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Gracias 31x

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Some weeks back I received 30 handwritten notes from 10th graders at Centennial High School in Corona, which is in Riverside County in Southern California.

Along with those letters was a note from their teacher, Ms. Robyn Orozco. They had watched my one-woman show during the virtual Encuento Festival, sponsored by the Los Angeles Latino Theater Company. The day after the Festival ended, I met via zoom with several classrooms of students who are part of the Puente Program. In a minute I’ll tell you about Puente but first I want to thank the Puente Program for bringing my play to their schools.

Here are a few things they said in their notes. Each quote is from a different writer:

“I want to thank you for all the effort and time you spent on your play and doing the Q&A. I really enjoyed watching. I was able to relate to it in various ways. Realmente me encanto las diferentes expresiones que tuve durante la actuación.” The student then says she learned so much and that seeing my play motivated and inspired her to stand up for our community. I love that she so seamlessly goes from English to Spanish.

“As I was watching, I liked how you went far back because it really gave meaning. I have unfortunately gone through some prejudice in my life, your presentation brought light to my thoughts on my culture.” The writer says he was inspired by my play and felt pride in being Mexican-American. He hopes someday to become a lawyer and fight for what is right. You can do it, joven, and I am rooting for you.

“I kept wanting to hear more and more about the story the entire time. I especially liked the part when your teacher took note of the correct pronunciation of your name. I had never seen a one-woman play before, and it was really interesting seeing you play all the people.”

Now, a bit about Puente.

The Puente Project is a national award-winning program that has improved the college-going rate of tens of thousands of California's educationally underrepresented students since 1981. Its mission is to increase the number of these students who enroll in four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees, and return to the community as mentors and leaders to future generations. The program is interdisciplinary, with writing, counseling, and community mentoring components. The word puente in Spanish means bridge.

I am a huge fan of Puente and first became familiar with it through the local community college in the area where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have previously served as a mentor and made presentations in Puente classes and in the past two years have met with Puente instructors and counselors on Zoom. Although started to support students to successfully transition from community colleges to four-year institutions, Puente has expanded to serve students in both junior and high schools in various communities throughout California.

Puente's staff training programs have benefited approximately 300,000 students across California. Puente is open to all students, and almost all participants are or will be the first in their families to access a college education. When making our charitable contributions, we are always happy to support Puente. The Puente Project has expanded and is serving students in Texas, my home state. You can learn more about Puente Program on their website, and there’s a donate button too.

Now back to a few more student letters. One reported that she could not personally relate to the experience of people mispronouncing her name

or the type of discrimination she saw in my play, but this led her to a conversation with her parents who told her of their experiences confronting prejudice in their own lives.

“When you showed the video of that one lady saying that the immigrant children didn’t need soap or toothbrushes, it made me feel so upset because they deserve everything especially for what they are going through.” You are so right, it is upsetting. I included a clip of this video from a court hearing about conditions in detention centers so that people can know how immigrant children are being treated. Would anyone want their children treated this way?

“I really enjoyed watching your show. There were so many things I relate to, for example, my mother’s name is Maria, and some of her friends are also named Maria.” The writer adds that she also hears people say you should stay out of the sun because the whiter you are the prettier you will be.

“I sometimes pronounce my name wrong or say a Mexican food in a way that would be considered normal in this country. But you have changed my mind and inspired me to take pride in my name. Thank you.”

And finally, one student told me he enjoyed my play, but “no offense” he though my dancing could be upgraded. Duly noted.

Thanks, Robyn Orozco, for bringing my play into your classroom and encouraging your students to share their thoughts with me. AND special thanks to each student, for your personal handwritten notes (even if it was a class assignment!). I had forgotten the joy that a handwritten letter can bring. You can hold it and read it again and again. I see you and appreciate you: Alaritza, Aliya, Alyssa, Bruno, Bryan, Chris, Diana, Diego, Erick, Giselle C., Giselle DR., Gisselle, Isabella O., Isabella P. Jacqueline, Jennifer, Jesus, Jocelyn F. Jocelyn J., Joseph, Kai, Kayla, Laura, Liliana, Maximiliano, Maximus, Naomi, Nicolas, Nicole, Oliver. Muchisimas gracias.

As my friend, comedian, and solo performer, Marga Gomez, says “keep shining.”

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