A woman shrieks in the dead of night. A man strumming on his guitar offsets a serenade of melodic voices. Cussing intervenes the music as drugs are dealt.
This is Night of Cultura at UCLA.
In 2004, a group of Latina/o students came together to establish a creative space for the expression and celebration of Latin American culture through performing arts. The nonprofit, completely run by UCLA students, has since worked toward staging theater productions every spring quarter.
Night of Cultura’s Executive Director Ricardo Ayala, a third year psychology student, describes the essence of the organization as the interweaving of the arts and social justice, “bringing up issues relevant to those in Night of Cultura as well as the communities we represent.”
As stated on their official Facebook page, Night of Cultura aims to “[establish] a creative space that allows students the opportunity to participate in political advocacy, social advocacy, and cathartic expression. Through performing arts, [they] aim to educate the audience for the betterment of the Latin-American community at UCLA.”
Their mission statement was evident during Monday night rehearsals, held on the Tom Bradley International Hall patio from eight to ten. They are a chaotic combination of live music, impassioned arguments, remnants of a past romance, and excruciating loss.
Among this year’s featured productions is art history graduate student Carlos Rivas’ monologue “1932,” inspired by the often overlooked genocide of Salvadoran indigenous peoples.
“Last summer I spent a week in a little town called Nahuizalco in El Salvador. I stayed with an indigenous community with the grandchildren of the grandchildren of the people who were murdered. I was very inspired by [this experience]. I came back and wanted to share the knowledge,” says Rivas. “I was already a part of NoC and [this] fit in with the theme of Latin American culture [while] also still raising awareness for social activism.”
Fourth year Spanish literature student Roberto Reyna’s El Swapmeet takes place closer to home near the border.
Reyna credits his upbringing and experience of selling at his local swap meet alongside his mom as inspiration for his play.
One of the critical themes present throughout his play is the role of money.
“Money is an actor in every Latino’s life. It transforms us,” says Reyna.
The influence of money is evident through his memories of being at swap meets as a kid.
“I think I saw some kids in the swap meet selling by themselves and I said, ‘What got him to selling?’ This kid goes to the swap meet all by himself and he thinks he’s all badass. I wanted his backstory,” says Reyna. “It’s the backstory of a lot of people, to try and work and to earn something out of anything. The journey of the hustle.”
Reyna expresses the journey of the dual culture of border towns and the people who live there through his use of bilingual dialogue. His use of English and Spanish reflect the dichotomy of money and happiness present within El Swapmeet.
Bringing it even closer to home is Giovanni Núñez’s Unbreakable.
Set in a neighborhood similar to South Los Angeles, Unbreakable stars second year sociology major and theater minor Liz Perez as Janet. Núñez’s play chronicles Janet’s transformation as she navigates through her neighborhood and the tribulations of everyday life.
“Throughout the play there’s a change of character within Janet. She herself believes that she is unbreakable.Throughout the play she thinks that she’s invincible and that nothing can hurt her,” explains Perez. “She becomes more critical of her environment.”
This year, Night of Cultura will take place on May 30th-31st in the Northwest Campus Auditorium at 7:00 PM. Admission is free.
Serving as Creative Director, Reyna is confident in the work of his writers, actors, and the entire work force behind Night of Cultura.
“Honestly, I’m confident. There’s a reason why I chose Giovanni, there’s a reason why I chose Carlos. No one’s getting paid. Everyone’s on their own time, everyone’s on their own schedule. It’s just like any other club, it’s a passion, it’s a dedication. The most rewarding part is for us to perform for someone. The rewarding part is the night of the show, the wrap. That’s what makes all the headaches worth it.”
Note: This blog is the first of a three part series following the NoC productions. Look out for the next blog which will be covering the actual production of NoC on May 30th and May 31st. See you there!