INTERVIEW: Fabiola Torralba

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Allis Ozornia performing in Torralba's Nos(otros) ¡somos!  

 

Fabiola Torralba is a dancer, educator, artist, and activist.  After several years of community organizing and cultural work in San Antonio, two bachelor’s degrees, and some ethnographic fieldwork, she decided to return to her first love. Fabiola then trained under Erica Wilson-Perkins at Palo Alto College receiving an Associates of Arts in Dance with additional training under the Urban Bush Women, the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and David Grenke of ThingsezIsee’um Dance/Theater among others. She collaborates frequently with local artists, schools, galleries, and non-profit organizations on multi-disciplinary, educational, and performance based projects. Previous works include, En Rumbo, entre nos, Zapatos Viejos, This Bridge We Call…, XVoto, Me Gustas Cuando Callas, and nos(otros) ¡somos!, a full length bilingual multimedia performance that presents multiple facets of the immigration experience by first voices. Fabiola utilizes movement as a vehicle for community building, civic engagement, and social-cultural awareness. She enjoys exploring interdisciplinary collaborations and the intersections between art, story, and action.

At the beginning and end of summer 2013, Torralba produced and performed in nos(otros)!somos! accompanied by a related solo installation at Lady Base Gallery.

Interview by Josh T Franco

  

How did you recruit the performers for nos(otros)!somos!? Did you have the idea then find them, or vice versa?  

My primary objective was to find immigrants to invite to participate. Given that many do not identify themselves so openly and that I knew few myself, I simply asked people that I knew to participate and then asked them to identify people that they knew to invite as well. I set the parameters of the project in terms of vision and scope, facilitated its development, and co-directed the program. The rest was all magic.   

 

What is the show’s relationship with the environment you created at Lady Base Gallery simultaneous with the first performance? 

The initial performance of nos(otros) !somos! held inside of Gallista Gallery was part of the closing reception of my solo installation exhibit titled nos(otros). I felt the need to express my identity as a Mexican immigrant woman given the limited dialogue that exists in U.S. mainstream media on immigrants and my need to be recognized beyond stereotypes, romanticized notions, and politically influenced jargon.

The installation pieces were largely based on stories that I came across in my experiences working among immigrants and as a U.S. based immigrant in Mexico and Guatemala. Each of the pieces in the installation exhibit different aspects of the immigrant experience as I relate to them personally through the stories of other immigrants. These are immigrants who had traveled to the U.S. and had returned to their home, immigrants who currently reside in the U.S., and Mexican natives who aspire to migrate to the U.S.

Part of my goal was to complicate or problematize the dominant narrative of immigrant experiences. I wanted to share these images because they provide multiple facets of the immigrant experience that complicate and speak to the multiplicity of immigrant identity.    

Another part of my goal in sharing these stories was to provide a space where immigrants could speak for themselves. Being that I was fortunate to have witnessed these first hand I wanted these stories to be told because I want these realities, these people, these voices to be recognized and heard. As a person that is now U.S. based, I also felt the responsibility to do so and in a way that would be more accessible to viewers than formal academic or literary processes.   

Lastly, my experience as an undocumented immigrant has been largely marked by silence and erasure. The way that I’ve learned to understand my own experience has always been in relation to the experiences of other people.  My sharing of these stories is a way to tell, understand, and come to terms with my own. Given that I had the opportunity to capture a crowd with the installation exhibit of nos(otros) and that I had the full support of Sarah Castillo of Lady Base Gallery to explore my creative capacities I wanted utilize the moment to share as many stories as possible by opening up the space for other immigrants to speak for themselves.  

As a dancer and choreographer, I also wanted to facilitate a space where these realities could be explored through performance directly through the body. Hence the creation of

nos(otros)!somos!, a multi-media live performance that presents multiple facets of the immigrant experience by first voices.

 

I noticed Tomas Ybarra - Frausto was in the audience at the second performance. This made me think about the piece within Chicano/a art history, and I thought about how it blurs the line (which seems bleakly solid the more I learn) between Chicano/a and Mexican art. How does the whole performance, the cast, the context, relate to this distinction?

I'm not sure that I can readily call out the differences between Chicano/a and Mexican art but I know from being a Mexican immigrant who was raised in the Westside amongst a majority Mexican American community adopted into a working class Tejano family that major differences do exist between Mexicans and Mexican Americans.  Nationality for one is a major difference along with legal status and language.  Naturally these and amongst other factors shape identity and cultural expression.  

I have felt this distinction myself within the Chicano community, a feeling of silence and difference. Its not a conversation that is always welcomed.  Personally, I think it may be because many individuals still have their own work to do with their own internalized racism. The conversation can also easily lend itself to addressing questions of privilege and status which becomes even trickier in a state that doesn't even admit its own history of colonization. Regardless, Chicanos have worked hard to reconnect with their heritage and situate themselves within their Mexican identity and continue to do this work by mobilizing, educating, and building community.

I created the space for nos(otros) !somos! specifically for immigrants because I felt that there was no space for us to tell our stories. Though the topic of immigration had become popular on a national level over the past five years or so, it is often a conversation that is shaped by U.S. nationals and not by immigrants themselves via policy, academia, and mainstream media. In the moments where there have been immigrants speaking on their own behalf it is only a sector of the population that is covered as news but these do not represent us all. Not all immigrants are DREAMERS, or Mexican nationals, or men that migrate to care for their families on their own. I had also felt that within the literature that I read as a Mexican American Studies student that immigration or migration was often romanticized or idealized. It was a topic that many did not have first hand experience with amongst my student peers and within the organizing community that I was a part of. Naturally, I felt alone. As I became more and more involved in local actions in support of immigrant solidarity efforts along with Chicanos and Mexican Americans, I realized that regardless of their families history of migration or ethnic identity, that I was living it alone and that this difference was valid and needed a place of its own.  

I wanted immigrants speak on their own behalf because I didn't want to feel alone anymore. I also wanted a space for us to speak for ourselves to break the silence and erasure that is so much a part of being undocumented. I also wanted a diversity of voices and experiences to be shown because we are not a homogeneous community and many have already been left out of the conversation.  

 

Can you discuss a bit about the difference in the two venues in which you’ve now shown the work?

Lady Base is a gallery that supports the artistic practices of Women and LGBTQ artists of San Antonio. It is located inside of the Gallista Gallery in the South Side of the city and is run by Sarah Castillo, an artist and graduate student in the Bilingual Bicultural Studies program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. For more information visit http://ladybase210.wordpress.com/.

The Esperanza Peace and Justice Center is a non-profit cultural arts organization committed to social justice and the celebration of the artistic and cultural expression of diverse voices. For more information visit www.esperanzacenter.org.

 

To see what Torralba is up to now, check out her blog.