Ara Cruz of Café Cultura

By July 19, 2016Stories

I didn’t start writing until I was a senior in high school. It wasn’t anything special at that time but when I got into college my first year I shared a poem that I wrote and other folks were like, “Oh, this is really good!” I look back and it wasn’t really good, but people liked it and I was like, “Oh okay, I’ll keep writing.” For me, at least, it was powerful. The moment that I found it was powerful for others was when I had participated in a barrio slam that Su Teatro had hosted and they requested some poets to share some words for the Cinco de Mayo celebration. They were given my name and two other people, this brother named Oxygen and Trinidad Sanchez Junior. It was an honor to perform with Trinidad specifically because he was able to show me a different style and approach. I had written a special poem for that day and we saw a real impact on the students. They really loved our work. Then, I was spending time afterwards and a young student at the school approached Trinidad because he has this poem called, “Why am I so Brown?” She said, “Oh my gosh, I have that poem on my mirror and I see it every day. I didn’t know who the author was.” I was like, “Wow, that’s impactful.” For me it was like, “Okay, this really has the power to move people,” not only sharing words, but offering the opportunity for other folks to be themselves, express themselves, tell their story and have the kind of cathartic moment that people have when they’re able to do that and release and really be able to be connected to other folks through stories.

Another moment, I performed at a school a few years ago and some students there, some girls, really liked my poetry and one of them asked me to write a poem for her. In the moment, I’m thinking “That’s kind of weird,” but then I looked down and I see her arms and she has scars. In that moment, I knew why she asked for that. I think spoken word can really have an impact on how people see the world. It is really representative of the role that art has in social movement. I think at Café Cultura, we see that as our role. We are able to talk about the issues that face us, to address problems in our communities and discuss ways of people understanding and acting upon them and see if we can connect people to do something. We don’t want to just say, “Here’s the problem and here’s what we think of it,” but to figure out ways to be involved in our communities. We’re just trying to see if we can connect spoken word to issues of social justice and action. I’ve definitely seen the power of spoken word open doors for people who thought that they didn’t have a voice. I mean, I never did; I was really, really quiet, but it gave me the opportunity and voice to be able to talk about the issues that I felt were important. When I perform spoken word it’s almost like it’s not me. It’s really like, some people might say God, Spirit, or Creator, speaking through you and you’re just a conduit. I’ve definitely had moments when that’s happened. It’s really helped me; like I said, I was never one to speak up in high school or even my early college days but I was able to develop my public speaking skills through it and feel comfortable in my own skin. It’s so critical to have self-confidence and if you don’t have it, it’s going to be difficult for you to really apply yourself and reach for those dreams that you have so that’s always the approach that we have is that you have to have confidence. We talked to the kids all the time and we say, “You have to go up to the mic and say I’m the bomb-dot-com.” It’s this idea that sometimes you have to “Fake it till you make it” and I think that’s applicable in life in general. We tell the kids, “It’s about the poetry, yeah, but it is mostly about being powerful and take ourselves to that next level to really be all we can be.” We tell them that their words have power. I talk to them a lot about when I go and perform and I see the crowd I’m like “I don’t know what they’re going to think about this” and that minor doubt creeps in and affects how I perform, but if I go in with a sense of purpose and confidence then it’s going to be good. A lot of the time we approach our work through the idea of building relationships and using those to see if we can create opportunities for folks to understand their own power and the power of their own words to then create change. In order to do that, it’s really about our community and each individual within the community believing in themselves. We tell them, “Nobody is going to tell your story, but you.” We say to our students that it is our responsibility to come together and support one another and really be able to lift our voices and impact society—that is at the core of what Café Cultura stands for and what we hope to become.

-Ara Cruz
Café Cultura Executive Director

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