Twenty young adults stood in a circle smiling and laughing about their favorite toppings on hamburgers one late Friday afternoon. This is the regular routine for Latinos Progresando’s Teatro Americano after school program.
Luis Crespo, 34, and Emmanuel Gutierrez, 23, both bring years of experience and expertise to Latinos Progresando‘s theater program. The Teatro Americano program empowers the youth to perform stories that express their communities‘ worries, ambitions and successes.
Teatro Americano, funded by After School Matters, works to spotlight the experiences of contemporary immigrants, with a focus on the experience of Latino immigrants in Chicago. The Arts and Education Program of Latinos Progresando connects the community members to the arts so that they can creatively explore the issues that affect their lives.
Teatro Americano uses students’ and their parents, grandparents, and neighbors’ stories to build productions that speak to communities and portray visions for a better world. They provide opportunities to think and act in creative ways that take back the voice and counter negative stereotypes of the Latino youth and the communities.
“I don’t really like it because my mom is a really good mother,” Vera said. “I just feel like it is too much.”
Video by Katherine Iorio
Other members of Teatro Americano relate to Vera and they find that one of the most common negative stereotypes of the Latino community is they eat nothing but tacos and work as gardeners.
Teatro Americano is Latinos Progresando’s own theater company. Teatro Americano produces theater and theater education that is for the community, by the community’s youth, and based in the shared experiences.
“This is an opportunity for them to do their own theater and writing where they can explore their creativity,” Gutierrez said.
The pieces that the students create will be performed on April 15 at Latinos Progresando–in an environmental piece that uses all the hallways and conference rooms and bathroom–at 6 p.m.
Students are encouraged to write monologues which can then be broadcasted onto WBEZ’s website. Gutierrez’s piece, “Abel,” Produced by Sarah Lu and Cecilie Keenan, is featured on their website.
All participants are between the ages of 14 and 19. The program runs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday right after school.
“I’m not from around here,” Vera explained. “But I come here and I feel a part of the community.”
Originally published on Chicago Talks.