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Voices del Camino: Southern Hospitality and Southern "Animosity"

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Voices del Camino: Southern Hospitality and Southern "Animosity"

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Stops 1 & 3: TX & TN | Southern Hospitality and Southern "Animosity", by Chris Cuenza

Chris flashes a smile for the camera while leading a Rueda workshop

Chris flashes a smile for the camera while leading a Rueda workshop

It so interesting that when people talk about “the South”, there are two things that seem to always come out: Southern food and Southern hospitality (I loooove Southern food, by the way!) Now, Southern hospitality is alive and well in Texas and in Tennessee. The local people were extremely welcoming and extremely nice. They made staying in a city that I have never been, feel as if they’d opened the doors to their own homes. There was a warmth that came from the community—a warmth that didn't make me feel like a visitor, but rather as if I just moved to the neighborhood and my new neighbors were welcoming me with fresh baked pies. It was beautiful. I swear, if the whole world acted with Southern hospitality, it would be such an amazing world (not to mention, we’d be extremely really well fed!). 

But there’s a flip side to this hospitality. I think I want to call it “Southern animosity”.  It’s a condescending and sometimes hostile vibe given to people of color. I don’t want to say it was racism, and we didn’t feel it from all the Caucasian people that we encountered, but when I felt it, it was definitely heavy. Coming from a big city like LA, that is a melting pot of so many different types of people, this animosity started to really stand out to me. 

The company all went out one night to a local bar in Midland, and the entire time we were having fun and dancing together, a [Caucasian] man across the room stared at us—like a lion about to pounce on its prey. It was definitely not a welcoming look, to say the least. And then we overheard people saying things about us—or even TO us—that made me feel like they were trying to be the “cool group in high school,” judging us because we didn't buy name brand clothes. Except, it wasn’t about what we were wearing…

Now being a man, of course I wanted to puff my chest and “go caveman” on some of these folks, but instead I tried to put my energy and focus on the warmth that was given by the majority instead of the cold received by the few. The warmth that we received from Robbyne 

and her community in Midland, TX, and from the waitress from Gus’s Fried Chicken in Memphis, TN, and from the students of University of the South in Sewanee, TN… We can all take a page or two from their handbook, on how to welcome new faces to our communities. To the South: thank you, and I shall see you soon.

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Voices del Camino: The Struggle within the "Struggle"

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Voices del Camino: The Struggle within the "Struggle"

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Stop 2: WASHINGTON, DC | The struggle within the "Struggle", by Ana Maria Alvarez

I have always had a tumultuous relationship with our nation’s capital. I am the child of Communist union organizers. I’ve seen the impact that the U.S. embargo of Cuba has had on my father’s patria. I endured years of miseducation from teachers in the South, who only told “his-story” and hid the truths of lies that our country has been built on. There have been times in my life where I have not stood when the national anthem was played, times when abroad that I pretended to not be from this country. …And then there have been those times when I have felt so incredibly grateful to have been born here and to call the United States of America my home. 

Some of the company (and Ana Maria's son) at the Memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, DC

Some of the company (and Ana Maria's son) at the Memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, DC

Being in Washington DC, bringing my son for the first time to our nation’s capital, and especially performing Agua Furiosa, brought up all of this and more. Saturday [our first show there] was a sold out audience, and for me, it felt like one of our hardest shows. Everything that could have gone wrong did (with tech, with space, with hitting choreography…), yet people seemed to still respond well; things resonated, and the piece worked. They didn’t know what went wrong. They hadn’t seen it 30 times. They weren’t the authors, and therefore they weren’t judging it as harshly. 

The second night of our show was an audience full of my parents’ friends—the village that raised me, the community who made me a “red diaper” baby, and the folks who are passing the torch to the next generation of change makers. The Q&A with this audience was one of the most interesting and inspiring for me—to hear their appreciation, but also how they were struggling with how I placed responsibility for this country’s current state of affairs on ALL of us. It was unnerving for some of my folks. They (we) have spent so much of our lives fighting the ‘enemy’, so to have one of their own offspring state publicly that WE are also the enemy, was hard for them to hear. 

I never thought about this in quite the same way until this Q&A —this idea that I am taking a different route than my parents. My village of my parents’ generation weren’t artists, they were revolutionaries, fighting the system. Fighting the system will always be at the root of my work, but as I am growing as an artist, as I continue to age, as I raise my own child (soon to be children), I have become more nuanced about that fight. It’s about resistance as love versus as violence. It’s the idea that pushing back and fighting can be done so much more effectivelythrough the arts, because it’s the ultimate tool to help us feel and remember our humanity.  

Who knew that it would be in DC that I would really find that?! This trip gave me more love for this city, for this nation and for exactly how I was raised to resist it all. 

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Voices del Camino: A love note to Robbyne and James

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Voices del Camino: A love note to Robbyne and James

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement.

Stop 1: MIDLAND, TX | A love note to Robbyne and James, by Ana Maria Alvarez

(Editor's note: Robbyne Hocker Fuller and James Fuller are with the Midland African-American Roots Historical/Cultural Arts Council, the presenters who brought CONTRA-TIEMPO to Midland)

To Robbyne:

You are a force of nature! What an inspiration! From one hard working, ambitious, and determined woman to another, you give me LIFE and LIGHT! I knew the minute I met you, we were going to be friends. You have this spirit that gives one the sense that you know something the rest of us yet don’t and that you are floating about an inch off the ground.  You never stop sharing and making connections. It’s the reason we were able to bring our work to Midland – because of the incredible belief you have in others, in building community and in the power of unifying around a cause. I want to be you when I grow up!

Robbyne and James

Robbyne and James

To James (Robbyne’s other half, but also quite a life force, as well):

You are on the other side of the universe from the love of your life. The two of you all are like yin/yang – you complete the full spectrum of energy and light. You move at a different speed than the rest of us, yet you get there at the same time – if not earlier. I learned to stop and breathe and slow down from you – I also learned that you don’t have to invite the Roots Council audience to express themselves – because, goodness me – they DO! You told people to think, think, think and feel before our show. That was so wise, and I have thought about that with every other audience since. How I wish we could have recorded you speaking, to play for every audience we meet. What's funny about this is, I don’t think you had anything written; I believe you just listened and delivered. You spoke truth, and I thank you for that. 

Thank you both. I look forward to staying connected and hopefully finding ourselves out there in TX with you all again soon! 

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Voices del Camino: Dancing Out on Faith

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Voices del Camino: Dancing Out on Faith

On the series: Voices del Camino is our series of stories and reflections from the company, while on tour. El camino, in Spanish, literally means "the road"; but el camino is also the journey that we're on towards witnessing, creating, and sharing the beauty and complexity of humanity, and towards transforming our world through love and movement. 

Stop 1: MIDLAND, TX | Dancing Out On Faith... by Samad Raheem Guerra

Initially, I had questions about the way that our work might be received in Midland, Texas - a predominately Christian town with very liberal gun laws. How would a piece like "Agua Furiosa" sit with people, I wondered. All of my concerns seemed to fly out the door as soon as we arrived at bag-check. We were greeted by the nicest man, Mr. Fuller, who turned out to be the husband of Robbyne Hocker Fuller, one of our presenters. He introduced us to Pastor Hale and then briefly explained the strong network of faith-based communities, the Midland African American Roots Historical Cultural Arts Council (MAARHCAC), that rallied together on our behalf to make sure that we could perform in Midland. I immediately felt at home with Mr. Fuller and Pastor Hale and had questions about the role that faith plays in the African-American community in Midland. I wondered if they knew that "Agua Furiosa" conjures up the spirit of Oyá, a deity in Africa and the Diaspora, who narrates the story from Her perspective. 

Pastor Hale told me that Midland, like other small towns in Texas, faith is the binding force that keeps people connected to each other, regardless of their differing political views. We also learned that faith-based organizations like the MAARHCAC, are heavily involved in local politics in Midland. Mrs. Fuller, for example, has helped educate residents about policies affecting the environment and real-estate. 

 

Later in the week we were given copies of The Weekender, a local guide to events in Midland. On the front page was a picture of me and a large caption that read: Contra Tiempo brings themes of social justice. Whether anyone knew that some of the dances presented in our work embody African deities didn't worry me. I was excited to perform and couldn't wait to hit the stage! Before getting to my place, I peered into the audience and smiled at the almost-full crowd of predominately Black and Brown faces, young and old. If this is what faith can do, I thought, I want to be a part of it.  

Mr. Fuller sat us all down and reminded us of the importance of the work we are doing. “It’s God’s work,” he said, and the work of a true artist.
After my solo, the crowd clapped, which had never happened before. It must have landed and resonated with people in a way that it hadn't before. A Council member approached me after the show and said that we were the best thing that's come to Midland in a long time. I gave her a hug and introduced myself to her son, an aspiring performer. Before heading out, Mr. Fuller sat us all down and reminded us of the importance of the work we are doing. "It's God's work," he said, and the work of a true artist. 

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