October 15, 2018 — At the 2018 Celebration of the Humanities, over 300 community and business leaders, scholars, artists, and government officials gathered in Providence to honor this year’s awardees. The Celebration’s theme – BRIDGE – is about the power of the humanities to link diverse communities, increase access to culture and education, span understanding of the past and imagining the future, connect to societal challenges, and strengthen the ties between information, awareness, and democracy. Each of this year’s honorees do this with great dedication, talent, and skill.
Read on for remarks from Francis Parra, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Teatro ECAS and the 2018 recipient of the Tom Roberts Prize for Creative Achievement in the Humanities – the first installment of a four-part In Their Own Words series.
Garcia Lorca wrote, “A culture that does not foment theater is either dead or dying.” Here in Rhode Island, Teatro ECAS has kept theater en español alive for more than two decades, reaffirming values, educating new generations and building bridges of humanity. Thank you, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities. Thank you, Elizabeth Francis. Thank you for the honor of receiving the Tom Roberts Prize and for supporting our creative work. Thanks to Mr. Tom Roberts for your commitment to breaking down barriers.
I was born in the Dominican Republic, a country famous for beautiful beaches, Merengue music and very unreliable electrical power so it was common for homes in our town to lose power many evenings. As a child, my family would spend hours telling stories by candlelight after dinner. Those rich conversations made me want to be a storyteller and an actor. Later, I would move to Santo Domingo for college and get involved in the theater, a passion that has followed me throughout my life.
When I moved to Rhode Island, I learned of the great theater being produced here yet there was a disconnect. It was clear that our Latino community was not exposed to any of that. I wanted to change this. And so, we created Teatro ECAS which, for the past 21 years, has introduced many people here to Spanish language theater.
Teatro ECAS combines entertainment with education, encouraging our audiences to laugh or cry but, most of all, to think. What makes us who we are? What do we as immigrants bring with us? What have we left behind? Teatro ECAS has built bridges between Rhode Island Latinos from a wide diversity of nationalities and backgrounds, and other audiences. We encourage people to think about their own identity and their experiences. What are the things that unite us? What can we learn from each other?
We tell stories that are not told anywhere else. Stories that bring people together. The impact can be life-changing. I love to hear from people of all ages whose lives have been touched by Teatro ECAS.
It is said that theater is a mirror, a sharp reflection of society. So, I ask you tonight, when you look at our Latino community, what do you see? At Teatro ECAS we try to offer a reflection that goes beyond the stereotypes. Why are there so many Dominicans in Rhode Island? How has the US shaped the history of our Latin American countries? How does this history impact the way we live our lives in Providence or Pawtucket? Teatro ECAS tackles these and other questions through stories that unite us with themes of common humanity. Stories that build bridges in a society that sometimes seems obsessed with building walls.
This work has been a labor of love for all involved; from our board and volunteers to my family, to our brilliant actors and, of course, the audience that gives us life. Tonight, I say to all of you, thank you.
We all share a responsibility to ensure that our cultural values are neither dead nor dying AND that we celebrate and explore our common and unique experiences. Only then can we grow in our understanding and acceptance of each other and of ourselves.