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Latino theater company works to combat stereotypes

Photo by Latinos Progresando
Photo by Latinos Progresando

Twenty young adults stood in a circle smiling and laughing about their favorite toppings on hamburgers one late Friday afternoon, the regular routine for students in Latinos Progresando’s Teatro Americano after school program.

Teachers Luis Crespo, 34, and Emmanuel Gutierrez, 23, both bring years of experience and expertise to Latinos Progresando‘s theater program, which aims to teach young Latinos how 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.

Maria Vera, 16, faces many negative stereotypes about being a Latina in Chicago. One of the more hurtful stereotypes is that Latino “mom’s are bad mothers,” she says.

“I don’t really like it because my mom is a really good mother,” Vera said. “I just feel like it is too much.”

Other members of Teatro Americano said they can relate to Vera, and also face other common negative stereotypes, all of which Teatro Americano works to combat.

Teatro Americano is Latinos Progresando’s own theater company that provides theater and theater education that is for the community, by the community’s youth, and based in the community’s shared experiences, according to the company’s website.

“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–an environmental piece that uses all the hallways and conference rooms and bathrooms–at 6 p.m.

Students are encouraged to write monologues which can then be broadcast onto WBEZ’s website. Gutierrez’s piece, “Abel,” Produced by Sarah Lu and Cecilie Keenan, is featured on the public radio station’s website.

All Teatro Americano 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.”

Watch a video of Teatro Americano at work.


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