Zarco Guerrero says he's surrounded in his studio by colorful expressions in papier-mâché. The local painter, sculptor, and mask maker has been in the Valley for decades, and he'd be hard-pressed to remember a time he was busier. For the past few weeks, he's been out supporting friends in the local Latino performing arts community — and in a few days his own masks will be on center stage.
Guerrero's not exaggerating when he describes the current season of Latino performing arts as hectic. This fall, there's an explosion of Latino festivals, dances, dramas, comedies, and improv performances in Phoenix at a time when funding for the arts is declining and support for the local Latino community is hardly widespread.
In spite of that — or perhaps because of it — members of the publicly funded and Phoenix-based Celebración Artística de las Américas (or CALA Alliance) rounded up Latino artists and performers over the past year and granted a few commissions. The result is what organizers hope will be a bi-annual festival of six weeks of Latino-focused arts programming, a loud celebration of Latino culture, and a new branding for the community labeled by SB 1070.
A quick look at the CALA brochure or the group's online listings will motivate you to fill in a few weekends of your calendar: Teatro Bravo and Israel Jimenez brought a short-run biographical show of Frida to downtown Phoenix in September, and Ernesto Moncada ran from a costumed Arpaio while welcoming the audience to a Latino-heavy First Friday Night Live at The Firehouse last week.
This weekend, Andrés Alcalá will direct his second weekend of Zoot Suit, produced and acted by ASU theater students at the Lyceum Theatre in Tempe. And starting October 21, New Carpa's staging Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World (co-written by James E. Garcia and Alberto Rios and choreographed by Michele Ceballos) at Mesa Arts Center.
On Saturday, October 22, Guerrero's masks will be on stage as Childsplay kicks off stories of Mexico's history and conquest in The Sun Serpent at Tempe Center for the Arts.
It's an exciting time for Latino performing artists, says actor Marcelino Quiñonez, who's starred in political productions by New Carpa Theater, coordinated the Artist Memorial for Immigrants, and taught drama for at-risk youth. He's currently the dialect coach for Zoot Suit, a play based on the infamous 1942 "Sleepy Lagoon" murder mystery and unfair trial of 22 Mexican Americans that resulted in Los Angeles' Zoot Suit Riots. He says it's also a time of important opportunity.
"I've seen my community take a big hit," says Quiñonez. "And a lot of our youth is lost, or uncertain of their potential. They're struggling for some kind of identity. That's where we as performers and artists can come in."
Quiñonez says he hopes the performances, festival activities, and artwork slated for this season give the Phoenix community a different perspective on his culture and a chance for the younger generation to raise their fists for something other than border issues.
Garcia agrees. He's lived in Phoenix for more than 20 years and has seen the Latino community through the lens of a playwright who's penned more than a dozen political and cultural productions, and as a journalist who's spent years reporting on border issues. He says he's never seen so many culturally focused plays, exhibitions, and activities on the Latino community's calendar.
"In an era in which we thought the Latino community is on the run and being run out of the state, there's a swelling of artistic response," he says. "Some nuance, some more in your face . . . but there's a very strong voice coming out of these performances that's saying, 'You can try to run us out, but here's what we have to say first.'"
Garcia's Amexica follows the journey of an aspiring poet who learns he was adopted from an orphanage in Nogales, Mexico, and decides to travel along the border to learn more about his roots. Yes, it's political, Garcia says, but the play draws deeper on the foundations of the community and a heritage worth celebrating.
He argues that because of (and not despite) SB 1070, those who perform within the Latino community were introduced to each other, had the opportunity to collaborate, or simply sat next to each other during protests and marches.
And while the marches continue, recalls are demanded, and delegations like CultureStrike (which includes Garcia, Rios, and local muralist El Mac) are still launching campaigns against federal immigration policies, the sentiments of the community are more unified and the subject matter of the art has become more about the culture and less about the struggle.
"Any time someone views something artistic, it awakens something, who we can really become," says Quiñonez. "Sure, we've been hit, but the purpose of our tools now is to stick around and inspire people."
For more information and tickets to upcoming performances, visual art exhibitions, and community activities during the CALA Festival, visit the CALA website at www.calaalliance.org/festival.html. The festival runs through November 16.