Day of the people

A new event series at Reno Little Theater is focused on people in the theater's neighborhood: Latinos

AnnaMaria Caballone works the Latino Arte table at the Dia de La Gente event at Reno Little Theater.

AnnaMaria Caballone works the Latino Arte table at the Dia de La Gente event at Reno Little Theater.

Photo/Anna Hart

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Inside the Reno Little Theater, 147 E. Pueblo St., dozens of patrons gathered to eat Mexican pastries, listen to the Reno Philharmonic Kids Mariachi Band, and celebrate Dia de La Gente. Held on October 10, Dia de La Gente was a Latino culture event, created in conjunction with the Reno Little Theater’s upcoming series, La Gente: Latino Theater.

The event immersed attendees in all aspects of Latino culture, from art and music to food.

From painting sugar skulls, making paper flowers, and creating an ofrenda, or offering, for deceased relatives, Reno Little Theater provided a number of activities that are traditionally part of Dia de los Muertos. Also known as Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday remembers and celebrates loved ones who have died and is one of the most visible Mexican traditions.

Sprinkled along the walls were works by a local artist, Maria Segura. Fresh fruits and veggies and various baked goods were also provided by neighboring Wells Avenue businesses, El Mundo Latino and Las Palomas. Local vendors and organizations manned booths that were spread across the venue.

One of these organizations was Latino Arte, an outfit that seeks to support local artists and spread Latino culture and art. One of its leaders, Mario DelaRosa, sees Dia de La Gente as an organic occurrence.

“Latinos make up almost 30 percent of this population,” said DelaRosa. “We work here. We live here. Our children go to school here. We are proud of this community, so it only makes sense to have events like this.”

Play by play

“I love that this brings different cultures together,” said Valerie Miranda, an attendee who came with her entire family. “I saw a lot of people who weren’t Mexican appreciate things that are important to me. Now people have the chance to see how we celebrate life and how music and art connects us.”

The curator for the series, Tami Castillo Shelton explained the larger entity that Dia de La Gente is a part of, as well as the impetus for its creation.

The one-day event is in conjunction with La Gente: Latino Theater, a new series for Reno Little Theater, which will feature three plays in its inaugural year.

“When RLT moved to this new location off of Wells street, the board recognized that it had the chance to connect with the Latino community that was already here,” said Shelton. “This series does that. The stories share art, music, poetry, dance and theater with the greater Reno public.”

The first three works, Mi Vida Gitana, Roosters and Lights Out will kick off the series for what is projected to be at least a three-year commitment. Each play expresses different aspects of Latino culture, to give a multi-faceted perspective of the growing population in the United States.

Audiences can expect to see elements of dance, music and poetry within the works, a common characteristic of Latino theater.

The plays also address social and political issues. Some are specific to the Spanish-speaking world, like racism in the context of the status of the Romani people in Spain, while others affect a broader audience, like the impact of war.

Dañel Mal&#;aacute;n’s Mi Vida Gitana will be the opening production, a modern interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, set in the multicultural landscape of Spain. It tells the story of a boy from Texas named Charlie, who is sent to live with his mother in Spain. Soon after, he meets Liliana, a Romani girl and instantly befriends her.

The play deals with the racial framework of Spain and its Romani population, yet also serves a larger purpose in instilling methods of creative problem-solving, as well as maintaining emotional control, making it a perfect

The second work of the series takes a grittier turn. Roosters, by Milcha Sanchez Scott, features young Hector, who is adjusting to his father’s return home after serving time in prison. While the storyline follows the struggle of the two men over what will become of the family’s roosters, it also investigates the harsher side of Mexican-American culture and the undercurrents of family life.

Lights Out will be the final production of the season, and will have a special connection to Nevada. A work commissioned by the Reno Little Theater, it's the brainchild of Nevada native Marvin Gonzalez and will address cultural quirks and geographical influences specific to the region.

The series as a whole is meant to educate the Reno public at large, as well as empower their Latino population. But it also strives to break down barriers of race and language, to change the dialogue about one of the country’s largest ethnic groups.

“[Latinos] are here to work, to live, to get educated,” said DelaRosa, who is extremely active in Reno, in academic, cultural and political circles, along with his work in Latino Arte. “We want to have the opportunity to have a good life. Despite the attacks of our people from politicians, we are going show our power.”

His sentiment speaks to both the pride that Latinos have in their culture and the constant discrimination they must combat in American society.

Today’s media coverage and political candidates often put forth a jingoist narrative in America. It effectively dehumanizes the Hispanic population, favoring them as crime statistics, as opposed to human beings with complex thoughts and feelings. In this context, it’s a sad fact that the conversation with Latinos about their culture consistently shifts from speaking about who they are to who they are not.

“It’s really easy to say that Hispanics are all illegal immigrants who steal jobs, have anchor babies, and commit crimes, but that’s just not true. We love this country too, and that’s why we want to share our culture here,” said Maria Garcia, a University of Nevada, Reno student.

Sharing Latino culture is exactly what Reno Little Theater and Tami Castillo Shelton hope the La Gente series will do.

“I see a lack of connectedness in society,” said Shelton. “When, people don’t know or understand something, they create idea about it, which often come from their insecurities. La Gente is about inviting people in. It’s about opening our hearts, breaking bread, and sharing this culture.”

The efforts to connect with non-Latino citizens seem to be working.

“I think it’s important to understand that our country isn’t just made of a bunch of old white people who came from England, because it’s not,” said Kristina Harris. “It’s so many different cultures, It’s beautiful. And I appreciate everyone sharing this culture with me.”

Back in the midst of Dia de La Gente, no matter what the language—English, Spanish or Spanglish—the intention is clearly not to preach, but to teach.

“I believe an event like this is important because it shows you a different culture, and different people,” said Juan Perez, one of the attendees at Dia de la Gente. “It’s good to learn their roots, how they live, and who they are “I want people to know that this is a hardworking community, that enjoys sharing their culture and loves this country.”