'Hear Me/See Me'

Giving young immigrants a chance to tell their stories

'Hear Me/See Me'
Courtesy of Guillermo Garza/Brown Belly Productions

These days, you can hear a lot of people talk about young immigrants in this country – who they are, how they got here, what they're doing – but you rarely hear that talk from the young immigrants themselves. That didn't seem right to Rodolfo Mendez, so the Ballet East Dance Company artistic director created a forum for them to tell their own stories, "to make the invisible world of recent immigrants – especially children – visible," he says.

At Eastside Memorial High School, Mendez found students who had recently arrived in the United States from lands across the globe: Afghanistan, Bhutan, Congo, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Iraq, Korea, and Thailand. Some had already begun recording their experiences as an English class assignment. In January, Mendez began videotaping the stories of a dozen students. Some had immigrated, but many were refugees from homelands shattered by war or overrun by crime. Ultimately, Mendez settled on three students – those from Afghanistan, Cuba, and El Salvador – to make the focus of an hourlong program in which their personal accounts could be dramatized through performance. Luis Ordaz, artistic director of the Spanish-language stage company Proyecto Teatro, wrote a script and recruited actors from his company to perform scenes, while choreographers Melissa Villareal and Ananda Mayi Moss of Ballet East translated elements of the stories into movement to be performed by Ballet East dancers and students in the Eastside Dance Academy, which the company established three years ago. Since May, student and professional artists have been working on the program four days a week, and this week the finished work, Hear Me/See Me, premieres at the Dougherty Arts Center.

Mendez finds the young people who have overcome much to begin a new life in this country so inspiring and feels it's so important to share their stories with young Americans, who may not realize how good they have it here, that he's made one of Hear Me/See Me's three performances free to youth groups and students. He also hopes to tour the program through the Austin Independent School District. "Young people sometimes feel that the stories and emotions of art are distant from them," Mendez says, "but their stories can also inspire art and touch other people. We want them to experience that."

Hear Me/See Me will be performed Friday, July 6, 8pm, and Saturday, July 7, 2 & 8pm, at the Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd. For more information, visit www.balleteast.org.

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Hear Me / See Me, Rodolfo Mendez, Ballet East Dance Company, Proyecto Teatro, Luis Ordaz, Melissa Villareal, Ananda Mayi Moss

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