July 8, 2008

‘En Mis Palabras’ Features Two Languages, Cultures: The Bilingual Performance Tells the Story of a Mexican Immigrant Family

By Perry Swanson, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.

Jul. 8--A free opera performance at Colorado College this evening tells the story of a Mexican immigrant family and a teenage girl's struggle to come to terms with her father's culture.

The opera features elements of Mexican and Hispanic-American cultures -- Spanish and English woven together, prayer to the Virgin Mary, and spirits of the dead that communicate with the living. But the themes in "En Mis Palabras," or "In My Own Words," are universal, said Deborah Morrow, director of education programs for Central City Opera, which commissioned the piece.

"It's about a child trying to find her own way with a parent who is trying to keep her locked into the culture that he grew up in," Morrow said. "We do have a lot of response from kids about this show, and they do find the whole concept of learning to be yourself and standing up for yourself very important. Adults who see this show, they find it heart-wrenching because they've been on both sides."

Still, the plot touches on issues that are particularly resonant for some Hispanics. While previous waves of immigrants have come from Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, most recent immigrants are from Latin America. Immigrants from Mexico, Central America, South America and Caribbean nations make up more than half of the United States' foreign-born population, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

The plot concerns Ana Maria, a teenager born in the United States, and her father, brother and grandmother. Ana Maria's father, who was born in Mexico, opposes her clothing, makeup and other reflections of the majority culture. Ana Maria's brother tells her to "spread her wings" and be herself, while her grandmother advises her to remember how her choices affect others.

The role of Ana Maria is played by Micaiella Dominguez-Robinson, a mezzo-soprano and junior at the University of Denver, where's she's studying vocal performance.

"It hits close to home because my mother is Hispanic and my father is Caucasian, and there are definitely some cultural barriers where they don't see eye to eye," Dominguez-Robinson said.

Middle-school teachers in the Denver area have used the opera as a teaching tool in a variety of classes, from English to social studies, Morrow said. A study guide put out by Central City Opera covers material such as the history of the Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, and immigration law. It's also designed to introduce children to opera. The guide walks readers through the vocabulary of opera such as overture, "A piece of music played by the orchestra to begin the opera," and librettist, "The person who writes the words for an opera."

"My hope was that it would appeal to kids of all cultures," Morrow said. "You can tell any kind of story through music, and that's basically what opera is."

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"En Mis Palabras," 7:30 p.m. today in Packard Hall at Colorado College, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St. The performance is free, but tickets are required. They're available at the Worner Center Desk, at the northwest corner of Cache la Poudre Street and Cascade Avenue. For details on the opera, visit www.centralcityopera.org.


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