Featured Stories, Lutherans in Minnesota

St. Olaf College, St. Paul’s Lutheran to host theater of the oppressed group from Mexico

El Taller A.C., a theater of the oppressed troupe from Mexico, offers productions that are meant to encourage understanding and discussion about issues facing immigrants. Photo provided by Justin Remer-Thamert

What compels a mother to leave her children at home while she crosses the U.S. border from Mexico in search of work? This is one of the questions to be posed in an upcoming U.S. theatre tour by the Mexican organization El Taller A.C. (pronounced /el TA-yer/, meaning “the workshop, a non-profit”).

El Taller A.C.’s Theatre of the Oppressed Group (TO) is addressing this subject because, contrary to common rhetoric, immigration is not just about Mexican men climbing a fence to take “American jobs.”

Migrant women responding to the responsibility they feel towards their families are a substantial, but normally invisible, aspect of this story. In hopes of fostering a vibrant future for their children, these women often traverse the thirsty desert, knowing with near-certainty they will pay for this journey with unwanted sexual and physical abuse. Migrant women are one of the most vulnerable populations in both Mexico and the U.S.

“Camino de Esperanza/Esperanza’s Journey” is a play of collective creation that contrasts the life of a single mother named Esperanza (meaning “hope”) in Mexico and the U.S. Esperanza’s story is performed without verbal communication — with the exception of the word “mama” — in order to show that humans are capable of deep dialogue despite barriers of language.

Such an artistic decision also has its practical side. The TO encourages audience members to be active observers. Following the group’s presentation, two actors facilitate audience “interventions” to change the outcome of the play. Through the interventions, the “spect-actors” inspire collective resolution to social problems in which people have responsibility to act.

“We aspire to return to the oppressed their capacity for action, to begin the process of mutual recognition and horizontal dialogue between us women who offer up our work and the women and men who will receive it,” cast member Italia Vazquez explains. “We aim … to open the borders between the stage and the audience. As such, we invite you to cross with us to explore the alternatives for change from this side, the side of the oppressed.”

“Hope” in Minnesota

The tour theme is “Women Opening Borders: A Journey in Equity, Culture, and Art.” It is being coordinated by St. Olaf alumnus Justin Remer-Thamert as part of a Mexican Fulbright investigation on the importance of art in social transformation. He says that, because he was raised with a message that included an emphasis on social justice at St. Paul Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, migrant issues and the needs of the most vulnerable continue as an important focus of his ministry.

“We aim … to open the borders between the stage and the audience.”

Though the migration story may not seem as evident in Minnesota, many Twin Cities congregations and resettlement agencies know this narrative is just as real today, according to Remer-Thamert. This understanding is further emphasized by the locations where “Camino de Esperanza” will be presented.

The play will be presented May 7 at 7:00 p.m., following a TO workshop, at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, a bilingual congregation at 2742 15th Avenue South in Minneapolis. On May 8 at 7:30 p.m., the play will be the feature presentation at Pangea World Theater, in collaboration with Hyphe-NATIONS/NACIONES-Conectadas, a Latina/o community-based theatre program.

El Taller A.C. will also perform May 9 at 6:30 p.m, at the St. Olaf College Pause during an event organized by the student organization, Presente.

All performances are free and open to the public. For more information, visit El Taller A.C.’s website: www.espacioeltaller.org.

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