Theater project highlights Latino contributions to New Orleans _lowres

Photo by Craig Morse -- Jose Torres-Tama in 'Aliens, Immigrants, and Other Evil Doers.'

For new arrivals to the United States, the immigrant experience can be a challenge.

Throughout our nation’s history, the most recent groups to arrive on our shores have often had to contend with hostility. And despite the fact that New Orleans was once part of Spain’s vast colonial empire in the New World and people of Hispanic heritage are among the city’s oldest families, the more recent immigrants from Latin America — especially those who arrived here post-Katrina — have faced many of the same problems.

Jose Torres-Tama, a New Orleans resident since the mid-1980s whose family emigrated to the United States from Ecuador in 1968, is seeking to change perceptions about the recent wave of Latino immigrants to the New Orleans area.

An accomplished artist, writer, photographer and performance artist, Torres-Tama has been combining his skills and those of other Hispanic artists into a series of performance pieces he has titled “Teatro Sin Fronteras (Theater Without Boundaries).”

The next performance is slated for Tuesday at the Old Marquer Theatre in Faubourg Marigny.

Performers will include poet Melinda Palacio; dancer Maritza Mercado-Narcisse; filmmaker William Sabourin O’Reilly with two post-Katrina short films; visual artist Cynthia Ramirez; and “Intimos” with Blake Amos and Leo Oliveira performing Brazilian bossa nova songs. Admission is free.

Torres-Tama will emcee and tell stories from his solo show, “Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers” accompanied by violinist Denise Frazier.

Follow-up performances will be staged on July 21, Aug. 11 and Aug. 25 to tie in with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Each of the shows will feature different Latino performers, with Torres-Tama acting as emcee and staging his own original performance art.

“It’s like a salon-style situation where we’re featuring a variety of different artists,” Torres-Tama said. “We’re trying to introduce artists to each other and the Hispanic community. We want people to know about the great variety of Latino and Latina artists who are here.

“When it comes to the Latino/Latina experience, I think the city has, unfortunately, in mainstream and local media, been redefined in strictly black and white racial terms,” Torres-Tama said. “But New Orleans has always been a multiracial port city.”

His goal is to shatter myths and misconceptions about Hispanic people.

“We also want to present the variety of work we have being made here by brilliant Latino/Latina artists,” he said.

Despite catchy descriptions like “a moveable feast,” “the new vaudeville” and “a tribal gathering,” Torres-Tama’s presentations have a serious side. He sees them as a forum for raising awareness of the difficulties faced by Hispanic day laborers, many of whom are undocumented.

“Most people aren’t aware of the role Hispanics played in the rebuilding of New Orleans over the last 10 years,” Torres-Tama said.

“I’ve collected some really dramatic stories from some of these guys. Workers have suffered tremendous atrocities here. From overcrowded living quarters to long hours for low — or sometimes no — pay, these laborers have seen more than their share of abuse.”

Summing up the mission of his 20-year-old Arte Futuro Productions, Torres-Tama said, “I’m always trying to find that space between creating work that’s engaging, experimental, provocative, well-crafted and socially conscious.

“We live in a state of urgency right now, with so many issues. As an immigrant myself, of course immigrant issues are going to be at the top of my dramatic concerns. I’m just trying to create work that raises consciousness.”