Home-grown talent at El Puente

The Brooklyn Paper
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El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, the South Williamsburg high school affiliated with the renowned community-based social justice organization, went out with a bang this school year with its 12th annual Integrated Arts Project showcase in the form of Almost Grown: Rites and Resistance, a home-grown theatrical production.

Around 60 students participated in the production, held late last month at the school (186 North Sixth Street), in some capacity, as actors, set designers, technicians, dancers, or musicians.

For these students and the many faculty members who helped guide them, the night was the culmination of a year’s worth of work centering around the theme of the year: “Coming of Age.”

At the end of each school year, El Puente students select a social theme that becomes woven into the next year’s academic and arts curriculum. The IAP showcase is the final product, an example of how El Puente uses the arts to explore social issues.

In 2006, students selected “Displacement” as the theme for the 2007 showcase, which explored the plight of South Williamsburg’s low-income residents being forced out of their homes because of gentrification.

This year’s “Coming of Age” was a personal theme that the students extrapolated to a broader context:

Just as its students face the challenges of going from teenagers to adults, El Puente Academy is undergoing a transition of its own: Next year, the school will move into its first permanent home in the former Transfiguration Church Elementary School on 250 Hooper Street.

“Coming of Age” also applies to the maturation of Latino political empowerment in the United States, which many hope will be on display during the November elections.

Almost Grown: Rites and Resistance explores the difficulties of coming of age through four high school-aged characters who face challenges familiar to many El Puente students.

One character, Lisa, is an outstanding student who wins a college scholarship, only to see her hard work taken away when administrators find out she is an undocumented immigrant.

As the play progresses, a tragically familiar scenario befalls Lisa: her scholarship is revoked and she is told to join the ROTC.

Then there is Mateo, a first generation Latino boy whose dream is to become an actor and singer.

Unfortunately, his immigrant parents do not approve. Having struggled to find a small measure of success in America, they insist that Mateo set his sights on a traditional profession.

Andy is a budding environmentalist, a true believer in a cause that is often mischaracterized as an elitist issue.

Though he is ridiculed for his beliefs, Andy’s principles are reaffirmed when his grandmother’s beloved community garden is bulldozed to make way for a luxury condo development.

Much to her family’s disapproval, Geralyz is dating an African-American. In a climactic scene, she tries to explain to her mother that most Latinos have African blood.

Her mother is unmoved, but Geralyz resolves to keep trying.

As with Geralyz, there is no happy ending for any of the characters. Their valiant efforts are not enough to overcome the societal impediments before them.

But they resolve to keep fighting for what they believe in, showing that they have, in the end, come of age. In this way, they achieve salvation.

“None of their issues get resolved at the end, but they realize that coming of age is about making informed choices,” said Sasha Dobos-Czarnocha, the coordinator of the Integrated Arts Program and the play’s director.

“There are still things out there that are not within their control. But in the end, they are grown up and comfortable with the choices they’ve made.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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