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My aunt always told me we are what we do in our childhood. One of my cousins used to construct buildings with blocks in his early years and is now an engineer; another one of my cousins used to investigate every plant and animal – he’s now a biology researcher. I, on the other hand, took yarn and wrapped it around everything I could reach: doorknobs, chair legs, the sofa, my bed. I created large nets throughout the house. I loved weaving.
I’ve graduated from weaving household objects together to bridging communities. I love people and diverse cultures. Yet if I’m so passionate about different people and cultures, why pursue art? As a young woman and artist interested in social justice, I’ve questioned the importance of dance multiple times. I must ask myself what purpose art has in the global context? Why should dance be important when food, shelter, and clothing aren’t evenly distributed in the world?
In my years before college at the Ailey School/Fordham University, my years before JUNTOS, I founded a youth dance company. During my six years as director, En Pointe Youth Dance Company developed into a solely youth-coordinated pre-professional dance company where youth explored effective leadership styles. All aspects of the diverse company, from choreography to the design and production of costumes, from lighting and sound to set design, from fundraising (at least $8,000 per year) and publicity to dancing, were organized by youth. I slowly began to experience art as bridging differences and creating community. The company has been distinguished for its originality, technical excellence, aesthetic success, and youth leadership in the San Francisco Bay Area and was featured in U.S. magazines, newspapers, and television stations.
Two years after graduating from Berkeley High, I founded my second dance group. Inspired by a theology course at Fordham University in 2008, I founded JUNTOS. It emerged from a child that constantly traveled back and forth from Guatemala to visit family, a girl with a voice in art, a teen placing her bi-cultural heritage into her place in segregated communities, a young woman weighing the importance of art versus social justice on a global level. At its core, JUNTOS works to build community and share everything art can offer: expression, inspiration, healing, and unify among many other qualities. Utilizing my acquired skills from my past and a new, clear articulation of dance as sharing truth, I began to build a base for artists to learn, teach, and share their art in various communities. A year later, this collective (dancers from the Ailey School, The Juilliard School, and SUNY Purchase College) was traveling to Mexico for two weeks of performance and intercultural exchange.
I understand that being an artist is not a career; it is a calling. Using art as my expression, I have developed my own voice as one for justice, community, and unveiling truth. As an artist, I strive to bridge communities and cultures so we can share and learn from each other as oppose to combining them. Using social justice and community outreach in art, I hope to offer expression, inspiration, healing, sharing, and most importantly, love.
Sharing Love: Our Responsibility as Artists
Spring semester sophomore year of college, I took a class titled, “Mysticism and Social Justice.” In spiritual beliefs, mysticism is an experience of God. From this, a deep yearning emerges, then prayer, and an interdependence developing in God and the universe. This leads to a mystical consciousness in which the individual, now mystic, embraces action and justice. In my class, however, I recognized that it was not only people of religious backgrounds who were granted this gift of divine love. In The Silent Cry Dorothee Soelle writes, “Whether someone believes in God or assumes the existence of a higher being seems irrelevant in the face of a real experience of “swimming” in God” (28).
Dancing, I realized that we experience moments of God every day. How often do we recognize this gift? Inquiring into this new understanding of mysticism helped me illuminate dance as liberating for all participants, whether dancers or audience – we are sharing our true selves with one another, a form of God, or divine Love.
Love. Being in love does not consist of loving everything; being in love with life and with what you do exerts kindness, imagination, drive, and how you live your life. Being in love can lead to a compassionate and honest world. I propose to offer a piece of this love with JUNTOS. I hope to inspire others to share love, weaving communities, people, and differences together to create a more peaceful world.