feel is really important is to be able to delve within and to find out who we really are based on the creativity, and the gifts that we have and that we display through poetry, through theatre, through conversation, through the arts.
Vanessa: What are your inspirations, Claudia? Where do they come from? What inspires you?
Claudia: I think mostly my life experiences, and especially my experiences with identity. I think one of the most important experiences in my life is immigrating to the U.S so I think I’ve come to divide my life to pre-immigration and post-immigration. That defines a lot of what I write. Becoming a minority, because in Peru, because of the color of my skin I was considered white, over here I’m not considered white. So I see that was very different in the way people approached me. Where as over there it was expected, I went to college, over here, one of those experiences that told me that I was perceived as different was that when I explained to someone that I wanted to go to college it was like, oh really, seriously, you’re gonna go to college. I mean they were supported, but there was this element of surprise. I was like yeah, it was interesting, and there were different expectations. So becoming a minority in that sense, gave me inspirations, and how I’ve become involved in different movements, especially the LBGT rights movement, coming out was another one of those milestones. So being a gay or lesbian queer, a lot of grey areas. Identifying as queer, at the same time identifying as a Latina who is not Mexican, who is Peruvian, right. I live in the borders.
Vanessa: The borderlines.
Claudia: The borderlines of different cultures and identities, and also becoming aware of how I am a woman, or how society views me as a woman, discrimination towards woman is so engrained into us, that I didn’t even notice it until later in life when I became aware of it. So a lot of what I write about is the intersections of identities, sometimes of oppression, but sometimes about the beauty of being ourselves, right-being not necessarily in a box, but being that label or exploring that identity. So that’s something that inspires me. And also well my family, love, and things like that, right. Things that are more universal.
Vanessa: So what helps you keep your identity being here in the U.S? Especially as you identify as queer, Latina, and from Peru as well.
Claudia: Well, I think associating with people that come from that same background, or people that are open to having those conversations. I think my writing definitely keeps me, its based where I can explore those identities- find others within me as well, you know- the poet, the wanna be traveler, all of these different things that I am. So writing and associating with people that are open to have those dialogues, performance, any form of art. What else…Facebook helps too, honestly. I can keep up with culture in Peru, and what’s happening in Peru. I connect with my friends; I try not to forget about that. I think in the beginning when I first moved here, it was hard trying not to; I was trying in many ways to forget about that. I was trying to cling to it, but at the same time I didn’t realize that after I tried to cling to it for a couple of years, I was like okay I have to put this behind me, because I cant live in two places at the same time. And Facebook allows you to do that, technology in general allows you to do that, live in two places, but in reality there is so much happening that it becomes overwhelming, and so I put that behind me for a little. And now I’ve come to the place, after seven years of being here, where I’m at peace with that. I could live a little bit over there and I could live a little bit over here, and explore all the new identities, and figure out the future, and not think so much about the past.
Vanessa: What impact do you guys want to leave on the community with your poetry, your art, or any form of medium?
Joese: I personally just want to inspire other people. I feel that my mission is not really to promote myself, or my ideas and views- I feel that my purpose and my mission is to provide the spaces and open mics, or the events where people can come out of their creative closet, and be able to share what’s inside, you know. Because I know how empowering it has been for me, from being a stuttering, insecure, shy young boy to growing into confidence, driven adult now, but it didn’t happen overnight. And it took me coming out of my shell creatively, and having a vehicle, a place where I could share that. So I think that’s the one thing that I can do for my community, is to provide those spaces where people can do the same thing that I can do- ‘cause once you can get in front of a microphone, or in front of people and let them know about who you are and what you are about, then from there it just keeps getting better and better, and each time you do it, it just empowers you that much more, and then you inspire other people, and you start this process of changing the world around you.
Claudia: I think for me, whether it is through activism, or my writing, different things that I do, I want to leave my community a more welcoming place for people that are disenfranchised in different ways, right. And where people can be nurtured in whatever they decided to do, and they can be supported if they want to be, whatever they want to be, right, and so yeah, creating a more welcoming space and more supportive community, a safer community, because there’s a lot of unsafe elements around here.
Vanessa: And finally, do you guys want to say any words for anyone out there, words of advice, shout-outs?
Joese: I would just say, study love-‘cause life is love and love is life, but the most important thing is self love, because once you understand the concept of love, and you start evolving into the understanding of unconditional love and what that means, then it just transforms you and it transforms the world around you, because you start embodying the concept of love, and it’s way beyond the romanticized Disney Hollywood version of love. It’s something so powerful that once employed politically in society it has the ability to change the world like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, or so many other people that believed in non-violent unconditional love. So I hope that everybody can learn that, because once they do that, and put away the insecurities, then that’s when you are able to be a productive functioning member of society, and we can get away from the things that disenfranchise and divide us.
Claudia: And for me I think, treat yourself kindly, because that’s the only way you’ll allow yourself to make mistakes, and if you allow yourself to make mistakes, you’re going to allow yourself to make big risks, and do the great things. And I say this, mainly because I say this to myself everyday. So this is the advice I give myself as an artist, or whatever you purse in life. It’s okay to make mistakes, it’s okay to take big risks, and to create new things, and get involve with your community-there is always something that we can do to help out, and to advocate for those within our community. So, yeah, get involved.
Joese: Get involved to the fullest!
Vanessa: Thank you, guys.
Once again, I would just like to thank Claudia and Joese for being so welcoming, and for embracing the arts that make their community a better place.