On Monday, September 27 Equity’s Diversity & Inclusion Department hosted an EEOC dialogue for Hispanic Heritage Month entitled “Poder Y Justicia: Latinamericanos, Activism & Theatre Artistry.”
The panel included Jacqueline Flores (producer, Latinx Theater Commons), Alejo Vietti (costume designer, La Gente Design Network), Professor Melisa Pereyra, (faculty, College of Fine Art, Boston University), Victor Vazquez, (CSA and Casting Director, X Casting NYC) and juliany taveras (playwright).
After introducing the panelists, Equity’s Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator Ariel Estrada began the conversation by addressing the nuances between the words “Latino” and “Hispanic” and asked the panelists for their perspectives. Flores gave a brief overview on the evolution of the language and the current word Latinx, and expressed how the language surrounding identity will continue to evolve.
“Does the name change again?” she asked. "That's informed by our community.”
Pereyra reiterated the importance of self-identification, and added a concern that terminology conversations are “keeping us away from the real question” of how to reclaim power as a marginalized group. Vasquez pointed out how large and diverse Latin America is, and the complexity of sharing an identity with people of so many ethnic and national origins.
Estrada next asked about colorism in Latinx communities. Vietti reiterated how diverse those communities are, and spoke about the importance of diversity not only amongst actors, but for those who have the power to make decisions about a piece of art.
"The more that we can think about being specific, grappling with power, grappling with history, the more that we can open up those conversations about the vast spectrum of experience."
Taveras noted that the colorism issue relates to the issue of many different countries being reduced to a monolith in American culture. “These countries that have their own racial histories, their own colonization histories,” they said. “The more that we can think about being specific, grappling with power, grappling with history, the more that we can open up those conversations about the vast spectrum of experience.” As a playwright, taveras noted that adding specificity to their characters, either in the original text or through casting, can help resist colonialist hierarchies.
Pereyra spoke about explaining white-passing privilege to her students and how it plays into her own life:
“I have to know those power dynamics and I have to know that they are always at play. And I think that that keeps me and what I'm trying to teach my students — that keeps me breathing through the process, and a lot of the time not just making it all about me.
“What does it mean to call myself a woman of color, in what environment and why? And if I am, if that is the title that I am embodying because this political power is telling me that that is what I must embody, then I better use my power wisely.”
Flores shared that the leadership of Latinx Theater Commons is currently doing work to face anti-Blackness in their institution, including with a training for all the organization’s members, and specifically looking to recruit more diverse talent than in the past.
“In our programming those voices were not represented, and so we are making sure that we're being intentional about who we reach out to,” she said.
Estrada paused the questions to share some data about diversity in the theatre, such as that Equity’s Hiring Bias Report found that from 2016 to 2019, a mere 3.64% of contracts nationwide went to actors or stage managers who identified as Hispanic or Latin American, despite it being the largest racial group in the United States after white.
Vazquez remarked on how important data like that are to exploring the realities of these issues:
"For me, casting is absolutely not just about an opportunity for somebody to go portray you know, a wonderful character in this great story – it's about putting money in their pockets. These are jobs. I am surprised at how modest we are about this."
“Really at the core of this is also economics. These are jobs. We're not talking about opportunities for people to be artistic, we're also talking about opportunities for people to put money in their pocket, to have an investment into their own lives and communities and their futures. So for me, casting is absolutely not just about an opportunity for somebody to go portray you know, a wonderful character in this great story – it's about putting money in their pockets. These are jobs. I am surprised at how modest we are about this topic.”
Vazquez noted that according to the report, Latinx or Hispanic Equity members often made less than average because their peers were successfully negotiating for greater overscale to their salaries.
“This is honestly a state of emergency,” he concluded. “We're talking about employment, period.”
Vazquez asked the rest of the panelists for ways they themselves could redistribute power to those who had been historically excluded from creating theatre. Vietti shared that he is working on a website with a database of Latinx designers and stage managers to make it easier for employers to find diverse creative voices.
“I would like for us to be represented by stage managers, by Local One, by dressers,” he said, "everybody on stage and backstage so we can fulfill that order in every single field. And I know it's very hard, but I know it's possible.”
Taveras noted that an issue with tokenism is that it makes it more difficult for marginalized people to collectively use their power.
“My favorite feeling is if someone wants to open the door for me, I'm like, 'Cool. If you want me you got to take these 20 homies, too.’ And then I'm shoveling in people,” they said. “I didn't have agents in the first place, because there's all these ‘right,’ or the formal training required, because then that's a class barrier, for talking about class and race intersecting.”
“So much like decolonization work for me is actually about rejecting the way that white supremacy, white culture has dominated the imagination for so long, and I just ask us to allow ourselves to put our imaginations and our work, because that is valid,” said Vazquez.
Pereyra talked about the work she does with her students to reexamine the Western canon of great theatre, and to expand it.
Estrada moved on to questions and answers, first asking Flores if the Latinx Theater Commons would consider initiatives for indigenous voices. She affirmed that they are, but in a way that is not merely tokenism.
The next question was about how to encourage white allies to help artists of color in this work, and Estrada spoke about some of the work that Equity has been doing as a part of its Diversity and Inclusion Retrofit. Vietti talked about the importance of diversifying leadership in his own union, as well as the work he does through Equity Through Design Mentorship.
Estrada asked the panelists for final thoughts. Taveras spoke about whiteness as a label that absorbs cultural groups and urged resistance to Latin Americans joining that power structure. They also noted how great a commitment it is to dismantling racism.
“Do your work,” they urged white people. “Work like this will actually benefit your spirit, your kin, your relations, your own artistic practice.”
Members can access the full recording of the webinar, along with the transcript that includes these resources in the member portal.