A Chicago theater festival that celebrates Latino art and culture

Local theater companies that are part of the Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival are giving Latino audiences the chance to see themselves reflected on stages at several neighborhoods throughout the city.

SHARE A Chicago theater festival that celebrates Latino art and culture
“American Mariachi” by José Cruz González

From left to right: Tiffany Solano (Lucha), Molly Hernández (Isabel), Amanda Raquel Martinez (Gabby), Gloria Vivica Benavides (Soyla), Christopher Llewyn Ramirez (Mateo) and Lucy Godínez (Boli) in “American Mariachi” by José Cruz González, directed by Henry Godinez at Goodman Theatre. The show runs through Oct. 24.

Photo by Liz Lauren

Benavides. Cervantes. Godinez. Gutierrez. González. Hernandez. Ramirez. Solano.

These are among the names of the writer, director and cast of “American Mariachi,” a play at the Goodman Theatre about five Latinas who go against machismo and tradition to start their own mariachi group in the 1970s.

A production such as this, where Latinos are in charge of their own narrative, is a rare sight at any major theater in Chicago. But when we attended a weekday performance last week, we discovered a good-size and diverse crowd laughing, crying and clapping along, evidence that Chicago theatergoers are up for shows with largely Latino casts and themes.

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The Goodman is one of six local theater companies and four visiting troupes — from Miami, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Mexico — participating this fall in the 4th annual Destinos: Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. The other five local companies are Aguijón Theater, Teatro Vista, Latino Visión, Teatro Tariakuri and the Urban Theater Company.

“These are our stories, our own narratives and our own experiences. They aren’t influenced by a white director who says you have to look a certain way or have an accent when you speak English,” Myrna Salazar, executive director for the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance and lead producer of the festival, told us. “We want things that show the value of what it is to be Latino, whether it’s through our history or the flavors we bring to the country. And to put that on stage, it’s very important.”

What is particularly notable about the Destinos productions, we which see as a welcomed reflection of the cultural richness of Chicago’s growing demographic diversity, is that they are being offered outside the Loop theater district and the usual North Side neighborhoods. Performances are being offered in more working-class neighborhoods such as Belmont Cragin, Wicker Park, Marquette Park, Pilsen and Humboldt Park, where some people in the audience for the first time might be seeing people who look like them on the stage.

The story lines, as well, often take a more personal Latino turn.

There is the play, “Corazon de Papel,” for example, which is set in the devastation of Puerto Rico, post-Hurricane Maria. It will be performed at Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division St., from Oct. 14 to 17.

And there is the play “Y Tú Abuela, Where Is She?” It tells the story of an interracial couple who are accepted into a program that allows them to modify the genes of their children before they are born. The two are excited about the possibilities until they become stuck on one question: What color skin should their child have? The play will run at The Den Theater, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., from Oct. 14 to 24.

Chicago has been a celebrated theater town since at least the 1970s when pioneering companies such as Steppenwolf and Wisdom Bridge first set up shop in ordinary Chicago neighborhoods to tell powerful stories.

The Destinos festival continues that tradition — with a more Latino twist, like our city itself — and we urge you to check it all out.

For tickets, visit CLATA.org

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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