Hogar Comunitario first opened it’s doors 20 years ago when a Catholic woman, who after having many babies left on her doorstep, saw the need for such a community home to support young, indigenous, pregnant women and mothers. 20 years later, the population that Hogar Comunitario cares for is in no less need of the support it provides.
At it’s core, the mission of Hogar Comunitario is to provide a safe and supportive home for young pregnant women, often single, often indigenous, and often victims of abuse. However, it does not provide a long term home, but a place where women can come and live before, during, and after their birth. The team that currently makes up Hogar Comunitario consists of 3 midwives, a psychologist, a community outreach coordinator of sorts, an administrator, a gardener, and several volunteers whose roles and skills fluctuate.
The work that they do with women is quite expansive. They provide the women with the basic fundamentals of caring for them before, during, and after the birth, including prenatal checkups, workshops preparing for the birth, making of herbal salves, lactation consultations -all of it. For the women who live here, they get all of that and more: healthy food, a place to sleep at night, activities to do during the day, avenues to learn skills and make money through artisanal crafts or garden projects such as macramé and clay or the cultivation of oyster mushrooms. They make friends, get psychological support, and are surrounded by a community of women.
Beyond that, Hogar Comunitario provides access to midwives, workshops, and community support to many other women. They are currently working on expanding and continuing their trips to indigenous communities outside the city, where they do workshops with indigenous women and men studying to become midwives and health promoters and educators in their own communities.
For me, finding out exactly what my role here has been a bit slow process, slower still due to my struggles with language barriers- because I am still learning Spanish and know nothing of the indigenous languages most commonly spoken here -Tzotzil and Tzeltal. I have already been moving slower due to the fact that I am not a midwife, or a psychologist, or an indigenous woman with the same life experience. I am a 21 year old media arts major from South Carolina with a broken camera who speaks broken Spanish. (Oh yeah, a big thing I wanted to do for the organization that we talked about before I came, was make a documentary, but my camera broke practically the second I got here. It is still in recovery mode in Mexico City receiving repairs. This has also made my role here feel funny… that I want to make a documentary, and I have no way to do that currently).
Still, just being around the work here, and helping in small ways whether that be taking pictures, learning and helping to cultivate oyster mushrooms, researching and applying for grants, folding laundry, answering the door and answering questions, helping cook food, writing minutes for workshops, helping plan workshops, or now, leading my own workshop, the taller de barro- clay workshop (something they used to do every week but had to stop when they lost the funding for the teacher) is still incredibly valuable. It feels like real life, if you know what I mean… This organization is doing real things for people who are really suffering, who really have limited access to so many things. The organization’s way of providing care is so basic, and so good -providing a home, providing a place to stay and people to listen, providing opportunities to grow and hopefully better one’s situations.
Something I feel often in my own process of educating myself is that I have so many interests, how can I know what one thing is my one thing that I should be doing (although I guess who said I have to choose?). But, I feel in many ways that Hogar Comunitario is actually a combination of so many of my interests, and there is space here for so many good things to happen. It combines my love of community, of health, of art, of women’s health, of mental health, of working to serve marginalized and underserved groups, of midwifery, of families, of reproductive and sexual health. It’s actually kind of all of it.
And yet, currently, for me something feels like it’s missing. And maybe what is missing is something inside of me, that is still growing and still trying to figure this thing out. Maybe it’s the language barrier, maybe it is my own health, maybe it is my own fear, maybe it is a lack of resources and funding even within Hogar Comunitario to be able to actualize all of their goals and projects, maybe it’s that racism and sexism are so unbelievably alive and visible working and living here in San Cristobal and working with these women, and I feel unequipped to truly deal with the depth to which those systems are working against indigenous women here, maybe it’s all of the things I feel I am battling right now within myself being a gringa traveling in Mexcio and trying to figure out how to take care of myself, much less be able to actualize and have a profound work experience here, maybe it’s the pressure of academia and Antioch to have a profound work experience (a pressure I feel on every co-op), maybe I don’t have it all together as well as I thought coming here, maybe it’s none of that, maybe it’s all of that.
This fall quarter I am co-oping in Peñasco, New Mexico at the Peñasco Theater Collective. (Check out their website here https://www.penascotheatre.org) How do I succinctly describe the Peñasco Theater Collective and their mission? In short, they are Alessandra Ogren, Rebekah Tarín, and Serena Rascón, a group of both visual and performance artists who live and work here at the theater. Although they host resident artists and have live performances in the theater, I would say their biggest focus right now is their youth programing and education. They teach afterschool classes in the fall and spring, currently they are teaching performance and visual arts classes to the La Jicarita Commmunity School here in Peñasco, they host a teen camp in the summer, and they have a youth dance and performance company some of whom will be performing in Wisefool’s production of Circus Luminous this Thanksgiving. They are also applying for grant money right now so that they can further radicalize their existing programs.
My role here at the theater is one of half student/half teacher. I assist in classes when and where I can, as I am still learning so much. I am learning as much as I can, about the community here and its history, about the different art and performance styles we teach here, and about myself and my relationship to art and to this community. I am learning what it means to enter a community, especially a community of largely people of color, and how to find my place in it.
Youth learn all different types of performance and art- they do stilts, lyra, fabric, trapeze, acrobatics, dance, drawing and painting. But, the theater doesn’t stop at just teaching cool skills and tricks to students. Because, art is an extremely powerful tool, especially for youth who are just learning how to express themselves, who are just learning who they are in the world.
Watch La Jicarita students practice stilt walking! https://youtu.be/Ues6hdnp0o4
Students work and push themselves to get over their fears. They work on both mental and physical weaknesses in their classes. Almost everyone can stilt walk, you just have to get over the initial mental block that tells you that you can’t. Almost everyone can paint, you just have to get over the mental block that tells you you’re doing it wrong. The women behind the Peñasco Theater Collective are pretty freaking incredible. Not only are they all ridiculously talented, but they are also just really on it, if you know what I mean… And what I mean is, they are doing some seriously important and necessary work in the world!
Peñasco itself is a small town mountain town in Northern New Mexico made up of primarily of Latino and Native people. It is a historically underprivileged area where many live under the poverty line. The theater being situated in this town gives good context for the work they are doing here. Social justice is a huge aspect of their mission. They are working to promote access of art and performance to typically underprivileged and marginalized groups of people.
Students gain confidence in themselves and become empowered in their art classes. They learn to use their bodies and are given the freedom and space to express themselves. They are not shut down or further silenced but given room to grow and expand and be themselves. Themes of identity and heritage are often themes in their classes. And sure, performance is fun but students also learn about responsibility, discipline, and hard work in their classes.
In a time where arts and performance funding is being cut from public schools, we’re all addicted to sugar, oceans are filled with plastic, and kids are taught for standardized tests not their own learning, the Peñasco Theater is doing the opposite. This fall the K1 students from the La Jicarita School are writing a play about where their food comes, highlighting the strange and probably toxic chemicals in junk food and farms and gardens where real food is grown not processed.
In June of this year, 16 year old Victor Villalpando, a young dancer and performer who learned from and worked with those in the theater community, was shot and killed by police in Española, New Mexico. Last month the women behind the Peñasco Theater Collective organized an art action in Santa Fe protesting police brutality and Victor’s death. The action was complete with a giant puppet of Victor and was held in conjunction with the National Day of Protest Against Police Brutality.
An article about the action can be read here:
I made a video compilation (using my newfound love of media) of some of the video and audio from the action. Sorry bout the sniffles, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t crying throughout much of the action. Not only was their action beautiful and well executed, but it was also effective, powerful, honest, and brave.
The performance and words speak for themselves. Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEevv1f9hEw&feature=youtube_gdata_player
After having been involved in some of the action and protest surrounding the death of John Crawford by police in Beavercreek Ohio over the summer, it was extremely poignant for me to come here to New Mexico to be at the epicenter of another tragic case of police violence against an innocent young man. The action performed in Santa Fe was unique in that it accessed and used art to express emotion and charge the space in a way that I have not seen at a protest before. I only wish more people had seen this event.
Please share the video so that others may see what a small community in Northern New Mexico is doing!
Wow- I ended up writing quite a bit I guess, even though of course there are almost always more stories to tell and more details to add, but that’ll have to be it for now. Mostly I just hope people catch on to and feel inspired by the amazing work being done by the Peñasco Theater Collective!