‘Bad for the Community’ explores Gentrification in Boyle Heights Now and In The Future

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by Tom Nguyen

Friday, April 15 was the opening night of “Bad for the Community”, a new play at CASA 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights, written by Josefina Lopez and Oscar Arguello and includes “the voices for and against gentrification.” Many in this community, where I live, are in a state of active vigilance against anything resembling gentrification and the topic has even made the international news like The Guardian‘s recent coverage on the activist groups confronting outsiders.

The first act moves us through many familiar settings here in Boyle Heights: from 2 women (Rachel Gonzalez and Ronni Valentine) on the Gold Line discussing how they unintentionally contributed to gentrification as artists wanting to liven up the neighborhood, to a mariachi player (Ray Rios) lamenting that no one pays for songs anymore in Mariachi Plaza. We then meet a couple, Esteban (Gabriel Guillen) and Sol (Rachel Gonzalez), just trying to survive on their meager pay, long hours and sharing one car, in a neighborhood clearly changing faster than they can cope. Continue Reading →

SLUT the Play a Call to Action for Young Girls against Slut-Shaming

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DSC02300-001When Yasmeen Hassan, Global Director of Equality Now, introduced SLUT the Play at its one night only performance at the Hammer Museum on Tuesday, April 29, 2014, she noted that young girls’ voices are often missing or ignored in the public dialogue on sexual violence against women. The play, with an all-female teen cast, ages 13-17, seeks to change that and their message is loud and clear: sexist double standards, victim and slut-shaming, and sexual violence have got to stop.

DSC02244-001The play features The Arts Effect All-Girl Theater Company, is directed by Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney, and the girls’ powerful, moving performances, in the retelling of a sexual attack by fellow classmates, are based on their own experiences. Raising awareness on slut-shaming and sexual violence doesn’t stop with the play — the girls have started the StopSlut movement to keep the dialogue going, to build coalitions and put on workshops across the country to empower young girls.

The girls are just as outspoken and articulate onstage as off — there was a great Q&A after the play and I was so inspired and proud of these young girls taking charge for themselves and not waiting around for the adults. As one of the adults observed, this is change from the bottom up, not the usual top down of adults trying to lecture the younger generation what to do and how to think. In fact, the Q&A ended with one conservative lady who questioned whether it was impetuous and lacking self-respect for them to be owning their sexuality and being confrontational instead of relying more on their parents or other authority figures. One of the girls quickly responded that “A lot of kids don’t have supportive parents…don’t have any options and they have no one to turn to, so I think the highest form of self-respect and teaching self-respect is to teach these young girls at the earliest age possible that they’re capable of having a voice…and equal in that conversation and what they say is valid and their feelings matter.”

I couldn’t have said it any better — the reality is we live in a patriarchal world, where men get to make the rules, define these strict gender roles, and why we tolerate double standards when it comes to sex, and why there is a pervasive rape culture that easily condones the actions of the attacker while automatically blaming the victim. One challenge these girls faced when starting these dialogues is encountering boys who feel they’re being unfairly targeted in the conversation. I say good! If boys can be made to feel uncomfortable for a few moments, perhaps they will better appreciate the insecurities, sexism and risk of violence girls have to face everyday. In my opinion, we can’t have honest, real dialogue, and hope to change attitudes towards sexual violence unless we have the courage to stand up and question the very systems that perpetuate this rape culture. Men are starting to listen, getting involved and taking responsibility — This PSA with President Obama and others was released on the same day I saw the play:

Tamales de Puerco (Pork Tamales): A trilingual play in English, Spanish & American Sign Language April 5-28

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Tamales de Puerco (Pork Tamales) is the first trilingual play of its kind, telling the story of an undocumented Mexican mother to a Deaf son. She must learn to navigate three different worlds to escape an abusive husband who cannot cope with their disabled child. The play is based on the experiences of Mercedes Floresislas, the playwright, who struggled with depression and an abusive relationship while raising her Deaf son. Continue Reading →