University Times

Power of the Spanglish Word

Former Outstanding Professor Jose Gonzalez recognized for influential theater project

Photo by Cal State L.A

Photo by Cal State L.A

Anthony Karambelas, Staff Reporter

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How does one unite a community?

Actually, let’s rephrase that: how does one unite the 57th most populous city in the United States? Simple: through theater, song, and dance.

The city of Santa Ana, with a high Latino demographic, houses so many unique stories that beg to be told. What better way to tell these fascinating stories than through performance? In 2012, South Coast Repertory initiated a bilingual theater project called Dialogue/Dialogos, an attempt to mine the narrative treasures within the Santa Ana Latino community.

Partnering with Latino Health Access (LHA), a Santa Ana based nonprofit, and funded by The James Irvine Foundation, the Dialogue/Dialogos team interviewed and workshopped with more than 1,200 residents over the course of two years. In 2014, the finalized theatrical work was viewed in the Santa Ana Civic Center Plaza.

Dialogue/Dialogos was written by none other than the exceptional playwright and Cal State LA professor, Jose Cruz Gonzalez. In August, he was awarded the 2016 President’s Distinguished Professor award, which recognizes previous Outstanding Professors for their teaching and professional accomplishments.

On Tuesday of last week, Gonzalez shared his experiences working on the Dialogue/Dialogos project.

“My initial research taught me a great deal about the city of Santa Ana. Santa Ana has the largest Mexican-American community of over 300,000 in the U.S. with over 78% Latino, and it is the youngest city,” said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez also shared how Santa Ana was a great candidate for storytelling because of the hardships its people had undergone. The Los Angeles Times ranked Santa Ana number one in the nation for urban hardship and called it the nation’s toughest place to live.

Gonzalez went on to explain how he applies the lessons he learned from working on Dialogue/Dialogos to the classroom.

“One of the things I try to teach my students is document your process. Because we’re so busy in the world of creating that we don’t stop to think about how we might be able to use this as a teaching tool. So I’m constantly boring my students with these presentations because I’m documenting to show them the process, and I think that’s a really helpful tool.”

Since the conclusion of the project in 2014, Gonzalez has kept himself busy, working on a dance theater project on human trafficking, funded by Michigan State University, which will premiere in February 2017 in Michigan. It is the first time Gonzalez has ever written for dance.

He’s also currently working on an original play called Curious, which will premiere next year in Minneapolis. At the same time, he is contributing to a new play called American Mariachi, commissioned by the Deborah Center Theater, about mariachi music from the perspective of women in the 1970’s, when women were prohibited from playing.

Having passionate teachers like Gonzalez who inspire a love for learning amongst students is one of the wonderful qualities of Cal State LA.

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