“Someone paid for you to be here.” -Joy DeGruy
In March of 2018, I was asked to facilitate a story circle with Latinx members of our community: an infinity circle, with just us. Octavio Solis, a long-time friend, was in the process of writing the play Quixote Nuevo.
As a facilitator, I try to do two things: hold a space that is safe enough for folks to be in depth of themselves and their community, and keep it moving to create a story in the space with a beginning, middle, and end. I think deeply about the beginning and the ending. The middle, now that I’m thinking about it, isn’t really up to me.
When walking into the Cal Shakes rehearsal space, the cast was wrapping up a read-through. I hugged Octavio and he said, “this play is cast with all-Spanish speaking Latino/a actors.” I said “that’s amazing” because it is. He was still writing the play. We went over the questions for the story circle and changed some based on what he was exploring.
As people began to arrive, some actors stayed, as well as Octavio and the director, KJ Sanchez. People began to filter in of different ages. It was an intergenerational space. My 10-year old son was doing homework on the side. Throughout the evening he would ask me questions, tell me he’s done with his reading and ask if he could get on the Ipad. It’s the little things I remember. The Spanish interpreter, Sylvia, and I met. We decided she would sit with the Spanish speakers and I would pause to make sure the facilitation was clear. I remember her being kind and grounded, kind of like someone I already knew. The chairs were set in a large circle for 30 to 40 people.The beginning: I introduced myself and Sylvia. Cal Shakes is doing a play called Quixote Nuevo and we are here to have a conversation around love, loss, memory, and how we take care of our elders. I requested two agreements:
Respect and take care of yourself, your struggle, your joy and your story.I asked for everyone to get into groups of 5 or 6 and build mini circles. There’s a structure in story facilitation: a Check In, sometimes meditation, the main sharing, and a Check Out. I asked the groups to Check In with My name is … and I come from… I got here by way of… The room was filled with stories of origin, sometimes down the street or crossing of borders, and the names of parents and grandparents and great grandparents. I remember hearing different countries, states, cities, and stories of where we come from. They told stories in Spanish, English, or English mixed with Spanish. I was at a talk with Joy DeGruy about a month before and when we sat down, the first thing she said is, “someone paid for you to be here.” That’s when I sat up and paid very close attention. It’s an honoring and a grounding to call out the names of our ancestors in circle. I originally thought they could switch groups to mix it up with different folks. I began walking around and noticed how quickly and deeply folks connected with one another, how open they were with each other. So I said, “I originally thought people could switch groups, but it feels like you all are connecting and want to stay in your own groups.” There was an agreement to stay. I thought 6 degrees of separation. In the Bay, I think there’s only 3 degrees or no degrees at all. We did a meditation focusing on an elder or ancestor in our life: Who is an elder or ancestor in your life, what do they look like, who are they, think of a memory of them, what are they wearing, think about their hands, what do their hands look like? It’s interesting to think of the work we do and how our hands move to do that work. Sometimes we remember the tiniest things. Sometimes those tiniest things mean the most. What we carry with us. Then they shared. I watched the listeners. There was a stillness in some of the groups, respect and a kindness. The next question was think of a time you cared for someone or someone cared for you. I walked around and kneeled next to chairs to listen. In some families it’s ingrained that we take care of each other. We do what we must for each other and sometimes the caring for is difficult because sometimes it’s illness. Sometimes it’s grief. Sometimes it’s just plain old hard times. Sometimes generational trauma creates struggle in relationships. Sometimes we switch places with the people who changed our diapers and taught us how to ride our bikes and we become the caretaker because we must and we love them. People we love who struggle, get sick and the breakdown of bodies is sometimes hard to watch, hard to care for, and hard to talk about. So some folks cried, some laughed, some analyzed, and they cared for each other. I’m still in gratitude for the care that folks showed while holding circle for people that they met maybe one hour before, and they were all beautiful. And I got to witness it. My job was simple; ask questions, listen, make some requests, hold the group, and make sure everyone was breathing. They were taking care of each other.
Other questions included, for elders in the room:
- What has been one of the best things you’ve discovered about being seniors?
- What is one of the hardest things?
- What do you think you have lost as a result of aging?
For younger folks in the room:
- What do you remember most fondly about the elders in your family/families?
- And for elders, too: What do you remember most fondly about the seniors in your lives?
The elders chatted about having each other and how important they are to each other. I couldn’t hear all the conversations, and wish I did.Finally we entered our last full circle. I asked for folks to share in a big group any connections to stories, or just anything they needed to share. A man shared that he and his wife came from Mexico. Neither of them could remember or find anyone in their families. So they started creating a wall of pictures of their children and grandchildren. A creation for their family of remembering. I was reminded then that we are doing theatre. We are remembering and re-remembering and telling it the way we see it and telling the truth and building and creating and then sharing. I think that’s the part I take with me and create inquiry in my mind. What do we want our world to be like, look and feel like, and how do we create it? Art? Liberation?
I have to be honest, when asked to write this blog I couldn’t remember what I changed that evening in the facilitation. I couldn’t remember if I got to all the questions I planned to ask. That’s not the part I remember. I remember the stillness and pieces of stories. I remember blood and my friend, who I consider my brother, sitting with watery eyes. I remember laughter and an elder looking so elegant and wearing heels. I remember thinking life goals. I remember a woman speaking in English and switching into Spanish so beautifully the way my family would when I was growing up at my Nana’s. I remember a young man saying we need this and we don’t do this enough and stories that reminded me of my brother-in-law who passed from cancer and the week I spent with him before he died. I remember the thank yous and the gratitude people showed to each other near the end of the evening. I also remember how everyone did a surprise, joyful clap when we introduced the writer, director, and actors in the room. That is one thing I knew was going to happen. I remember thinking, when we introduce the folks from the play, they’ll be excited to see the show, something to look forward to. That’s how we ended it.
Anna Maria Luera is a mother, partner, theatre artist and youth worker. She is a familia company member with Campo Santo Theatre. Currently, she is the Senior Program Manager at Destiny Arts. Anna is the co-creator of the Rysing Womyn’s project, a theatre project that uses ritual theatre, poetry, storytelling and political education to tell stories of young women of color. She was a performing artist with the Love Balm for my SpiritChild Project, a theatre of testimony workshop series and performance for and about mothers who have lost children to systemic violence. Anna believes that when we are actively engaged in our own creative growth and vision for the world, we not only positively transform and heal ourselves, but our communities as well.
All photos (except for Anna Maria Luera’s headshot) taken by L. Herrada-Rios.