Beto O'Byrne and Radical Evolution
Building Our Own Tables Episode #7
Yura Sapi: Imanalla mashikuna. Hello friends, how are you? Welcome back to the Building Our Own Tables podcast, interviewing Black, Native, Asian and other people of the global majority who have created arts organizations, movements, initiatives, practices, collectives, and beyond. We talk about finding new ways of working together that aren't replicating the same white supremacy culture we wanted to get away from.
I'm your host, Yura Sapi. Building Our Own Tables is produced for Howlround Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatre makers worldwide, and by Advancing Arts Forward, a movement to advance equity, inclusion, and justice through the arts by creating liberated spaces that uplift, heal, and encourage us to change the world. In this last episode of the first season, I talked to Beto O’Byrne, co-founder of Radical Evolution. Radical Evolution is a multiethnic producing collective committed to creating artistic events that seek to understand the complexities of the mixed identity existence in the 21st century.
Radical Evolution believes that their ensemble-based approach to creating aesthetically and formerly rigorous events with people from a variety of backgrounds, works to break down barriers between both cultures and specializations. Radical Evolution incorporates people from a variety of backgrounds into their creative process, with a focus on people of color to seed the field of experimental and collaboratively created feeder. Through this approach, they assert a vision for cultural and social equity in the theatre field and beyond. Radical Evolution was founded in 2011 by Beto O’Byrne and Meropi Peponides, two theatremakers who create cross disciplinary performance works.
Radical Evolution is an instigator of original performance works from inception to completion. A large portion of their time is spent on developing new works in the long term, intentional and iterative process. In this episode Beto shares learnings about working ensemble, consensus decision making, equitable partnerships, redefining/reclaiming folks arts, more on saying no and giving up white privilege. Enjoy this episode.
I always love to ask first question, tell us about your origin story. What is Radical Evolution's origin story?
Beto O’Byrne: Radical Evolution is a performance collective. We're based in Brooklyn, New York. Our origin story really kind of came about because my partner, Meropi Peponides and I moved to New York City from Los Angeles shortly after I finished graduate school at University of Southern California. When we moved here, I think we kind of assumed that we were going to find our footing in the theatre community here and that it was going to work really well. That just didn't really happen that way. The longer we were here, the more we kind of realized that the kind of work we wanted to create, and the kind of community that we wanted to be in conversation in terms of the artists, even in a scene like New York it was really hard for us to find it.
After about a year and a half or so of being here, we just kind of realized we were like, "If we're going to try and work and be a part of the theatre community in New York, we're probably going to have to make our own thing." The values that we wanted to create, and the kind of stories we wanted to create, all of that really fell into place. It was really funny because the other day we moved apartments, and we realized as we were purging old documents and stuff, I found the original sheet of paper where were writing different potential names of the company on that sheet of paper. It kind of eventually... It had Radical Evolution, circled it, and there were little hearts around it and stuff like that.
For Radical Evolution, it was really intentional that we wanted something that felt expansive and progressive. Not really progressive in a political form, but progressive in a way of looking forward and looking forward in an intentional way, but also recognize that we are part of a lineage and part of a history, and that that was informing so much of the work that we do. I come from a strong background in Chicano theatre, in the Mexican/American theatre and theatre aesthetics. Likewise, Meropi was heavily influenced by that community as well through her work that she did in LA as well as other communities. We talk a lot about that, and recognizing that those values are really a big part of the work we do.
We didn't want to feel like we were outside of it, but we wanted to feel like we were a continuation of it. That's really where that name came from, holding both of those things simultaneously. That's pretty much how we began. That was 2011, and here we are in 2021 going on ten years strong.
Yura Sapi: Chapter 24, Working in Ensemble.
I would love to hear more about the structure of the company and how it's organized, how you work with others in general too. I think that is super important to think about in creating these spaces for ourselves.
Beto: We call ourselves a performance collective for very specific reasons. We aren't necessarily a hierarchal structure, although Meropi and I are the kind of co-founders and oftentimes find ourselves the center of the wheel in a lot of ways. But really, we try to make each process as ensemble driven and as equitably and creatively driven as possible. Because of the nature of the work that we create, it really was hard for us to put together in our minds that we were going to have a core dedicated ensemble. Even though the history of ensemble theatre is something that is very important to us, holding the values of ensemble theatre as a part of our creative process is something important to us.
Because of our mission and because of the work we wanted to create, it just didn't seem possible. Also, because of the city that we live in. There are ensemble companies here in New York. All the ones that I've talked to, people I talk about, holding onto that ensemble can oftentimes be really tricky. For a variety of reasons, we decided that what we really wanted to create was an ensemble of smaller ensembles if that makes sense. Each of the piece have their own dedicated community of artists that are working on these projects in really kind of a longterm capacity, or at least longterm in our mind. Most of our projects takes somewhere between two and three years to create, so we're oftentimes kind of creating those at the same time and building them.
Sometimes there's some interplay, like a couple of different people work on multiple projects with us, but a lot of times they're really different groups. The only central thing is some version of Meropi or myself are involved in each of those pieces. That's kind of the bigger structural thing for the creative side of it. On the other side of it, we are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so we do fall in a little bit of traditional values at least on paper in that way. I'd still say in a lot of ways, there's a lot of interplay between who does what and how decisions get made. No one's unilaterally making decisions. If they are, it's because we've all kind of collectively agreed for a variety of reasons that it just makes sense for one person to drive a particular part of the ship for a particular period of time.
Yura Sapi: Merriam Webster defines ensemble the noun as a group producing a single effect, and the adjective as emphasizing the roles of all performers as a whole rather than a star performance. When I think about this as it relates to what goes on behind the scenes of arts, performance and producing, I also connect it to activist work dismantling racism, ableism, sexism, transphobia, systems of oppression. We can't do this work alone.
While working in predominately white theatre art organizations, I found myself in Diversity Task Force meetings as a Diversity Inclusion Coordinator, leading affinity spaces for staff of color, calling people in and out on doing better when it comes to being anti-racist. There were other people who were invested in this work as well in these organizations, but it did still feel like lonely work. It felt as though I was spending so much time trying to convince people that there was even a problem. I often heard, "This work takes time. Maybe in ten years." This wasn't enough for me and how I wanted to be investing my time and my growth.
What I knew, many other people knew, that what we're doing is not working and we don't want to be continuing this. So, let's stop. Let's not. Let's not continue it. So I said, "Let me leave this space, this organization, this country and work with other people who want to be answering this question of how are we going to do it instead?" This is our space. We make the decisions. What are they going to be? It was a risk. It was a risk to leave salaries and health insurance, and an illusion of stability. Maybe it looks like stability to others from the outside, but on the inside, not feeling stable, not feeling balanced.
Now, with Balistikal and the organization I founded in collaboration with many other people, we are prioritizing anti-racism and anti-oppression in the art producing that we do as a core value. The people that I'm collaborating with now show a radical shift in what I even thought was possible a few years ago. It was an important lesson for me to learn that I need a team of people to be doing this work.
Chapter 25, Consensus Decision Making.
Beto: We tend to think about consensus decision making quite a lot. We might not all necessarily agree on every decision, but unless there's a really strong impulse to stop something from going forward, we all kind of collectively agreed in terms of how we make those decisions.
Yura Sapi: Can you speak more about consensus decision making?
Beto: The way that I think about it, and the way that I was taught about it, it kind of comes from some of my work in being involved in anti-racist organizing work. In a general way, it is like if you're working with inside of a group, instead of taking a vote and half of the people agree and half of the people don't agree, and then we just kind of move forward, the way consensus decision making works, is how I kind of understand it is, does everybody agree enough that we can move forward? I'm going to use a dumb example, because sometimes those are the easiest ones.
We decide that we want to have pizza tonight for dinner. It comes to the point of what toppings are we going to make. If someone says, "Well maybe we should have pepperoni," another one says, "Maybe we should have mushrooms," how are we going to make the decision on one or both of those, or the process of that? Well, I'm vegan then I definitely can't have pepperoni pizza. That's not going to work. I probably can't have pizza anyways if I'm vegan—
Yura Sapi: It'd have to be vegan pizza.
Beto: Vegan pizza. In general, the kind of way that you can think about it is if we're going to decide on mushrooms, is there any reason to not have mushroom pizza? Maybe I kind of didn't want mushrooms, but if everybody's really into the idea and I'm kind of ambivalent on it, or I'm like, it's not so important that we not have it, then let's go with mushrooms. But at the same time, I think it's always really important if you're doing consensus decision making that if you do have a problem, or if you do need to stop the decision from moving forward, that you need to be comfortable being honest and speaking up on it.
If the group really was into pepperoni, but I'm like, "Hey guys, I can't do that for a variety of reasons. I can't have that. Here's why," that may not be the best example of consensus decision making-
Yura Sapi: I like it. I think also it means, like you said, on both sides being someone to speak up and be able to communicate how you feel, or what you think about something, and then also in the group setting being able to create a group in which that is comfortable and that actually is what's happening, and what people can do and feel. I think it takes extra time. Any form of inclusion, anti-racism, anti-oppression, whenever we're talking about this it means that it's going to take extra time because you weren't doing it before. So, that's what you have to now learn.
Beto: Something that we've recently been talking about, I think we're probably going to start including in these conversations in the coming months this idea that silence doesn't equal consent. I think it's really important in this COVID world, because we're all staring at boxes in Zoom or we're on phone calls and stuff like that, we find that it's really important that everybody verbalizes their thoughts and their agreements or disagreements so that we all kind of know everyone's on board.
Yura Sapi: You said that your productions or ensemble projects end up taking two or three years to create, and I think these kinds of values of patience and waiting for that communication, for that clear communication within the group means that it will take longer. Is there anything else that is a part of your processes, reasons why your processes take two to three years?
Beto: One of the major reasons is because we create work in devised concepts and ensembles, and that takes time and it takes resources, and it takes the ability to put people in rooms together, the ability to put people in conversation together, those kind of elements as opposed to a playwright sitting in their room on their laptop writing a script that then gets reinterpreted by a bunch of other people. It's just a different process. It takes longer to do that.
One of our major values that we've held onto pretty much from the beginning, and was one of the reasons why we wanted to created Radical Evolution is because we've always had the value that the work is done when the work is done. We don't assign timetables to our work, especially at the beginning, and especially when we're in the creative process. We might start putting calendar dates on things when we're knowing we're ready to put it into production for a world premiere or something like that. But until that point, we really truly believe that the developmental process needs to take the time.
It needs to take... Definitely when we think about how that relates to the larger field, and kind of the factory model of theatre-making that happens in so many places where it's like, "Oh, you fit this slot in the calendar. Here's our season," and the way that that happens, that's definitely not the way that we create. We kind of knew that wasn't going to be the way we created from the get-go. When we think about how are we looking at white supremacist cultures or white organizational cultures as it relates to the work we do, that was something that we always identified as an element of white organizational culture in the theatre, and something that we wanted to push against. We're giving our work and our artists the time that they need to develop.
Yura Sapi: Chapter 26, Working With Other Communities
Beto: Because a lot of times when we've been asked to leave New York and to work in other communities, it's often been because we've had a relationship with a regional theatre. It's not as if we're inhabiting marginalized spaces per se.
Yura Sapi: It's super important to be invited.
Beto: Yeah, we are always invited. It's rare... I can't think of a time with Radical Evolution where we pushed our way into a space. If we are going to other spaces and going to other places, it is really important that we have established relationships or that we're going to establish relationships, and that we're invested in the longterm approach in that way. Two years ago, it's like exactly two years ago, we got the opportunity to do a field research trip in India to meet other artists, meet theatre artists in a couple of different cities in India, and make connections and things like that.
To do that, it was a lot of interactions with artists and just taking time to meet with people and talk about their experiences, and build these one-on-one relationships with a couple of different people and theatre-makers and stuff like that to kind of see if it's something that made sense that we wanted to do. I'm really happy that we took all that time and were very privileged to be able to make that experience happen, because now we're building this really amazing relationship with this theatre company called Jana Natya Manch or Janam Theatre, who is this really wonderful political street theatre based in New Delhi. I am so thoroughly inspired by every element of that theatre company.
We were in the process of inviting them to come to New York to do a workshop with us and to learn from one another when COVID hit, and made that delayed. So we're kind of waiting to figure out when it's going to be possible for travel between India and New York to happen. On that note, I'll say when we were talking about this experience, one of the things that when Meropi went to India that we learned was if we were going to come to India. Theatre makers in the US are always rightfully concerned about access to resources. It's definitely a challenge in the United States. I'm not going to say after spending 20 years making theatre here that that's not a continual challenge.
From my experience, it's nothing like what theatre makers experience in India. We got real clear and real hip to that as we were meeting people, and we realized if we were going to come to India, we're bringing resources. We're not going to come here and demand that they have things set up for is. If we're going to do work here, we're going to make sure that we have the resources to bring to this community of ours because it's ridiculous of us to think otherwise. That's why we decided that the next step in our relationship with JANOM was that we were going to bring them to New York for them to have this experience.
Yura Sapi: Chapter 27, Redefining Folk
Are there any other libratory practices, revolutionary practices, dismantling white supremacy types of practices that you've learned from Teatro Campesino that you think you take with you?
Beto: I have to kind of start by saying that that is probably the theatre company who has inspired me and inspired my work the most, both in terms of being a young artist and wondering kind of artist I wanted to be, and reading their work and reading about their history, and then having the extreme privilege of getting to work El Teatro Campesino as I've matured as a theatre artist. Aesthetically, a thing that I love about the history and the traditions of Campesino is that it's rooted in culture and popular forms, like the Mexican American culture and the popular forms of that culture, which I think in many ways is not something that you see in the larger theatre movement.
I'm sure people disagree with me, but I don't see a lot of it. So, that is something that I think is definitely a huge part of the work that we do at Radical Evolution. It's becoming more and more about how do we celebrate our folk traditions, put them on the same value level as maybe these more acceptable "higher" forms of art. If you ever go see a piece by El Teatro Campesino you'd know exactly what I'm talking about pretty immediately. You can see it in the audience and the community that's there. It's like they're with them 100% the whole time. That value is something I really, really admire.
Yura Sapi: I think just to say about the folk traditions, this is something that I've been wanting to excavate and dismantle more, this idea of theatre as... You know, the reason we use the word theatre in English is because of the oppressor's version of history. That's who writes the history. For me, I think that actually theatre as it exists is a form of storytelling and having people play roles and tell stories through the roles, we have a very western idea of what that can look like and what that is. That's where this folk versus classic, I guess, or traditional, or regular even, normal, using these words comes in, and that the folk is often the one that is more Indigenous or more POC.
I'm really interested in looking into that in my own cultures and my Indigenous descent. Specifically, I'm wanting to say that there have always been "theatres", and it was before the Greeks, and it's in culture. It doesn't have to be named that way for us to be able to see it as what we can do and what we should do, especially as we look towards the future in terms of solutions and ways of creating theatre and performance, and storytelling that may not be available to us I think because of COVID, because of the pandemic, and also wasn't necessarily serving us the best anyway in terms of being a very capitalistic-driven Broadway at the top.
The pandemic in a lot of ways, at least in my mind, is like the ultimate kryptonite to the theatre. It took away our superpower in some really critical ways. Theatre people, our strength is gathering people physically together in a room to have a shared artistic experience. That's just something we can't do. What do we do then? I've seen some really cool stuff online, and I really appreciate the efforts there and stuff like that, but one of the things that we really started to think about was well maybe we want to rethink how we gather. That really led us to a place of thinking about creating something that helps people gather in their own ways, and in their own shapes and forms.
The project that we're in development with right now, is right now we're just calling it the Radical Evolution Cookbook. It's a series of recipes by theatre makers that include food recipes. One of our great collaborators, Noe, who is an amazing Corrido writer and works with us on The Corrido of the San Patricios, he gave us a recipe for his nopales recipe, which I made the other day and it's fantastic. Then we also have recipes in there, it's just like how to gather people for a conversation, or how to give yourself five minutes of breathing time, things like that. It's a really interesting spread of recipes that we're in the process of putting together in some kind of artistic fashion, but we'll probably create a digital book first and then we'll look to kind of publish it.
Thinking about our project around The Corrido of the San Patricios, we've been trying to decide on what to do with that project, whether it made sense to kind of wait out the pandemic and see if it makes sense to try to re-man it, we were actually three days away from the world premiere of the show when the pandemic closed every theatre in the country. There's an element of it that we just didn't want… like waiting around for another opportunity made sense for that show. So, one of the things that we're doing is we're adapting it to making a podcast. It's going to be a podcast that's also going to include an audio drama adaptation of the show, but we'll also include additional conversations with experts and cultural stakeholders and things like that, that will kind of add further context to the history of the story, to the current experience that people who are dealing with the immigration process here in the US or a variety of other elements are connected to the show. That's something that we're working on developing as well, which is really exciting.
Then our other projects just continue to move forward. Songs About Trainings, we're still planning on doing the world premiere of that in Ohio. When that happens is a little bit in the air, but we're hoping it's next season. We're crossing our fingers. Then our international projects are just on hold until people can fly across oceans.
Yura Sapi: Chapter 28, Saying No Part Two
Beto: I'm going to call it "The Value of Saying No to Opportunities". It's really been something that we've been thinking about a lot lately, particularly when you're earlier on in your career, and you're earlier on with your ensemble it's really, really hard to not take every single opportunity that throws itself in front of you. It's something that we have done a lot over the years. If something came up, we would take it. We wouldn't guess a lot about it as we were doing it. As Radical Evolution has matured, we really learned that it's so important to think about the opportunity that's being put in front of you, and to really analyze it, and to really understand what are all the elements of the thing that is being offered to you because I'm sure that every opportunity is going to have its benefits. But a lot of them might not be good fits for you. It's okay to say, "This is great. Thank you for this offer, but it's not a good fit. I'm not going to take this opportunity."
It's something that I honestly in looking back wish we had thought a little bit more about, really understanding and being thoughtful around what are the opportunities that are in front of us, what is the benefit of it, and what is going to be the impact and the value of it coming out of it? If I'm going to build a relationship with another company, it really needs to be because we have a shared sense of values around the work that we're doing, around the impact that it's going to have, around the communities that we can connect with. Those things are really important for me.
It's been a really reflective time for Radical Evolution these past eight months now. Has it been eight months? It feels like it's been five years. Or it feels like it's been one day because everything just blends together. One of the things that we've really been thinking about is because we're always really invested in kind of reinterpreting and thinking about what we are as a company, and our work that we do, the pandemic has really given us a chance to further investigate the idea of what Radical Evolution is and what we want to be in the coming months and years. We have a couple of really exciting projects in development, and a couple of things we've been doing since the beginning of the pandemic.
Shortly after the killing of George Floyd, I put this random post up on Facebook that said I really wanted to understand more about what was happening. Because I'm a writer, which means that I'm also a reader, it meant that I wanted to invest in spending some time reading some literature. I just put this list of books that I wanted to read that all around the understanding of what anti-Blackness is. That post got a lot of hits in my community. Other people were like, "Yes, I want to do this. I want to read these books." I was like, "Do you want to read them while I'm reading them?" People were like, "Yes." Shortly after that, Radical Evolution started an anti-racist book club. That group has been meeting once a month. We have a Discord channel that we've been using to having conversations. It's a lot of theatre people, but it's also a lot of non-theatre people. So, seeing that interplay has been really enjoy to go through, and also to just read some amazing books.
I think my favorite that we've read so far was Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, which I was blown away by for so many reasons. Really giving me a lot to think about.
Yura Sapi: I wanted to talk about what your understanding, where you're at in terms of race and racial identity versus ethnic and cultural identity within this Latinx umbrella of people.
Beto: Yeah, because those are distinct and they're two different things. I want to just say that I really appreciate how you framed this to allow me to say that this is where I'm at, because I do think that it is something that I'm growing and learning, and it's evolved. Things that I thought previously, I don't agree. My thinking has become more complex in ways that I think before that it wasn't. Here in the United States, when we follow that term "as it is" was defined legally or pseudo-legally via the Census, which is really kind of where we first see it being used, that becomes even more clear, that it was used to continually divide a certain group of people away from whites. Even though many Latinx people are racialized as white, myself included. Think about just like walking down the street. If I'm back home in Texas, or if I'm in California, I'm Chicano and most people know.
When I'm walking down the street, people start talking to me in Spanish. I try to respond. My Spanish is super pocho, so it comes out wrong but I still do it. It's just kind of clear what kind of box people are putting me in. Here in New York, I live in an area called Flatbush, and this is largely an Afro-Caribbean community. A gentrifying one, but it's still predominantly Afro-Caribbean. When I walk down the street here, I'm white. The police treat me that way. People with authority treat me that way. I think it's really important that I recognize that. The day that I did kind of recognize that, it really helped me understand a lot when we talk about the systemic nature of racial oppression, and how important that is that I be clear on that, and that I draw that distinction between ethnicity and grace.
Even ethnicity within inside of this Latinx umbrella, which some people even argue its something that was placed upon Latinx people, right?
Yura Sapi: Yeah, that's where I'm at. I'm at the point where it's Latinx, Latin American. That was something that colonizers put on to their territory, Latin-speaking descendant-speaking countries in Europe. For me, especially as I get more and more connected with my Native identity, my Kichwa identity, to me it's the same colonization, just south. In my Native identity, Latinx is not empowering. It's not correct in terms of how I want to be identified. I feel as though it is something that was put on by colonizers, and now descendants... I'm a descendant of Native people and Spanish colonizers, so what does that mean to be holding on to a term that is not empowering for me, and was not my choice?
Beto: Something that comes to mind when you're talking about these things, Radical Evolution for a lot of our time and a lot of our energy, has been looking at and investigating what it means if you define yourself as mixed or bi-cultural, or come from communities where multiple cultures are at play in your family life, or in your immediate life, and things like that. It's just something that has been something that many, many people in our ensemble have a shared experience around, and became a real big source for us of inspiration and thought for our project. It's no surprise to me that one of our very first pieces that we created was investigating that identity through the history of the Lovings, and the trial, Loving v. Virginia. I think through that process, and I'll say that for a while I held that identity very close to my heart and it meant a lot to me.
I would get into pretty intense conversations with people, particularly in any race and spaces around it, and something that I'm at, to go back to our original thought of what I'm thinking about is, really wanting to make sure that I'm clear on that understanding that I talked about earlier, around that there's a difference between my ethnicity or how I identify myself, and how I think about myself, and how I am racialized in society, and understanding in a way that I need to be clear on that. For some people, those things line up very neatly, or it's pretty clear. They might even be the same. For some people, it doesn't. For some people, it's very widely different.
When I went to the Critical Mixed Race Studies conference a couple of years ago, it was a fascinating space to be in, to hear people's investigations into that idea. It kind of helped me understand I think some of these topics that you're talking about and grappling with, and understanding... And also to understand how I enter in spaces and conversations, and talk with people about stuff because I think that's where a lot of my conflicts came into play.
Yura Sapi: Chapter 29, Giving Up White Privilege
The anti-racism learning and action space for white people in US theatre talks about privilege and/or access to resources that are given to members of a social group without those benefits or access being earned. Privilege is unearned. The term can be traced to WEB DuBois, who wrote about the psychological wage that permitted white people living in poverty to feel superior to Black people. Privilege came into the mainstream with Peggy McIntosh's Invisible Knapsack, which she originally about for whites and male privilege. Privilege is the opposite side of the coin from oppression. So, where someone experiences oppression, someone else is experiencing privilege. Privilege groups are in power.
I've been racially identifying as Native, specifically Kichwa, and white. Fully Native, fully white. I am not 57% something, 38% something following these DNA tests because I'm feeling like I'm more helpful as a full person. I'm not helpful as half-something, half in, half not. Actually, one of the white supremacy culture characteristics is either/or thinking. For me, holding this nuance of being both fully white and fully Native, holding that, and living that, and being that in spaces I'm in is a resistance to white supremacy culture that is saying you have to be either/or. It's hard. It's definitely hard, but that's because white supremacy tries to make it easier for you to just fall into that comfort.
Beto: We kicked that "I'm half this, half that" language out of Radical Evolution four or five years ago, of just saying, "Oh, we don't want to think about it that way." I'm Irish and I'm Mexican. It's not like the left half of my body likes to dance Irish jigs, and the right half of my body likes to dance ballet folklórico. It doesn't work that way. You are both those things. You're an encapsulation of all these different cultures that make you. So, to put yourself into those fractions, you're just going to do a lot of mental math that's not worth your energy.
Yura Sapi: I have this theory about something that happens when people of color, the term, started getting more popular as a way to have solidarity between many different racial groups. We're centering the fact that people with darker skin, racism affects people with darker skin, more melanated people the most. So, rightfully so, we're naming that it's people of color and now we're saying Black, Indigenous and people of color to really highlight who we want to be centering at the front of the movement, and who we're fighting for. I think something that happened was people with light skin and white skin, especially people from Latin America descendancies from Latin America in which in Latin American countries you are considered right.
Even me in Bogotá, in Colombia right now, I'm considered dominant as a mestiza, someone who is white and also has Native heritage and descendancy. There is that dominance. People here have no problem talking about themselves as white in terms of soy blanco, blanco mestiza. There's not an issue in acknowledging that, which I think in the US it gets a little more complicated in terms of how things have been racialized in the laws throughout the years. I think people of color, this term, a lot of people felt encouraged to need to claim that and say that "I am a people of color," even though your skin is not of color or darker.
Before, there were other terms like minority, third world. There was something around third world descendancy. People would gather around that. I'm wanting to think about the terms we use. I'm hearing this one now that's called people of the global majority. I'm not sure exactly what that means for Latin American people who are white, who have white skin. I do think that there is a need to have the solidarity between people who are marginalized, but at the same time I'm really curious about how do we talk more about the difference between racism and xenophobia?
Another new term that I'm hearing, Rysse Guzman, who's a healer and therapist, created this term people of complexity. I'm curious to see how that will flow out. So yeah, I'm wondering if white people of complexity would be an interesting way to talk about it, of acknowledging... Not saying people of color.
Beto: I will say that being in spaces that these conversations are at play is really, really helpful, especially if they're ones that I know I can go in and have messy conversations and speak in draft as people like to say these days. Whether it's working with artists co-creating real equity and conversations there, or with Anti-Racist Book Club, having those spaces I think has been really, really valuable. Anyone that's wrestling with these questions, I'd say get in those spaces and get your education because that helps.
Yura Sapi: This is the work too, is what I'm thinking in terms of... They say in 2050, more than 50% of the population will be "people of color". But then I'm like, so what does that mean? I think about what's happening in Latin America where it's like, well I guess yeah, people technically are... Majority are people of color in terms of being somewhat mixed, having some Native African heritage in addition to whiteness for those who are white. What will that mean for the US when we get to that point, because we don't want to be replicating the same white supremacy and the same hierarchy. The closer you are to white, even though you are somewhat mixed, you'll still get that more privilege. I think about all the examples of especially in academia where I'm getting selected because I'm closer to white. I'm more palatable. Then also, this is something that has come up a lot in the podcast of we're not doing this to center whiteness.
All these conversations, the goal is to not be centering whiteness, and actually to remember I'm doing this for Black liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, doing it for the most melanated. That's why we're doing this. That's why we're having these conversations, and it's important for me to remember it's not just about me. I'm thinking about so many other people, and that's why I'm wanting to own my whiteness, my white privilege so that I can give it up, and so that I'm fighting for people who are darker than me, and people who are more marginalized in different scenarios. So, not wanting to be centering whiteness, even when we're working through our white identity.
Beto: Yeah, that's deep and it's hard. You said that's the word. It's so important that we have these conversations, and we do in a brave space kind of way. I think that's been one of the biggest problems, especially in space I've been it. It's like just don't talk about it, has been the mode for so much of my 40 rotations. I'm kind of done with that.
Yura Sapi: Silence is violence when it comes anti-racism and thinking about white silence too. So, when is it that I'm... I'm not talking about these things because of white fragility and where my whiteness doesn't want to be giving up any power, or feels like a risk. So, thinking about where is it that I need to be taking these risks again for this ultimate goal of Indigenous sovereignty, doing anti-racism with folks who still don't even fully understand that racism is happening versus them being in these types of spaces. These are the conversations, and definitely I think these are the spaces to have it.
Beto: An anti-racist organizer who is way smarter than I am, she once told me that no one ever has a conversation about race where someone's feelings aren't going to get hurt, because we just don't have any way to... We don't have enough background in this to have a conversation in any other way. That really helped me get over my fear of talking about it. It's going to happen regardless.
Yura Sapi: I'm living in Colombia. I've been here for a while now, and I understand the need to want to focus on US understanding, especially for folks who are in the US, and also potentially can't even go back to their Latin American country where they hold and claim Latinx identity of. That being said, I do think that my role in the revolution does have to do with being a bridge walker, as Pooja Prema talks about in another episode. Being someone who is reflecting and looking at a global view of how racism is affecting our world, I think that it's super important when it climate justice. The air we breathe. Rivers don't know what a state or country boundary is. The ocean doesn't understand that. That's something that we created as humans.
That's also another place of holding nuance, understanding that being in a specific country means that you are in specific laws and in specific situations. There are things that are just different about living in Colombia than in the US in terms of the laws and what is legal, how things work and function. At the same time, how are we thinking about this in a broader sense and how we are connected? What happens there does influence here. Especially with these technologies and with translations being available, being able to actually have dialogue, and connect, and find common ground in ways to effect change together.
Beto: For real. The moment that the majority of people on this planet realize just how intimately we all are connected, I really feel like we're going to solve a lot of our problems. Just that knowledge. If we could really get there and people really understand it. It's like I'm working on my family to get them there in small ways. Maybe that's my small role in the revolution, just get a couple of people to change their mind.
Yura Sapi: Thank you friends. Thank you for a great first season of the Building Our Own Tables podcast. I'm your host, editor and producer, Yura Sapi. Original music is by Julian Vargas. You can find and follow them on SoundCloud. This podcast is produced as a contribution to Howlround Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of the series and other Howlround podcasts in our feed, on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search Howlround Theatre Commons and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you love this podcast, donate to support a future season at AdvancingArtsForward.org. You can also post a rating and write a review on those platforms to help other people find us. There's a transcript available for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content available on Howlround.com.
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