Please share a little of your story/background and the way your personal story connects to your artistic practice(s)?
I’m a fronteriza or borderlander woman as well as a first generation Mexican American of dual citizenship. It took me time and lots of research to come to fronteriza as a primary word to identify myself. Growing up on the border of El Paso, TX and Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua was unique and conflicting because I rarely, if ever, saw my community represented in mainstream media, at least not in a positive way. In hindsight, I believe that one of the reasons why I shared a common disregard with my young peers about “home” was because we didn’t fit into the “all American” or Mexican narratives, so El Paso/Juarez felt irrelevant among the two national identities. The fact that neither Mexican American nor Border History was (and still not) part of public school curriculum in El Paso was also unfortunate to our knowledge of self and pride in our community. I was only motivated to learn about border history once I moved away from home and was constantly confronted with the question, “Where are you from?” The search for my history and identity became a personal, political and creative quest to define myself and anchor my voice as an artist representing U.S./Mexico border life and culture.
What themes or topics do you address in your artistic and cultural work?
Using my family’s personal oral histories as the foundation for my El Paso/Juarez border research, I have found several topics especially relevant including, immigration policy; labor demands and trade agreements between the U.S. and Mexico; the War on Drugs and its effects on border people; femicide and the role of women as workers, organizers and leaders of their families and communities. My family’s stories allow me to personalize these themes as tangible and life altering experiences that have directly affected my grandparents, parents, siblings, extended relatives, and ultimately myself. Sharing these stories through theater gives me access to the creative and emotionally rich range of performing my family’s personalities and border culture in an intimate way. The goal of my artistic work as it pertains to border identity is to humanize and honor our unique experiences as fronterizos who are often overlooked in American history and politics.
Why is artistic expression important to political and social justice movements?
I believe that artistic expression is at the core of human existence. We use our bodies to create songs, stories, dances, images, words, plays and many other works in an attempt to express the truest sentiment of who we are and what we’re going through. It is inevitable then that art would serve as a means to express how we feel about the injustices we experience to relieve our grievances and address the issue(s) at hand. Historically art has connected us as people and as a common voice towards creating cultural and political change. For me it is a positive reminder that we are the makers of culture and politics. This is why representation matters; because seeing ourselves through the arts inherently empowers our agency as creators of the society and world we want to live in.
What is unique to Arizona aesthetics? Do you see a special arts movements happening here, if so, what does that look and feel like? In other words, why should people be paying attention to Arizona artists?
I’m not from Arizona but I feel connected to it through our shared natural desert landscape, political history and heritage as the southwest region of the United States. The southwest is historically contested land where U.S. imperialism is continuously reinforced through laws that reflect a bigoted sense of white American patriotism. On any given day we can watch news of anti-immigrant policies and Trump’s proposal to build another US/Mexico border. Unless one lives in the southwest, one may never know the effects of border enforcement and militarization on local communities. Now more than ever Arizona artists are invaluable voices of local concerns who can disseminate information in creative and relatable ways that raise awareness, connect and motivate national and international action against today’s racist and xenophobic policies. I’m grateful and inspired to be part of the Bi-National Arts Residency this year, building towards cross-border artistic collaboration with Mexican residents living across the border from Arizona.
What is on the horizon for you, and what would you most like to learn this next cycle in your practice?
I want to continue working to be the best storyteller I can possibly be through performance and writing. I’ve always been interested in exploring film and TV and I think it’s time to pursue it.
For more information on Yadira De La Riva's work: www.yadiradelariva.com
And for for more information on the ASU Performance in the Borderlands residency: http://tinyurl.com/ASUPIB
Yadira's public show of "One Journey" will be in Phoenix on Weds. October 19, 7 pm
(Rio Salado Project 2801 S. 7th Ave. Phoenix, AZ)
Banner photo by: