Video and text by Eric Tomlinson
Throughout the Washington, D.C., communities, there lay cultural gems waiting to be found. In venturing through Northwest D.C.’s Petworth neighborhood, I stumbled upon the Teatro de la Luna: a bilingual theater company aimed at fostering cross-cultural understanding.
The Teatro de la Luna, founded in 1991, is a non-profit organization that caters to both the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking individuals around the community, through theater from a Latin American perspective.
The theater not only puts on plays and theater workshops for adults, but also for children. Teatro de la Luna’s Experiencia Teatral / Experience Theater program began in 1996 as a means of reaching out to the capital’s at-risk Latino students. Through the program’s workshops, plays, and poetry festivals, Teatro de la Luna aims to support area public school students academically, culturally and cross-culturally.
This multi-media project attempts to embrace the diversity of the program by displaying the children who are involved, and by the telling of their stories through their parents’ voices.
Several of them reflected on their children’s experiences with theater on a Saturday morning as they dropped their sons and daughters – ages 6 to 11 – off for the Experience Theater Program.
Gabriela Gamez is the mother of seven-year-old Alexandra. Gamez says that she commutes from Maryland to bring her daughter to the program. Although her background is Hispanic, her daughter Alexandra is reluctant to speak Spanish.
Gamez says that she hopes that being in a bilingual program such as the one at Teatro de la Luna, her daughter will feel more comfortable speaking Spanish when she is around people her own age, using the language themselves in a fun and creative way.
Jennifer Stein is Caucasian, and mother of six-year-old Stephanie. Stephanie’s blond hair and blue eyes stood out amongst the predominantly Latino children on that Saturday. Stein said that when her and her husband were choosing schools in the D.C. area, they wanted to choose one that had bilingual programs because of the changing demographics in the city. They found a school in Georgetown that offered language programs for young children. But she also heard about the Teatro de la Luna and its bilingual theater program.
“One of Stephanie’s friends from school is also in the program,” said Stein. “She has been having so much fun and is learning Spanish.”
Jaime Duckworth is a Chinese immigrant mother who moved to this country just over 20 years ago. Her husband is in the military and she is a neuroscientist. Her 6-year-old son, Washington, is in the Experience Theater program. Duckworth said that as a neuroscientist, she knows that brain activity at a young age is crucial in development. She specifically pointed out that language and theater skills were very important in brain and personality development.
“Washington speaks English and Chinese right now,” said Duckworth. “But I would also like him to learn Spanish as well because it is a widely used language here, not only in D.C., but other parts of the U.S. as well.”
All three parents seemed pleased with the progress that their children had made socially, as well as with learning Spanish. They expressed appreciation for the Experience Theater teachers, Marcela Ferlito Walder and her co-teacher, Marisol Flamenco, for their outgoing personalities and for embracing these children. The Experience Theater program in Petworth is embracing the changing demographics of its own community, as well as branching out to other surrounding communities in the District. Change, they say, starts with our youth.