Continuing with this month's focus on Chicago Latino literary life, this week's column will take a look at Proyecto Latina, one of its constituent groups , Tianguis, and one of its organizers, Irasema Gonzales.
About Proyecto Latina
Proyecto Latina is a collaborative between Teatro Luna, Tianguis, and Mariposa Atomica Ink. We are excited about showcasing Latina talent and are always seeking outgoing Latina poets and performers for our monthly open mic series. Proyecto Latina takes place the third Monday of every month. Its an open mic so everything's game: Poetry, spoken word, music, monologues, shorts y en el idioma que prefieras. And if you're too shy to get on stage come and be one of the lucky spectators.
Proyecto Latina -- Recent and upcoming performers/2007 Calendar
January 15th: Diane Herrera
February 19th: Luna Blues Machine
March 19th: Silvia Rivera
April 16th: Sylvia Manrique
May 20th: Paloma Martinez-Cruz
June 18th: Lisa Alvarado.........it's shameless self promotion, forgive me.
...more dates coming soon...
Proyecto Latina's 2006 featured performers were: Belinda Cervantes, Maritza Cervantes, Tanya Saracho, Norbella Peña, Teatro Luna w/ Piece of Ass, Diana Campos, Achy Obejas, Coya Paz, Lupe Martinez, Yolanda Cardenas, Diana Pando, Irasema Gonzalez, Magda Banda, and Alicia Ponce.
WANTED: LATINA TALENT
Know someone we should feature? Is it you? We are always looking for established and emerging talent. Is it your mom, sister, bff, novia or vecina? Drop us a line, send us a sample of your work to: proyectolatina at tianguis dot com. Or sign-up for the open mic and show us what you got.
I was born and raised in Chicago. I began getting in trouble in fifth grade for reading books during class. Around the same time, I got the urge to write and began drafting stories in my notebooks. My parents noticed and when I was in 8th grade my dad bought me a typewriter for my birthday. I attended a public grammar school and a Catholic High School. Drama and writing activities at school were always my favorite outlets. In 1995, I entered Columbia College Chicago. Simply getting into college was a miracle since I had minimal guidance from my high school counselor, and as a first generation college student I was for the most part on my own.
I’m still a book lover and writer, and now also a blogger, and merchant. In 2006 I unveiled Tianguis, a cultural shop featuring books and work by Latino writers.
A few months later in January 2007 I helped co-found Proyecto Latina, a monthly open mic featuring emerging and established Latina talent. I meet with my writing group monthly for writing, chisme, and sangria, and in 2007 we published the chapbook, “Afternoon Wine: Vicios, Suenos y confesiones.”
My work also appeared in the anthology, “Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest, published by March Abrazo Press, 2000. I live with my wonderful husband and two cats in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. When I grow up I wanna be a mommy, live on a goat farm and get a dog—-and not necessarily in that order.
Irasema--Tell us about Tianguis. Some people would say: "A tea room in a Mexican neighborhood? No way!" What's your response to them?
Well, we are not exactly a tea room. I think the word tearoom carries a certain connotation of formal afternoon teas or elaborate tea ceremonies. I’ve incorporated what I enjoy the most from tea and books into my concept—it was the kind of place I always wanted to frequent.
I am by no means an official spokesperson but tea definitely has its role in Mexican culture. There is Lemongrass or te de limon, manzanilla or chamomile, jamaica or hisbiscus tea is used to make an agua fresca, which is really an ice tea. And I’ve always enjoyed te de canela with a touch of milk.
You also represent one of three groups that came together to found Proyecto Latina. Talk to us about those groups, how they came together, and the purpose and focus of the project.
When I first opened my store last year my friend, Diana Pando came to me with an idea that her and Coya Paz, from Teatro Luna had been talking about.
The idea was to have an open mic that would be by, for and all about Latina talent—we would feature established and emerging talent. I loved the idea and we’ve done it ever since. Every month we pick a Latina and we try to keep the features diverse, we’ve had actresses, musicians, comedians, poets, and writers. There is always eight open mic slots for interested participants. There are no hang-ups on language, the programming is bilingual and we’ve had Spanish, English and Portuguese work featured. Most recently we had a teacher that made a suggestion and ultimately inspired the chisme box.
That has been a really fun element to incorporate—people drop in anonymous chismes and we read them in between participants, the winning chisme gets posted on Proyecto Latina’s myspace account.
Who are the artists so far that have performed? Do you see a thread connecting their work? Is there a a general direction Proyecto Latina is attempting to forge? If so, what would that be, and how does that relate to the Chicago poetry/arts scene, and the Latino writing and arts community here in the city.
All the women that have been featured have such presented phenomenal work, they include emerging and established talent. Some of last years highlights included Achy Obejas, Coya Paz and Teatro Luna ensemble, Diana Campos, Silvia Rivera, the Luna Blues Machine, and Lupe Martinez.
As for a common thread connecting their work I would probably have to say its the seriousness which all the women, including performers and our audiences members take the work. Its great to hear and identify with each others work without there being hang-ups on language or cultural nuances.
As a former writing student that sat in classes where many times, I was the only Latina, its empowering and exciting to see so many of my peers making such wonderful contributions—it’s a monthly reminder that we are in good company. I am one to definitely encourage an artist to create their own opportunities instead of waiting for the mainstream’s approval or permission—I think Proyecto Latina can help encourage that. And perhaps the result of those efforts will mean more visibility, or the initiative of even more creative projects by Latinas in this city.
What's the importance of Latina space for the development and presentation of writing?
A Latina space is very important, it was something that was definitely missing. There are stories, songs, skits, that only we can tell. We hope to nurture and inspire others, and if nothing else at least provide an opportunity for fraternity and networking.
How would you say Proyecto Latina offers something different than the slam/spoken word scene, particularly as it seems that slam is now a pigeonhole for many writers of color?
Most if not all, of our feature performers are working on very exciting projects. I personally am always asking for demo cd’s or encouraging self-publication of chapbooks, or online blogs—anything to get our work out there. We are always making a ton of announcements about other events, we are most definitely a busy crowd. We are writers and artists of color but we’re not letting that hold us back.
Who would be in your dream line-up and why?
Hmmm, that’s a hard one. There is so much to pick from. Would this be a one hour event or a four day festival?
Where do you see Tianguis and Proyecto Latina ten years from now?
Tianguis will hopefully have more bookshelves, cover a lot more square footage, and have the resources stock more books and host more readings by Latino writers. Proyecto Latina will still take place the third Monday of every month, and a new generation of Latinas will be making their contributions.
bookshelf photo credit: Cindy Mosqueda aka Cindylu/www.loteriachicana.net
2003 S. Damen
Chicago, IL 60608