Michelle Orellana, a Communication Arts major with a concentration in Theatre at Eastern Nazarene College, performed her senior presentation in the form of a one-woman show at Congregation Lion of Judah in Boston in early January. Now, she is hoping to perform her show here at Eastern Nazarene College after submitting it for the Academic Symposium.
In composing her show, titled “Latina, I Never Knew You,” Orellana gathered a multitude of literary pieces and songs that serve to highlight the struggles and triumphs of being Latina in America. She used interviews with Latino Americans and chose to portray their stories through acting, sang a rendition of God Bless America in Spanish, and even quoted a controversial statement by President Donald Trump. Orellana also recite an original poem she wrote about her experience growing up in a Puerto Rican and El Salvadoran household in Massachusetts. Her purpose for devoting her senior thesis to her heritage is to bring awareness of the hardships and victories that many Latinos face. Orellana stated, “I hope that the audience feels the beauty and the pain of the stories and that they will walk away knowing a bit more about Latinos in America. My hope is that even after the performance, people will be able to carry the stories in their hearts and empathize, specifically with the undocumented community.”
One of the personal subjects that Orellana touched on was the fact that she is a Latina who was born and raised in America. The following is an excerpt from Orellana’s, Latina, I Never Knew You, which she also recited at ENC’s Multicultural event “Storytelling and Jazz.” In her poem, she goes in-depth about the identity struggles she’s had to endure:
Latina, I never knew you
I was always told about you
Told that I was Latina because that what my parents were.
Told I was American because this is the land I was born.
I was born into a split identity
Two separate entities
What seemed like oil and water to some
Had come together to create me
Caribbean and central American the two that contributed to my formation
Puerto Rico and EL Salvador two distinct nations
I was always told ‘what an interesting combination’
Among the most compelling pieces that Orellana incorporated were a song called “Mojado” by Ricardo Arjona, excerpts from the novel “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros, the poem “Native Speaker” by John Oliveras, interviews from PBS’s “Latino Americans,” and, of course, Orellana’s own poem titled “Latina, I Never Knew You.” She also spoke about an article that was published by The Washington Post titled, “No more excuses. Puerto Rico needs help.”
Orellana recited the controversial quote that President Donald Trump made regarding immigrants from Mexico, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best, they’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Orellana carefully arranged each piece to coincide with one another in a rather intricate fashion. She weaved in and out of every poem, song, novel, and interview with ease. She effortlessly performed a dramatic reading of a poem, skipped to a song, quoted President Trump, and smoothly transitioned back into the final stanzas of a poem. Orellana’s unique style of conveying each piece kept the audience members engaged.
During the performance, one could hear soft sniffles throughout the room. Orellana brought many people to tears of both sorrow and joy. Her performance took everyone on an emotional roller coaster. Many of the pieces she performed involved the unfortunate reality of stigmas placed on documented and undocumented Latinos, immigration, and demeaning Latino slurs (“wetback,” “illegal,” “alien”). She also included pieces that encompassed what it means to embrace one’s culture.
Beyond simply highlighting the troubles, Orellana emphasized the beauties of being Latino. She mentioned how they are hard workers and that they are proud of their courageous efforts in helping to advance America. Orellana listed several Latino Americans who have improved this country like Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor and Ellen Ochoa, who is the first and only Latina astronaut to fly in space. She discussed how Latinos are more than the stereotypes that our society has placed on them. Orellana also talked about the passion that Latinos have for their families as well as for their culture.
Considering her future, Orellana says, “I hope to continue working with the community and civic leaders. I also hope that I can continue using stories and telling them in creative ways as a way to educate and bring about change.”