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See Detroit’s Latino heritage through the eyes of children at Teatro Chico: Detroit Latinos this weekend

ABUELITA Y LA LUNA

The Latino community in Detroit has a long and storied history in our city. On Saturday, May 21, the current generation will show it off with a community performance series called Teatro Chico: Detroit Latinos that includes pictures taken by grade schoolers in Southwest Detroit.

The culminating event will be the Living Arts’ project Detroit Latinos: How We Got Here, How We Live Here, Then and Now, which is a collection of photographs from 5th grade students at Clippert Academy. We wrote about the project a few months ago and now you can see if for yourself at the Ford Resource & Engagement Center at the Mexicantown Mercado, 2826 Bagley Avenue in Southwest Detroit.

The program was part of a social studies project. The kids were sent out to take the pictures that would later be a part of the “Detroit Latinos” gallery showing. Topics to capture on their digital cameras included street murals, families, and individuals doing something special in their neighborhoods.  Everything was always centered around the community.

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Besides taking pictures, the students had guest speakers and even went and talked to Latino residents in a senior center to learn more about their heritage. They asked them questions, ate with them, and even shot pool with them. The experience was an enjoyable and rewarding experience for both sides.

The project was the passion of Lisa Luevanos, a Spanish bi-lingual visual artist and storyteller. In addition to her art, she serves as the president of CLAVE, Community for Latino Artists, Visionaries and Educators.

This was Luevanos third year working with the kids, but only the first working on a project like this with them. For the first two years she came in once a week to speak with the kids about photography.

Thanks to a Michigan Humanities Council Heritage Grant, she was able to give the kids the opportunity to take a closer look at their roots. It was mutually beneficial for Luevanos, who found the children to be genuinely enthused when their Thursday meetings came around.

“(It was) a great experience for me,” she says. “They (the kids) are all really polite, and interested in everything.”

Students from Clippert Academy interview seniors about their immigration stories at LA SED Senior Center. Photo by Lisa Luevanos

Students from Clippert Academy interview seniors about their immigration stories at LA SED Senior Center. Photo by Lisa Luevanos

The project is a very personal experience for her. She knows her roots and how her family got there and she wants to be sure the kids have that same experience. She even had her mother come in and read a poem about her Detroit experience.

Luevanos explained how her grandfather took a train from Oklahoma City to get a job in the Ford factory in Detroit, and eventually sent for his family.  She says this was not a unique experience, and, as a result, the Michigan Central (train) Station is an important part of Latino history in Detroit.

Today, she sees a rejuvenated interest in Latino heritage recent immigration has brought to the area, along with new shops, new restaurants, and revived parishes that almost closed due to lack of attendance.

Detroit digital media artist and musician Sacramento Knoxx visits Clippert Academy as part of the Detroit Latinos Project.

Detroit digital media artist and musician Sacramento Knoxx visits Clippert Academy as part of the Detroit Latinos Project.

The show, Latinos in Detroit: How We Got Here, and How we Live Here, Then and Now, is at the Ford Resource & Engagement Center at the Mexicantown Mercado, 2826 Bagley Avenue in Southwest Detroit.  This exhibition of photography of the Latino experience here through the eyes of students begins at 6:00 p.m., and can be attended for a donation of $5.00 per person.

At 6:30 p.m. live performances begin. The performers will be:

  • Steve Jarosz, a native of the Detroit area and a seasoned guitarist and vocalist in the styles of classical, Flamenco, Latin and Jazz Funk. He has played in Europe for over the last decade and has recently returned to Detroit, playing a variety of solo shows and combos such as Concierto de Aranjuez with a complete orchestra. He is also the band leader of a Cuban salsa group Grupo Escobar.
  • Karilú Alarcón Forshee, a theatre artist for more than 15 years working as an actor, director and stage manager. In Detroit she has performed with Creative Rights and is a company member with the award winning Host of People. She is also a teaching artist with Living Arts.

With Metro Detroit being such an ethnically diverse area, there are many attempts to show what different immigrant groups experienced and what they have contributed to Detroit. Rarely, however, is it so connected with past and present though the eyes of those who will shape the future.

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