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East LA Teens Learn Confidence Through The Arts


MOnterrey High SchoolThis article originally appeared in public radio station KPCC 89.3's blog. It is re-published here with permission.

Andrew Burciaga, 18, felt the pressure, and it was too much for him.

The East L.A. teen has two older sisters who both went to college: one to UC Irvine and the other to a Cal State. One even got a Masters degree afterward. But Burciaga, a Garfield High School student, said he was overwhelmed, got lazy, and "pretty much was just going to give up."

A school counselor recommended he head to Monterey Continuation High School in East L.A., and though he had some misgivings about it, he gave it a go. Only a couple months in, the senior hesitatingly joined a theater group on campus; he'd done improvisation before, but this time he would be conducting interviews and writing a play.

Burciaga and his fellow classmates spoke with four former participants of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium: organizer Rosalio Muñoz, visual artist Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin, film and television director Jesus Treviño and AFTRA director Consuelo Flores as part of About Productions' Young Theaterworks program, Through the Ages.

The three-month project has transformed many of the students at the school.

"It was literally watching the pride physically affect these young people as they hear the stories," said Rose Portillo, program director and founder of Young Theaterworks. "You see it, they’re leaning forward, their bodies are erect. They grew inches if not feet that day. And their commitment to honoring these people — they become stewards and they've all become very aware."

In 1970, an estimated 30,000 people marched through East L.A. to peacefully protest the Vietnam War. But what is called the Chiacano Moratorium ended in violence when law enforcement officials clashed with marchers. Three people, including Los Angeles Times journalist Ruben Salazar, were killed. 

"Talking to's a piece of history, someone who witnessed it all explaining it to me," Burciaga said. "Someone who changed history to show other people to not be afraid to speak up. Every question we asked Rosalio, I was getting chills."

Burciaga, who plays Salazar in another small scene, wrote about Muñoz's time before the draft board. Muñoz tells the board he shouldn't go to war because "he feels that Chicanos there are being killed and the government is committing genocide"  Burciaga said. The draft tells Muñoz: "you're just another Mexican," Burciaga said.

"It's a very good scene," Burciaga said. "I'm very happy with it and very excited. The first day I wrote the rough draft I went home, I told my mom, and she was very excited. I told my sister. Everybody."
The experience has also given Burciaga new confidence: "I can write. I'm not afraid to write it down. If it's wrong, it's wrong — there's no right answer."

He goes home and tells his his younger sister about what he is doing and learning.

"I'm weird, I know random facts, I can obtain knowledge, stuff people don't know and I want to keep," Burciaga said. "...It's very good, I can teach people, even though I don't know anything."

He also feels more comfortable being at a continuation school and with working in groups. At Garfield, he said he would often get stuck with all the work in groups, but in this program he has been helped by his classmates, who gave him feedback on his play.

Burciaga plans to go to East Los Angeles College when he graduates at the end of this school year, and then will apply to go to an art academy in San Francisco or UCLA.
"I'm kind of sad it's over."

The students performed a staged reading of their work "2012 Meets 1970" along with professional actors today for another continuation school. They performed again for the community and public at the Margo Theater at Plaza de la Raza in Los Angeles.


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