A Millennial Crossing Generational Borders

As part of the Café Onda soft launch this summer, we asked five authors from different places in the generational map, at different stages of their career, to open their hearts and their minds for us to reflect on their experience at the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders. This is the final post in the series.

Five people sitting in chairs laughing
Attendees Diane Rodriguez, Evelina Fernandez, José Luis Valenzuela, and others share a laugh. Photo by Michael Daniel.

I have had the immense privilege of attending a handful of Theatre Communications Group (TCG) conferences in the last five years and I am honored as a young emerging artist to be given an opportunity to reflect and share on my experiences at the Crossing Borders conference in San Diego.

The first plenary featured artists speaking about their own version of “The Mountaintop.” Their inspirational thoughts left me wondering about what I saw on the mountaintop: What is my idea of an ideal theatre? What kinds of problems will we still be facing in twenty years, and what issues will seem antiquated?

This year’s conference focused on diversity and inclusion. However, despite this intention, many felt quite the opposite occurred. It began on the first day of the conference at the Intergenerational Leaders of Color meeting, when one of the session’s moderators requested that those who identified as “white allies” please support those who identified as leaders of color by leaving the room. Like many, I was shocked at the announcement and felt uncomfortable. I was confused because my initial and lasting impression was that it was wrong to ask people to leave the room based on the how they identified. Were we moving towards a progressive dialogue on diversity and inclusion or towards old notions?

One person sitting and talking, three others sitting and listening
Mixed Race Affinity Group at TCG. Photo by Michael Daniel.

Many of my generation—millennials—are mixed. After the white allies left the room, I questioned my authenticity as an artist of color. As I am by birth half-white, did I qualify as a person of color? Growing up, the constant question was whether I was more “white” or more Latina. At that moment, my mind flew to ugly thoughts; I pushed these notions aside acknowledging the strength in the espiritu of the Latino culture that both of my parents had raised me with.

I looked to my elders and mentors to gage their reaction and followed in their silence. The subject was mute for a few moments before a young man spoke out about how it felt wrong to him. His comment made me reflect on generational differences present at the meeting. As a member of a younger generation of theater artists, I have always known white allies to be a part of the teatro movement. I have known their sharing in the promotion of culturally specific theatre, holding the espiritu of la causa close to their hearts.

As new generations try to tackle the beast of American theatre, we must face the weight and complexity of our collective history, and learn to compromise with our elders. I have not felt the oppression and the struggles that the veteranos have, therefore I cannot understand the freedom as they might. For that reason, it is important to continue providing spaces for different generations to discuss and make progress on diversity and inclusion Speaking to my father recently, I thought about how white privilege has a tendency to dominate conversations. In retrospect, I see that the request for white allies to leave the room was a request to give the floor solely to the voices for whom the meeting was designed, however, compromise could have been achieved in asking the white allies to stay, save their voice, and open their ears. My purpose at the conference was primarily to listen, and in this moment, I wanted the white allies to have the same opportunity.

The conference may have begun on a conflicting note, yet by the closing plenary I was deeply moved by our sense of history and unity as a theatre community. As we held hands and closed our eyes, I found myself breaking into tears. I felt silly, then comforted when I looked to an older man standing to my side also wiping tears from his eyes. I haven’t the slightest idea what American theatre will look like in twenty years, but I do know in order for us to truly move towards a diverse and inclusive theater, we must listen and compromise.

Para pedir este articulo traducido al Español, por favor escriba a cafeonda@howlround.comTitulado: Traducción para NOMBRE DEL ARTICULO.

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Thank you for your comments on this, Maya. For all of us who weren't able to attend the conference it was a great peek into the event. As a fellow Millennial, I'm really interested in your thoughts on how race, theater, and this generation are intersecting. Any chance you'd write another article/continue the conversation somewhere? If so, please post links here! Thanks again for your thoughts and words.

Why do you have be pigeon holed into one faction or the other? Be your own artist. Make theater that you enjoy and everyone else can take it as they please.