My experience as an Afro-Latino actor stretches back over fifteen years when I joined the Teatro Escola Macunama in São Paulo, Brazil. At that time, my goal was to become a professional theatre actor. This experience exposed me to different acting systems such as Stanislavsky’s method of physical actions; Brecht’s Epic Theatre and its distancing effect; Grotowski’s experimental Poor Theatre; and Lee Strasberg’s technique of improvisation and affective memory. In the end, the rigor of my training taught me that discipline must exceed the refining of a particular technique, because the maturation of an actor stems from a relentless reflection over the practice. In my case, such premise made me join the legendary Teatro Experimental de Cali (TEC), Colombia; led by the late maestro Enrique Buenaventura.
I worked as an actor for Buenaventura’s company, which was part of the new wave of the Latin American theatre called El Nuevo Teatro. This movement, influenced by Marx’s dialectical materialism, presented two alternative trends. The first was a search for cultural roots and national identity through works drawn from folkloric traditions, popular culture, and historical events. The second was a search for the particular in the general through the exploration of the Western tradition of theatre. That is to say, we performed the classics in such ways that they spoke through the social and cultural scripts of the context where we came from. In doing so, I learned the value of cultural traditions and social practices and joined the effort to preserve our collective memory and cultural identity. Consequently, as an artist, the aesthetic of my artwork must express a creative and critical position with respect to the social and political issues that dominate the cultural consciousness.
From my travels as an actor, I became increasingly aware of the lack of recognition and appreciation for folkloric traditions of minority communities as both praxis and episteme. With this growing awareness, my Afro-Latino identity and my growing appreciation for language, cultural traditions, and religious practices, I migrated to the United States in 2003 in pursuit of an education. I felt the urge to return to academia as a means to acquire the skills necessary to contribute and foment the study of these invaluable, yet frequently neglected cultural traditions.
In 2007, I attended the Festival de Tambores, a drum celebration annually hosted in San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia. In a country where a quarter of its total population is of African descent, this village became the first maroon settlement in the Americas where runaway slaves protected their freedom and culture in the seventieth century. Today, San Basilio de Palenque is home to the only Spanish-based Creole language in Latin America, the Spanish Palenquero (Palenquero). Palenquero presents linguistic characteristics of Bantu origin and no more than 2,500 speakers. During the festival, I first became enthralled...