¡Habla!AZ Gives Latino Students a Voice in the Community

Arts entrepreneur Elisa Gonzales has been interested in using art as a means of community-building from a young age. Her parents often took her to the theatre, and instilled in her a respect for art as an agent of social change.

This past year ¡Habla!AZ had an eight-week residency at Carl Hayden High School, whose student body is 90 percent Latino. Although the group engaged in a variety of workshops with high school students in the program, their principle project was creating an original theatrical work, which the students crafted themselves. Using family photos as a prompt, these students devised theatrical works that not only told their personal stories, but also gave them a platform to discuss the various hardships attached to growing up in an underserved community.So when it came time to apply what she has learned as a master of fine arts student at ASU, Gonzales made sure her commitment to community aligned with her ambitions as a professional artist. Gonzales, along with fellow MFA students Javier Stefano De Vita and Paco Jose Madden, established ¡Habla!AZ, an arts venture that brings theater to the Latino student population living and studying in underserved areas of the Valley.
“[¡Habla!AZ is] a community arts engagement program that provides the Latino youth community in Phoenix the opportunity to create original theatre based on their own experience,” says Gonzales. “I wanted to provide a creative outlet for students in which to express themselves; express what makes us Latino. We should be empowered to speak about that.”

“This material focused on poverty they’ve experienced in their communities, a lot of them have been bullied for being Mexican, and some wrote about overcoming drugs in their family; it was very powerful,” says Gonzales.

“I hope that through this process of creating something from a concept, and seeing it through to completion, they are gaining a sense of what it’s like to create something that is your own, and I think that is something they can carry through to all areas of life,” say Gonzales. By working as a team, speaking up for what they believe with confidence, and learning that they can convert their personal difficulties into something positive and impactful, Gonzales hopes that these students are receiving an education beyond what is possible in the classroom. “I hope through this program, we are creating the next generation of educators, leaders, politicians, and entrepreneurs.”Gonzales describes the program as therapeutic for the students, as well as being a means for the students to realize that their stories are ones the community is interested in hearing. Additionally, she sees ¡Habla!AZ as a vehicle for education, where students can develop skills they can take with them as they lead successful lives.

For young students who are figuring out their place in the world, mentorships can often lead them toward discovering their passions. Gonzales describes such mentors taking her under their wing as a way she’s been able to pursue a career in field she is passionate about. Now, ¡Habla!AZ is a means for her to return the favor.

“A lot of artists, I think that’s their hope: that they are passing the torch on to the next generation. I feel I am very much a part of that legacy,” says Gonzales.

For more information about ¡Habla!AZ, please go to http://www.hablaaz.com/. For more information on the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, please go tohttps://filmdancetheatre.asu.edu/initiatives/pave.

To learn more about contributing to the Pave program or to the Herberger Institute, please contact Shawn Richards at shawn.richards@asu.edu or 480-965-8985.