On a cloudy morning this past January, I called and spoke with an emerging artist and playwright, who has been finding unique ways to use identity and the complexity of the human experience to produce relevant pieces of artistic virtue.
When asked, “where are you from,” Emilio simply answers, “all over.” As a military kid, Emilio moved around a lot. He was born in Germany, lived in Detroit and spent most of his life in Riverside, California. Riverside shaped Emilio’s understanding of place and race. Growing up in a very diverse place, his high school featured a dense variety of young organizations and groups that worked to represent diverse identities within his high school. As this was his reality, he never was cognizant of his race or ethnicity. Yet that has not always been the case, “I never felt like an outsider. That changed in college.” It is amazing to think that so much of who we are is based off of the environment and people around us.
Emilio’s life has truly been a collection of the influences of physical places he has lived in. Moving around, he began to notice cultural differences, how strangers interacted with one another and since college, has understand how segregated parts of the country are. These very grand understands and findings has served as the guiding influence of his work. As a teaching artist, he has worked with a myriad of companies and theaters directing, acting and producing plays. It was through one of his most recent works, that was connected to Portland. At a festival in Chicago, he became a part of Milagro Theater. Milagro has been around since 1985, where it has been uplifting the Latino perspective in the arts, with regular plays, a traveling company and a community favorite, Dia de Los Muertos ofrendas.
Since working with Milagro, during his recent short residency with the company, Emilio has produced a play about the LGBT community within homeless shelters. The intersection of these two identities, of being gay and homeless, provided a platform for the play to navigate uncharted grounds. The narratives of gay, homeless people is not a well-known story. In many ways, this was a sense of transpiring Emilio’s own personal experiences into fruition. He weaved in the theme of being an outcast, as he himself grappled with his own identity of being a gay teenager, who is not accept by his own racial community. Acceptance is relative. Progress that is being made in the form of inclusion and equity work differs between geographic location, race and cultural backgrounds. I asked Emilio why he felt the Latino community did not accept his sexual identity. He offered that the influences of biblical and traditional upbringings has created a dynamic where questioning and challenging the Bible for its hypocrisy is not allowed for Latino people. However, he felt a sense of hope in the younger generation who is “focused on love,” and that for stigmas to truly change, the ideologies of older communities need to be restructured.
Another point of interest was Emilio’s creative process. Examining the movement and motion within his creative sphere, I found that he starts with the character first. From there he goes o to determine what is important between him, as an individual and the character. Emilio takes notice to the age of the character, looking to focus on the big leaps between years and influence they provide on the character’s experience. He also finds it necessary to separate his opinion and establish a sense of how the character feels.
In his repertoire, Emilio wrote a play that was loosely based on a group of sea lions living in captivity. Within the limits of that physical space, he staged the story to be dramatic but also true to the original story. All three of the sea lions were pregnant. One of the sea lions begins to take care of one of the other sea lion’s pup. Interested zoologists tranquilized the sea lion. After doing so she died and they performed an autopsy and found that the day that she started taking care of the other pup, was the day her pup had miscarried. I asked Emilio what was the relevance of the story and he gave me a quote he has chosen to live by, “ Nikki Giovanni has a quote,‘I don't think I am allowed to kill something because I am afraid of it.’ Because of that I become focused on always doing something political, but telling it through a story. My goal is to have a conversation after every play, and allow communities to come together to have a conversation about the play itself.”
We ended the call with me asking, “what is one word that would describe how you feel about who you are today?”
After a long pause, he said, “Developing? Being on a journey. A process.”