Elizabeth: [00:00:00] Welcome to Creativists in Dialogue, a podcast embracing the creative life. I’m Elizabeth Bruce.
Michael: And I’m Michael Oliver.
Elizabeth: Today our guests—yes, plural, we have two guests—are very old friends and fellow theater folk, longtime neighbors, and really wonderful people. Quique Avilés and Hilary Binder-Avilés, who are, among other distinctions, married to each other. They have collaborated on many projects.
Quique is an actor, a poet, a solo performer, a film collaborator, an educator, an immigrant from El Salvador—I should say, a refugee from El Salvador. He is a fiery activist whose reputation precedes him. [00:01:00]
Hilary, too, is a veteran writer educator, international facilitator, and expert on nonprofit and NGO strategic development, governance, evaluation, fundraising, advocacy and more.
They are also longtime neighbors in the Brookland neighborhood of DC’s Ward 5. So nice to see you both again.
So, this interview will cover the role creativity plays and has played in the various aspects of your very extraordinary and creative lives.
Michael: And so we like to start our interviews with a couple of questions. And the first one is, what aspects of your life does creativity have the greatest influence?
Quique: Elizabeth said, I’m a poet and a writer and a performer. I think I, I discovered that I was a creator person once I learned how to read and write. So that was just, I started learning how to read.
I was a paper boy. We were, all the boys in our house in El Carmen Cuscatlán in El Salvador, we delivered both [00:02:00] papers of the nation. So I would read the paper every day. And that’s something that continues to this day, that I read the paper every day. Because my brother said that if I wanted to expand my English vocabulary when I first came here in 1980, he said, if you just read from page of the Washington Post every day, you would expand your vocabulary would rather quickly. So, I think that was like the impetus for me, like the first time that I said, wow, writing really—because you would read what was going on around the world and what’s going on in your country, even if the papers were right-wing leaning or—it didn’t matter, it was writing.
I never thought I would become, ended up as an artist. My dream was to be a schoolteacher because by the time I was, I think I was in the eighth grade when teachers wouldn’t show up to our school, I would be sent to go teach the little ones.
Quique: And I happen to get a joy out of that, of having knowledge and sharing it with little ones. [00:03:00]
And then I used to do, we used to do, there was called baladas, which were variety shows, to raise money for the school. So, we would dress up, pretending to be a rock band and have the little, the do lip syncing and do this dancing. So, I was just an all-over-the-place kind of kid. And I started writing poetry probably in the seventh, I was like in the seventh grade. It was cheesy rhyme poems and stuff. But I never really thought that I would end up being an artist for life.
And now being here in the United States for 42 years now, it has been nonstop. Since, ‘cause I got involved in the political movement that was here, people in solidarity, all this solidarity with the people of El Salvador ‘cause of the war. And I came fleeing that. And so I was an angry and then [00:04:00] I used to write these long diatribes that were not, I thought it was poetry, and I actually have most of them from my days in high school here at Duke Ellington.
Michael: So do you think that creativity helped you transform some of that anger into language, into poetry, into political activism and all that?
Quique: Oh, definitely. Definitely. And I will say that I got involved in all kinds of negative stuff. The stuff, the drugs. And if it wasn’t for writing and performing, I think I’d be dead or in jail. So that has been my constant, being in front of audiences, I’m a performer, so most of my writing throughout my life, have, I’ve never been one that has wanted it to be published. That’s not a game that I wanted to enter. Neither did I want to enter the game of Broadway or LA, Hollywood. Because that was the training that I received. And that was like the next step, that you go to college and then you get your degree, and then acting and then keep on, you gotta move to New York, [00:05:00] move to LA. But I’ve found street theater, political theater, different, I got exposed to different ways of doing theater and different approaches to theater.
Michael: And we’ll def– we’ll get into all of that in a second. Hilary, what about you? What aspects of your life does creativity have the greatest impact?
Hilary: Yeah, I think I come at this question from, a little bit differently because I don’t identify myself as an artist and yet I definitely identify myself as a creative person. And I think for me, there’s a piece of it that’s around the creativity of how you bring people together, in everything that we do over the years, it’s always, there’s always a piece of it that’s, how do we really build a community? How do we build a community that we wanna live in, right? Which is one of joy and compassion and sharing and fairness. And so for me, a lot of creativity is always thinking about ways in which people can feel part of something. Creating space for people to feel part of a community. And that takes creativity.
I think there’s creativity and I think in my work, which you reference, which is my work with small, mostly small [00:06:00] community-based organizations that are doing human’s rights work and working with refugees and immigrants, because of the kind of work they’re doing, like they’re always under-resourced. They never have enough. And of, and so you have to be creative. You’re trying to make changes, you’re trying to change policy, you’re trying to change laws, you’re trying to—you have to be creative in thinking about, how do we use this or how do we use that, or how do we get this? So there’s, so I feel like I’m—creativity is something that is always, it’s a creative thinking, right? Like creative problem solving. And I think for me, that’s the way in which I see it in my life.
Elizabeth: Sure. Another question that we have deals with how we understand or how a person understands creativity itself. Hilary, let me start with you. How do you personally view creativity? As problem solving or as advancing a field or something else completely?
Hilary: I think all of that. I think I see it, again, it’s like how do you find ways to use what you have, right? You’re trying to create, whether you are—because we do projects, we do artistic projects, right, theater and all kinds. How do we use what we have, right? To have an impact, to say what we wanna say, to [00:07:00] have a message, to get people involved to help people find their own voice? That’s one, I think one element.
I think it’s also, for me, advancing my field, which was another element of creativity. I think with working with the non-profit organizations I work with, and we’re trying to always communicate, especially, again, like trying to raise money, trying to communicate to funders what does this work about. And trying to beyond like traditional ways of thinking about things. I think for me, there’s an element of creativity and creative thinking that’s required to get people to see things in a different way, whether that’s who refugees are and why they’re here, or that their voices need to be at the table and be part of decision making, and they’re not just victims who need services, but they’re people with—like, how do you switch, hsow do you get people to open up their ways of thinking in different ways? And that’s hard. And I think that takes creativity.
Elizabeth: Quique, how about you? Do you see creativity more as problem solving or communicating, or just as Hilary said, expanding the definition of a given endeavor? Or something else entirely?
Quique: Let’s see it as a, for me, [00:08:00] it’s the essence of life. That there, that… for me, I think I would be really an unhappy camper.
Hilary: I can attest to that. You’d be a really unhappy camper.
Quique: The act of creating, whether you doing a workshop, working with statues and having people move their bodies in ways to create art or whether you’re writing a poem while you’re on the bus—and this is how a lot of my imagery used to come as a poet, I’d ride the bus and would look at characters, you know.
And I remember as a kid being exposed to Living Stage here in Washington, DC and their motto was “All power to the imagination.”
Elizabeth: Right, I remember.
Quique: And that’s when I think my head really exploded and I said, “Wow, I can really do whatever I want.” Because I felt very, I don’t know, trapped in, in, in the world of Shakespeare and Molière and [00:09:00] masters and stuff. But yet there’s no parts for Latinos in Shakespeare.
Quique: At least Blacks get Othello. But yeah, I see it as a lifesaving thing. As my life has evolved now, I make books by hand, paint furniture. So, I think I’ve found another part of my brain that is connected to something that I did not know was there. But it still is that whole thing of I have to be doing something with my hands or my mind or, and I think you could do be doing something with your hands without your mind. So I see, I really see it as the essence of life.
Elizabeth: Speaking of evolving, I just personally wanna ask you to how you met. I don’t know that I know this story, so I’m curious as to how the two of you met. And also, second follow up is when your creative collaborations began.
Hilary: I think it was, I think actually when we met. So I, this—in 1988, [00:10:00] I was spending a lot of time, I had moved to DC in ‘86 from Massachusetts, I had gotten involved with the Latin American Youth Center, I was tutoring young people teaching English, volunteering with Saturday activities program, and I was getting to know a lot of the people at the—I met Quique’s brother Pedro, and I kept hearing this name like, “Quique.” I was like, and I didn’t, it took me like a year to actually meet him, but we met because I was also involved with CISPES, the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, and—not super involved, but I was going to meetings and I was, like, learning and really trying to educate myself as to what was happening. And CISPES was organizing street theater protests where they would have people at a bus stop, just like reading a magazine, and then up would come men in military men, like in ski masks with rifles, knock you to the ground, tie, blindfold you, tie your arms behind your back, and then keep going up the street. Another team would come behind them with flyers saying, this is what your tax dollars are paying for every day in El Salvador, [00:11:00] or $6 million a day. So the person, Jennifer Chase, who was the person who was organizing this, brought Quique in to help us learn how to do this without injuring ourselves, right? Like, how do you put the blindfold so the person can still see? How do you like throw them down so you’re not really hurting them? How do you not tie their arms too tight so you’re not cutting off the blood to their hands? And so, we—and it was in the basement of 15th and Irving at the end—
Quique: Centro Wilson.
Hilary: —Centro Wilson, in the basement, that we were rehearsin, and that was the first time. And yeah. And so, our very first meeting—
Michael: So he blindfolded you?
Hilary: He blindfolded me. So our first meeting was a creative collaboration, right outta the gate, there you go.
Elizabeth: This guy is really serious, hardcore stuff.
Michael: Oh, so Quique, what are some of your earliest memories of this creative expression or creativity? Experiencing creativity, either from within or seeing it around you?
Quique: I come from [00:12:00] a small town, a country—it was in a countryside that was split in half by the Pan-American Highway.
And we were known as the tamboreros, as the drum people, because there was a old man called Don Timo that made drums by hand. And these were drums that were used in the Catholic church processions. And I remember Don Timo. I think that’s the first memory of creativity. But then my cousin was in high school, and he was reading The Iliad and then The Odyssey and they get together in the park to talk with their classmates in the evening, in the afternoons, after four. And I would just be eavesdropping, but I had access to the books because he was reading the books. So I started, I read Tom Sawyer when I was probably, I don’t know, eight, and I read The Iliad when I was probably 10 or something like that. So those are my first memories [00:13:00] of creativity, just in terms of being exposed to different types of ideas about writing and storytelling.
And then I actually became a percussionist.
Elizabeth: That’s right.
Quique: So my relationship with drumming now, but then I used to hang out with the Cubans when the, in, in 1980 when Fidel Castro, so they would drum along with the Puerto Ricans on Colombia Road in Northwest. And I was a punk kid by then. I was a punk rocker, so I was being exposed to punk, and I was listening all this Cuban stuff, just African traditions, I was really more punk, punkers versus the ancestry of Africa. And then there was Gogo music. And so I went to ninth grade at Francis, and then I, and because the schools were so bad and we, Latinos and Blacks used to fight so much, I was supposed to go to Cardozo High School. So people said, man, that’s a death sentence. And so, [00:14:00] I swear, I don’t know how I got accepted to Duke Ellington, but I auditioned playing a character that I was then. So anyways, it was just, and then going to Ellington, just was a transformation because people didn’t fight there. You were surrounded by kids that played the trombone, sax, flute, cello players and dancers, actors, actresses, singers. It was just, it was a mostly Black school. I remember being the only Latino there in 1982 when I got in. And then by the time I left, I think there were five of us, five Latinos.
Michael: And you focused on acting at Ellington?
Quique: Yeah, yeah. So that’s my journey.
Michael: And, Hilary, Massachusetts, you came down from Massachusetts. What were you some of your early experiences of creativity? Either from within or just witnessing it?
Hilary: Yeah, so I was actually, in an earlier life, I was a dancer, and I was an ice dancer.
Elizabeth: Okay, I could see that.
Hilary: So, so a lot. So, for me, creativity in movement was my first connect—my first connection, I think, to creativity was through [00:15:00] movement.
And my mother was actually an artist. She was a painter—is, though she’s, she doesn’t do it anymore—and worked in all kinds of mediums. And so, I think there was some sense of like appreciation of creativity in my home to some extent, maybe not as much, sort of, encouragement of the kind of Living Stage, “All power to the imagination.” Freedom.
Quique: Gotta get a real job.
Hilary: But I definitely, I was very, for me it was just like the freedom of movement and doing choreography was an early part of, like, my creative energy. And I still enjoy that. But again, I think for me it’s, creativity has just taken on other aspects.
Elizabeth: Michael and I first met you as we recall in about 1983, which was about three years after you had arrived in DC as a refugee from your native El Salvador. And as I understand it, you had become politicized by the civil war in your home country and had to literally flee for your life, even as a 15-year-old and come here and live with your mother. [00:16:00] Amazing story. Having—how did coming to this strange new land and having to learn English and recreate yourself, shape not just you, but your creativity and the synthesis of you and your creative self?
Quique: I did not come as a refugee. I was lucky. My mom had come here in 1969 as a tourist and she, and then she stayed. So, she became an undocumented person for a while. So, she took care of white babies and one of those white family really appreciated her, for the care that she was doing to their children. And so they sponsored her papers. And that’s how she got her green card and that’s how she started visiting us. So, I never really knew my mom that well, but she had made the promise that she would bring us legally one by one, as she could now sponsor us.
So, at the age of 13, I joined the revolutionary movement. This is 1978, I think. So, all sections of society in El Salvador had said, “Enough.” Enough with the military [00:17:00] dictatorships. And so I joined the student movement and we were branded. And I just came back from a trip to El Salvador where I found the tombs of some of my family members that were slaughtered by the—and I saved my, my, my butt by perhaps 24 hours, because the day I left, the soldiers came and took over the town.
Hilary: So you, you were a refugee in that you fled for your life. You just were able to come here in a different process.
Quique: Yeah, but, but I don’t know what the legal definition.
Michael: Right, you weren’t an official refugee.
Quique: Yeah, but I was more fleeing, more political exodus.
Michael: This was at the height of the death squad.
Quique: Oh, of course. Oh, man.
Michael: Because Romero was killed—
Quique: Right before. Yeah, I was there.
Michael: So, full scale death squads.
Quique: Yeah. Oh no. And they came in full force. So there, the smell of death was everywhere and it was, people would be beheaded. And that’s what happened to my family. They were just like chopped into pieces. And this was a underground life, this, [00:18:00] all this was underground. But we were having, having these reunions with my former classmates that survived—most of my other members of the organization that I was part of were disappeared or killed or joined the guerillas, some joined the army. So, I’ve been having these reunions and stuff, but that’s how I came here.
And then when I came here, boom, my brother took me to Centro de Arte, the Latin American Youth Center, introduced me to Luci Murphy, to the South American Band, to some of the Chilean muralist and make some of the first Latino murals. Only one survives on Columbia Road, the biggest mural, which we helped restore twice. And the rest was history from there.
My, my mind was, and you were coming to, to the belly of the enemy. Yankee imperialism. And hello, Washington DC.
Elizabeth: Belly of the beast, yeah.
Quique: And then I didn’t know DC was Black. I didn’t know there was Black people in the United States ‘cause you know, I was expecting what I saw on television. And so [00:19:00] anyway, that’s like the gist of it. How I get thrown into this whole artistic process of thinking and using art as a weapon.
Quique: And using street theater and writing as a way of denouncing what I knew, what I had lived.
Michael: So, we definitely like to want to investigate the community of people that sort of nurture and keep us going as creative people. ’Cause you can’t be creative alone. Hilary, why don’t we start with you with mentors? Are there people in your life that have, that you think of as having mentored your creativity, or your field, your vitality, et cetera?
Hilary: I would say that Quique is one of those people. I think, when I was, Quique has, from the time that we met, very much influenced my sense—different ways of thinking about creativity, different ways of thinking about how you can be in this world, stepping out of your comfort zone and just liberating yourself.
And I think I, I came here still with a lot of the, what I grew up with in terms of, this is how you’re supposed to be. This is how you’re supposed to behave. This is what you’re supposed to do, and you’re not [00:20:00] supposed to step out of that. And I think from the very first time Quique and I met, and you told me about your experience with Living Stage and exposed me to these ideas. And eventually I met Rebecca, and I met Oran Sandel, ‘cause we worked with them. And like this notion of, oh, you can think differently, you can be free, you can make things up, you can walk down the street anyway you want, you can—just, there’s a way, it just has opened, like, my life is completely different than it would have been.
Michael: So instead of, yeah, ‘cause the way you described creativity earlier was more that, sort of, the rarefied field of creativity.
Michael: That it’s done on an opera stage or it’s done, but you’re saying then, but it transformed your—
Hilary: In daily life, the creativity of daily life, which I think is what my, our relationship has opened so many, opened up so many just ways to do that and opportunities to do that. And then along the way, other mentors that I had, Rebecca Rice and Oran and Olivia Cadaval and, just, Rebecca and Hugo from Gala Theater. There, when you talk about creativity, what they have done to keep that theater going for how many, almost 40 years now, that takes a—almost 50!
Elizabeth: Almost 50, yeah.
Hilary: That takes a hell of [00:21:00] a lot of creativity. Not just the artistic, how you think, how you keep things going. So it’s, I think I lost your original question—
Elizabeth: Let me jump in here and tell our listeners that we’re talking about the late Rebecca Rice, the late Oran Sandel, Hugo and Rebecca Medrano, who are the founders of Gala, Teatro Gala. Gala Hispanic Theater. Just a little background info.
Hilary: Yeah. DC folks. DC history.
Michael: And Quique, you’ve mentioned, you mentioned the people that made the drums in the church in El Salvador. But what are some of your mentors maybe after, are there mentors that you had at Duke Ellington?
Quique: Actually, the chairman of the theater department, the late Donal Leace, who actually, I recorded an album, I played in a song on one of his albums as a drummer. So Donal was key, and he used to get really mad at me ‘cause I, I refused to go to college, so, to take the SAT ‘cause that’s how much of a rebel I was. And I remember I said, “No, I have a job right now, Mr. Leace.” And he said, “How much are you getting paid?” And those days, the minimum wage was 3.25. [00:22:00] He said, “If you don’t go to college, 20 years from now you’re gonna be making the same amount of money.” The money, the same amount of money. And he used to live in Mount Pleasant neighborhood so he saw me playing drums on the street one day, like, I was an adult. He said, “Hey.” I said, “Mr. Leace, you were right. I’m still making the same amount of money. I didn’t go to college.”
But, no, for theater. So that’s where we did our first Latinegro. ‘Cause we founded this theater group in 1986, the first and only Black and Latino collab.
Elizabeth: Collaborative collective.
Quique: Collaborative collective, no? That went into schools, and we did short skits, so, we engaged, so now we’re using the teachings of Bob Alexander and Rebecca from Living—completely different way of looking at theater, rather than the big productions and, and all that stuff, and the lights. And it just was, like, bare knuckle. But we are with the kids and we stop the [00:23:00] action, so it’s like more like teatro foro.
Quique: You say, “Freeze. Okay, what’s going on here?” And the kids say, “No, they’re about to stab her.” “Oh man, let her stab her, man.” And I said, “Anything can happen here.” So, the actors are frozen and then given suggestions and anything can happen. An elephant can drop from the sky. And then, so then we’ll take suggestions. And then we said, “Okay, more personal, but this is the way this skit is gonna go, the murder’s gonna come in, police, they do whatever. So who wants to put to put him under arrest.” “Me, me!” So now we got ‘em. Now they’re laughing, now they’re chill with us and, “Oh my God, these guys are not kidding. They’re crazy.” And then swivel back. “Okay, great. Thanks to all the actors.” Because the audience have become the actors. So those are transformative things. Those are mentorship.
Elizabeth: So to tell our listeners this process, that Living Stage really pioneered and the Latinegro, expanded upon, had a situation, a setting, some kind of dramatic conflict, [00:24:00] and then you would freeze the action and the students, the audience, the participant who became the participants, would then use their own agency to envision—
Quique: An ending.
Elizabeth: —an alternate ending. And it was that process of envisioning something else that was so empowering, as I recall.
Quique: Right. Exactly. And, and that, and I think it was something—the kids that we work with, we, they were mostly Black kids. We were going to, when DC was, DC public schools were mostly Black. And here come these two Salvadorian guys with these two Black girls with combat boots and crazy outfits. And this is when hip hop was breaking out and break dancing, the Beat Boys. And they said, “Ya’ll gonna break dance?” and “Nah.” “So whatcha gonna do?” I said, “We’re gonna do some poetry.” Said, “What?” “Some poetry.” “What you mean, poetry?” “Poetry, man. Like, poetry.” [00:25:00] So anyway, that’s why our first show that we did at Sanctuary Theater was called No Break Dancing Tonight.
Hilary: No Break Dancing Tonight!
Elizabeth: No Break Dancing Tonight! Oh!
Michael: Now we know the origin of that.
Hilary: I just got that.
Elizabeth: That’s right. ‘Cause that was part of the Latin American Theater Festival, right?
Quique: No, actually it wasn’t. It was, no, you guys took us in and Gala did the same.
Quique: And then people start—because we were 19, 20—
Elizabeth: And remind our listeners who was part of Latinegro.
Quique: So, there were two graduates. It was Michelle Banks and Mallory Peak, and they were two Black girls. And they were, like, alternative thinkers, you know? Yeah, they were not—and when we were all in the theater department, the three of us.
Elizabeth: So you were all Ellington students?
Quique: Yeah. Yeah.
Elizabeth: Former. Alums.
Quique: Yeah. Different odd birds. And then this dude that we met on the street, Mario Gonzalez.
Elizabeth: Oh, okay.
Quique: Who, then we—I had, I got an apartment in Adams Morgan and I needed a roommate ‘cause I couldn’t, I couldn’t make rent just on my own. [00:26:00] So he was known for being a professional thief. And—
Michael: It’s always good to have a—
Quique: Believe me.
Hilary: Not an amateur, a professional.
Quique: Believe me. The Latinos are like, “Mario’s living with you? Man, he gonna leave you without socks.” And so, to this day, we’re best friends,
Elizabeth: So, to contextualize for folks, what it cost, what was your rent back then?
Quique: It was $400. We had a balcony. We had carpeting. We had, one bedroom. So he took that, like, the living room and I had a couch and, but anyway, but it was $400 for—
Elizabeth: $400. Listen, Michael and I had a junker basement apartment for $300.
Michael: Yeah. Didn’t have a balcony, though.
Elizabeth: We lived there for five years.
Quique: Oh, man.
Elizabeth: What a dump. It was the worst apartment.
Quique: And you couldn’t even rent a closet with that type of money.
Elizabeth: Yeah. Those days. Oh, geez. Just to digress a bit, ‘cause I recall reading about [00:27:00] your entrance into Ellington was through a, an audition piece that you put together yourself. Am I remembering correctly? That it was a solo performance piece, and you launched your solo career—
Quique: We had this Latin American Youth Center and El Centro de Arte, were the first community organizations in the Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, Adams Morgan community. Which is this crux, this is this corner of 15th and 16th Street and Irving Street meet, and there’s that corner which is full of art.
My first summer job through Marion Barry’s the former—
Elizabeth: Summer Youth Employment.
Quique: The Summer Youth Employment Program, where we got paid to have a job. And the Latin American Youth Center and Centro de Arte organized one of the first efforts to bring Black and Latino kids together through theater. So, each week we had a different teacher. So Hugo Medrano came to teach and I think—there was a bunch, and there was this woman, an indigenous woman, Kaiya Mountain Ocean— [00:28:00]
Hilary: Kaiya Mount Ocean.
Quique: And she had these, all these rituals that she would share with us. And she, I don’t know, she must have seen something in me. And one of the Black girls in the groups came from Ellington. And that’s how I learned that Duke Ellington School existed, The School of the Arts. And then Kaiya said, “You should audition.” And I said, “But Kaiya, my English sucks.” And then we looked at the guidelines and I said, “But it says here, there has to be from a published work.” Because we had done a political play where, for about the situation in the death squads in El Salvador, where I played the Grim Reaper, complete with the suit, with the skeleton. And the whole, the thing that he—
Elizabeth: Oh, the scythe.
Quique: And anyway, so in this black cape, and she says, “We’ll tell them that it’s about to be published.” And then, so I show up at Arlington for my audition, no? By myself. And then I put my stuff on and I [00:29:00] come out, it was just a faculty. And then they looked at each other like “who is this?” and I was a paper boy, which I, I was a newspaper seller. I said, “Extra, extra. Read all about it. Latest massacre in El Salvador!” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And I got in. And then with a bad English accent that then was later corrected by one of my teachers. He said, “Hector”—‘cause that’s my first name. He says, “You’re a good actor, but I cannot understand what the fuck you’re saying.” You’ll have to bleep that one. But they put me in speech and phonetics class, so.
Elizabeth: Oh, e-nun-ci-a-tion.
Hilary: Thistle, thistle—
Elizabeth: E-lo-cu-tion. So, well, to Hilary. I wanna pivot over to your story of getting here. You were, you’re a native-born American, as I understand it. You grew up in the Boston area, but you were, you have become immersed in the Central and South American refugee communities and the political action communities. [00:30:00] How did you get here and how has changing the social systems you lived in shaped your own creative imagination and creative expression?
Hilary: Yeah. So, I always tell people that I moved to Washington, and I ended up in DC. I was a government major out of college, I started—a political science major—actually, when I was living in Boston, I had start– I had already started getting involved, I volunteered at a refugee resettlement agency. I, actually, one of the people who worked at that agency was very involved with CISPES, so I was actually already exposed to, she was the person who first started bringing me to the fundraisers in church basements in Cambridge, Massachusetts. So I was starting to get a political education.
I should say, I grew up in a very conservative family. My father was a very staunch Republican, and so I, I was coming out from under his thinking about the world and his conservative politics, frankly. And so, I was like, I had people who were pulling me out of that and exposing me to different ways of thinking.
I moved here after college thinking I actually wanted to work in government, which I never ended up doing. And I ended up working for a husband and wife [00:31:00] who had a little consulting firm. They did consulting work with the Pan American Health Organization and they were on Hobart Street, and they lived on Hobart Street. Little did I know back in 1986, the role that Hobart Street and Mount, the Mount Pleasant neighborhood—
Elizabeth: In Mount Pleasant, yeah.
Hilary: —which is where it is, like, what that would mean in my life. Like, that my entire life would become, but like that would become an anchor, that’s like the anchor of our life is Mount Pleasant and what comes out of there. And, but it was through them that I ended up meeting folks from the Latin American Youth Center and getting involved in the LAYC and then that, I felt from the first that I started just spending time at the Latin American Youth Center—oh, and bringing it back to my ice skating, one of our Saturday activities, I would take like groups of Salvadorian and Dominican kids ice skating—and I just felt, and as I started to like, understand like, why are people here and why are, why do they have to go to shitty schools and why do they live—starting to understand just the inequality and the injustice. How I grew up, the lives of the kids I grew up with, and then what I was seeing with these beautiful kids who just were in some really shitty [00:32:00] situations. And getting angry. We gotta, like why is this housing messed up? And why are these schools messed up? And how do we change that? Why did kids have to flee here? Why did Quique lose half his family to a death—like, how do we change these things?
So just so I just, it’s, it’s a lifelong journey. I feel like I am still, I’m still learning and unlearning and I—and going, coming back to like creativity, I think, and Quique used the term earlier, like a kind of a life, I dunno if you used the term life-force, but it’s like the essence of life. I do feel like there’s also an element, I think there’s an element of living creatively. And so I feel, look around, we’re on radio, but if you look around our house, there’s this, you can feel creativity here. It’s not, it’s, and so many people have contributed to that. Home has been a space of creative, of making things, from street theater rehearsals in the backyard to just people coming over to write a poem, like, it’s a creative space. And I think that has continued to teach me and to help me to unlearn like the, what you grow up with.
Michael: So that decision of yours, you talked about coming to the DC maybe working for the [00:33:00] government, but then you decide to start working for nonprofits.
Hilary: Yeah, yes.
Michael: And in the refugee community.
Michael: And did your knowledge of the U.S. involvement or support for these deaths—when did that have a role to play in any of these decision makings? In any of this decision making that you were going on?
Hilary: I think I, I think just over the years, like through all of this involvement with the Latin American Youth Center, with Quique, and like arts projects, and just all these people that we’ve mentioned, all for me has been contributed to just like my political education, right?
Michael: Oh, okay.
Hilary: And my, like, analysis of why things are the way they are.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Hilary: And how do we change it. And we’ve always seen, I think something else, like we’ve always, it’s come through in what we’ve said so far and, but, creativity is very much connected to social activism. So much of what we have done and the people that we have engaged with and has been about creativity, like for the sake of something bigger, for the sake of, for the sake of your own liberation and your own joy and for the sake of trying to change [00:34:00] things. So, I think it’s, I think that’s, it’s always been connected.
Elizabeth: Speaking of kind of pivot points, you’re fluently bilingual at this point, are you not?
Hilary: For the—Quique, I’ll defer to you.
Elizabeth: Which is huge.
Quique: She’s also taught herself, but Hilary has learned to, to learn the nuances of accents, no? She knows when she’s listening to a Cuban or an Argentinian, or a Salvadorian—
Elizabeth: Oh, that is truly fluent, yeah.
Quique: —or a Mexican. She can, really, because she’s taught herself through the years, I don’t think you ever took a Spanish class.
Quique: So it’s just—
Hilary: But I, and I’ve learned a lot of Salvadorian slang.
Quique: She can tell exactly if I’m talking to a man or a woman or the nationality of the person that I’m talking with by lingo that I’m using when I’m on the phone.
Elizabeth: Which to me is—bilingual, trilingual, multilingual, it, to me, it’s a superpower. It opens a portal into another level of consciousness and that gives—
Hilary: It’s funny you should say that because sometimes as a facilitator, ‘cause one of those icebreaker questions is, what’s your superpower? And mine would always be like being [00:35:00] able to speak every language ‘cause I just think it opens up—I’ve studied, I tried to learn Arabic, I had a little bit rudimentary Arabic and I’d love to learn, Amharic ‘cause we live in Washington, DC and there’s a huge community—
Elizabeth: Not an easy language study or learn.
Hilary: I’m sorry, I think you were going somewhere with your question. But it’s the power I want.
Elizabeth: No, no, just but just fluency of another language, not your home language and how that feeds into one’s creative self and one’s kind of level of consciousness is really fascinating.
Michael: Quique, as a theater artist, I’m fascinated by the creative process, particularly when it’s collaborative and theater is such a collabor–, it can be an extremely collaborative art form. Could you maybe—you’ve just alluded to some of the process of creating with a group—but can you maybe just elaborate on just what that process is, the degree that it has become, that there’s a method to your madness?
Quique: Yeah. Yeah. Collaboration, it can be a very hard thing because it, and the reason that we started Latinegro is because I was part of this other group called Teatro Nuestro. And people would [00:36:00] come, and these were leftists, these were hardcore leftists that basically infiltrated the theater group. And they wanted to use the theater group to, to do this pamphlet, to do leftist kind of things. And I was not with that. And I would, and they would just have table discussions and I’m like, “Are we ever gonna get up and do something? Warm up? Or at least have the discussion standing up?”
People would take notes and I found them, I found them, I’ve been going to my, the archives and so, but, so then even Latinegro, it’s “The Latinegro Theater Collective.”
Quique: And it can be a really exciting thing if you’re working with people that are open-minded. But when there’s people that have, that say, “Ah, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” I would say, “Okay, so what’s your alternative?” Because people will complain but not have an alternative. And I’m like, you can’t complain unless you have an idea yourself that says, okay, we could try it this way.
I had a dream in my head that I wanted [00:37:00] to do solo work, but my introduction to this collaborative, the whole collaborative process was through this political pro–, with these political beings that some of them that were never had any theater experience.
By now I was fresh outta high school and I’m itching to—and I had a friend of mine in ninth grade at Francis, a Puerto Rican guy who became a protector because you would get jumped, you would get robbed, and his name was Vincent Rodriguez, big light-skinned white guy, Puerto Rican guy who spoke Black English. And he’s like, “He’s alright, man. He’s, you, you don’t mess with him. He’s my friend, he’s with me.” And, but he gave me this book ‘cause he knew I like poetry. It’s Pedro Pietri’s Puerto Rican Obituary. And Pedro Pietri was, when the first Nuyoricans came, he came back from Vietnam and writes this book, Puerto Rican Obituary. And later on he becomes, I think it was Father, Father or Bishop Pietri, some kind of Father [00:38:00] figure. And when the AIDS epidemic hits, he goes around giving out poems on the back of condoms. And, but he wrote in Spanish, in, in like in Spanish and English, and Puerto Rican Obituary contains all these poems that sing praise to poor Puerto Rico. And then one of the most amazing pieces, which I actually did for my, that was my final project was to do a one man’s show, that was my final in my senior year at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. And so I used this, it’s called “Suicide Note From A Cockroach In A Low Income Housing Project.” So it’s this whole cockroach monologue. And so, “I am dejected / I am rejected / I am ready to propose to the grave.” My first husband was killed while trying to cross the sink and, and then his wife, this coverage is, has like wives and husbands and stuff and [00:39:00] that’s when it, it hit me that, “Oh wow, you can manipulate language, you can actually do things with language.” And it dawned on me in my senior year, right before I graduated because I was taken to the office and, to say, “What the hell are you doing?” I was taking some shit, no? Because I had these flyers that I made that said, “Fuck Michael Jackson” and I still have, I found that flyer.
Elizabeth: Oh, good.
Quique: I did. And, but then, I said, no, I don’t want to do traditional theater, because there was hardly any parts in those days in any of the industry—
Elizabeth: It was pre-non-traditional casting, too.
Quique: To this day, Latinos are still playing thugs. Speaking like this. And after I gone to the phonetics and speech class, to get rid of my accent, you can, they’re like, “Can you do a thicker accent, please?”
Michael: As a solo artist then, is, how does your creative process work there when you’re developing a new piece?
Quique: I just throw myself into it and then people started seeing it. And Mario Marcel from Teatro de la Luna, he says, [00:40:00] “You need a director, so let me direct you.” And I said alright. So when I opened, so the second version of Latinhood, which was my first Latin, my first one-man show which is from the title of one of my poems, Latinhood, once it was directed, I began to understand that, that it, that collaboration was key, too. That you needed, that you were better off having an outside eye that should look at things more objectively.
Michael: At some level it depends upon when you show it. ‘Cause I, I know some people who they won’t show, they won’t show it to anyone until it’s like old enough to resist criticism to a certain degree. Then other people like, oh, here’s the first step. Let’s—
Quique: Actually, but then after I, I met B. Stanley, who was the director of the DC Arts Center. At the time I met him doing a collaborative project with Guillermo—
Michael: Oh sure.
Quique: Crazy Mexican MacArthur—
Elizabeth: Border artist, yeah.
Quique: Double Genius award-winner.
Michael: You did a project with him?
Quique: Bunch of them. Oh yeah.
Michael: Oh okay.
Quique: And that’s how I met B. Stanley. Yeah. [00:41:00] That stays with me, needing a director. So we became friends and I showed up at his office one day and I said, “Look, dude, I’m working on a piece.” And I think it was Chaos Standing. And he was looking at relationships of the issues with race in Adams Morgan, Mt. Pleasant, and Columbia Heights.
Elizabeth: We just interviewed B. He’s one of our interviewees. And he mentioned his collaboration which, yes—
Quique: That’s, we started a relationship. He became my dramaturg.
Michael: Oh, okay.
Quique: So we will work on a script for at least a year and we will go back and forth and then he will kick my ass. He will really put me, take me through the ringer.
Quique: And I learned a lot about discipline, about memorizing, doing the same show every night.
Michael: Oh, no.
Quique: No, because I—
Michael: Almost the same show every night.
Quique: No, no—
Michael: Oh, you’re doing.
Quique: Oh, no. Because he wouldn’t allow, well, but, but it helped me.
Quique: In terms of my memorizing because all the movement was through blocking, how can you [00:42:00] put your foot in the chair on this line, take three steps and you go down stage left. So, all the nuances of theater. But being, working with the director that is basically, interpreting your writing and we will write and he would say, “Write, just, I don’t care about how much it is or how—we’ll clean it up.” So, we go draft after draft and we did 13 shows together.
Michael: And you mentioned earlier, I guess working with, in the early days, where they would sit down and they would talk about maybe their political objectives and then you’d finally go, “Let’s get on our feet and try something.” Or sort of the relationship between a political objective and then the creative act, sometimes wonderful moments are like, how people are gonna interpret that.
Quique: And you find out. A lot of my work, by the way, I’d say 80% of my solo work comes from true stories and from me back in the days working around with a tape recorder and asking people for [00:43:00] permission to record them. And I would go through and then that’s how I found my characters. I think that there were only a few characters ever in my, in those 13 one-man shows that were made up. So, some of them will be composites, some, but, so yeah.
But then you also find, I think once you grow up, you know, in the fray, then you begin to understand the value of collaboration and being able to teach a group, to lead a group. So now you take the role of the director with, which you perhaps at some point, you know, ‘cause there was a whole revolution, revolutionary movement of collective theater creation in Latin America where the director and all those things were done away with. And, but it, there’s something that I think that came through, out of both experiences, no? Of the collaborative and the solo experiences, to then be able to [00:44:00] teach. Because I’ve taught so many kids and then we’ve done so many street theater projects that requires, okay. And then we started working with musicians and that’s a challenge in and of itself. So, I think it’s been this long web of encounters with different folks in—
Michael: Well, and now you’re working with film stuff and that film is extremely collaborative, right?
Quique: Yeah. And from, actually, my previous students, Ellie Walton—
Michael: Oh, right.
Quique: —who directed, she was my student in Spoken Resistances.
Elizabeth: That’s right.
Quique: Which was one of the workshops that I taught at Gala Hispanic Theater. It’s gone, I think full circle.
Elizabeth: One of the things that I read in preparing for this is a profile of you in The Washington Post in 1999 that called you the quote “Poet of Uneasy Street.” And you are known as a chronicler of the streets of DC. You’ve written about so many aspects of this city, you’ve written about the crack epidemic of the nineties and other hard dimensions of this [00:45:00] city and aspects, the, of DC as opposed to Washington. Can you talk about the creative veins running through these uneasy streets? Because there is incredible story there. How do those creative veins of the street inform your own creative output?
Quique: Oh my God… yeah, that’s the thing. When we started Latinegro, we used to roam the streets. This is before computers or cell phones, in the years of typewriters and notebooks and pens, no? So we used to walk a lot with Latinegro and we used to perform at d.c. space, we used to perform on those spaces on 14th Street, and we’d go to poetry readings, we’d go to punk concerts.
And so, for some reason, I became very comfortable because I learned to speak Black English as well. So I knew how to fend for myself. So from early on I, I knew what it meant to live in the ghetto, ‘cause that was, [00:46:00] that’s what 14th street was, 14th was ghetto.
Elizabeth: Yeah, pre-development, yeah,
Quique: And I think that I draw a lot of my best work, I think, at least in my opinion, has come from my observations and my personal contact with either kids that came to my classes that were like in completely messed up situations, my friends that got killed here and during those crazy days, or people who ended up in jail or being deported because they were dealers or because they got caught with a gun. All these things, no? I never really had any type of fear, I think, of getting myself into situations that perhaps I should not. And now that I think back, I’m like, damn, why the hell was I there? At that time of early morning, wee hours of the morning, four or five in the morning.
And that does not exist anymore. The gentrification and displacement of regular folk has turned DC into this stale [00:47:00] place of hipsters and millennials and people who move here that only get together with each other, so you—bar after bar. And I used, and I’m a bean counter now, so I look at how many people of color are in the crew. I say, “None!” None! And I yell at out. “None! One.” And then, and the bouncer doesn’t count.
Elizabeth: Let me switch gears and ask you, Hilary, about some of your extraordinary accomplishments as a writer and expert in the NGO, the non-governmental organizations, the non-profit sectors in the USA and in other countries. You authored The NGO Handbook among your many of teachers.
Quique: You did your homework.
Elizabeth: I know. Anyway, this was published by the State Department, but it has been translated and used across the planet, so many different languages in so many different countries as a tool for organizational development and governance and fundraising, evaluation, et cetera. So, can you talk about your creative visioning, your analysis, your [00:48:00] systematizing, how you articulate these different dimensions of organizational life in the NGO and nonprofit realm?
Hilary: I worked for a long time at a non-profit support center here in DC called Mosaica. It doesn’t exist anymore. The founder, Emily Gantz McKay, actually is a longtime Mount Pleasant resident as well. And so I want to, I just give her a lot of credit for a lot of what I, I learned over the years. It was really interesting ‘cause I was working at this non-profit consulting firm at the same time that we had co-founded SOL y SOL, a non-profit organization—and I had previous non-profit experiences, it wasn’t my first. So I was learning, I was working with other non-profits and I was also going through the experience of founding a nonprofit, being the volunteer executive director, spending all of my weekends, all of our weekends were either meetings or I was like doing the budgets and the financial reports and we were doing fundraising, we were having rehearsal and living it, living the experience of what it means to, to grow and nurture a community, true community-based organization, while I was also then in the role of a consultant. And if I [00:49:00] hadn’t had that experience of SOL y SOL, I think I wouldn’t have been a very good consultant. Didn’t, I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have lived it.
And so I think for me, in my work with nonprofits, it’s, it is very much about, my work has really been dedicated to supporting organizations that have been founded and led by people who are directly impacted, right? By the issues that they’re working on. So I’m not as interested in the big nonprofits that suck up all the money and provide the services in a very top down kind of way. But much more about building an organization to build your community, right? The leadership of your community, to build the capacity of your own community.
And so that’s what I’ve tried to bring even with, it was an interesting process working with the State Department. I had mixed feelings about actually doing a project with the State Department. But I think the end product was, I’m proud of what was created and I think it’s actually been—I think I was able to bring enough of my own kind of, I, I was able to bring myself into that.
And I think whenever I’m out and I’m working with organizations and I think this is real, the connection to creativity comes in ‘cause it’s, it is, my approach [00:50:00] is always, okay, put the books aside actually, and start with what’s important to you, right? What is important to you? Where are you getting stuck? And let’s think, let’s work together to figure out how you can get unstuck, right? In whatever your mission is, if that’s working with homeless kids or people with HIV/AIDS, and it’s whatever that, that mission is. Yeah, so I think I, what I think from creativity I bring into my work in the non-profit sector is that kind of, let’s open up our thinking. Let’s work with what you got. I don’t come in with an answer. I don’t presume I have answers to anything. You actually have the answers because you know what you need and I’m just gonna help you. Sometimes I’m just gonna help you name it and lift it up. And my favorite moment of working with any organization is when somebody’s like, “I can do this,” or “I know how to do that,” or “Wait a minute, what if we used that?” And it’s, “Oh my gosh, I never thought of it that way. Thank you.” It’s like helping people. It’s like you’re reflecting back to people, the tools they already have. And so that’s what I love about—
Michael: That’s one of the advantages, I think, to working with a smaller organization. I’ve worked with a lot of small educational institutions is that [00:51:00] there’s a lot of flexibility there. When you’re a small institution, you’re directly connected to your community. And your staff and your community are in some sense one and the same in many ways. But if there’s an issue that the organization is having within the community or with their staff, you don’t have to go through endless layers of HR. But you can begin to address the problem directly. So could maybe, if you could just talk about how creativity and the building of community can work together.
Hilary: Yeah. Gosh, so many ways. So, I’ll give you, like, two examples. So right now, two organizations I work, I’ve been working with for quite a few years, one is founded and led by resettled refugees, and a big part of their mission is to make sure refugee voices, right? Are, like, at the table where policies are being made. ‘Cause too often in that world, it’s like well-intentioned white people, who are, oh, let’s bring the poor refugees here and we’ll, we know what they need and we’ll help. I’m being a little bit flip here, but’s no ,
Michael: No, it’s usually people of one kind or another—
Hilary: People of one kind or another are [00:52:00] setting, right? And so we’re trying to flip that around. And so this organization is really building community—around the country, it’s national—and leadership of resettled refugees to say, “No, we need to be out there.” You can make your voice heard and be the ones who are calling the shots in some of this.
And I think that creativity comes in different ways. I, I think part of it is it’s that continuous, again, like I keep using this frame, it’s like helping people see what they already have. And you’re told a lot that you don’t, like, that you are lacking. And how do you flip that around and say no, like you, you actually bring so much and you have your own creativity to, to bring to this work.
I’m working with another organization that’s led by people who are stateless, which is people who actually are citizens of nowhere. It’s a, that’s a, we could do a whole separate show on that, that kinda blows your mind to even think about, but they’re living here in the US and they’re building a community right around the and this is how to, trying to build a community of people who are, also live in a lot of fear because of the situation that they’re in. And again, there’s just like creativity of how do you bring people together? How do you create spaces where people feel safe. Where people feel that their voice [00:53:00] matters, that their voice is heard, that it’s listened to. And again, like doing a lot of this without, with very little resources that you have to be creative. I know keep using the term. It’s like now you’re like, what is the essence of that?
Michael: And you have to try different things.
Hilary: Different things.
Michael: In order to see the response, in order to see how it plays out.
Elizabeth: A couple of years ago you both collaborated with an intergenerational ensemble of over 25 artists from multiple disciplines in a production called El Barrio. El Barrio Street Theater. Extraordinary production. You were also both collaborating on the documentary film 40 Years and Still Running. We’re sitting here with many of the the, the hard drives of this film, which is about the evolution of the Salvadoran community in DC in the metro area.
So as a married couple that also collaborates artistically—Michael and I both do this, we’re married, artistically collaborate—we know both the advantages and challenges of working creatively with your life partner. So can you [00:54:00] talk a little bit about your collaborative process as individuals and as a team and the creative dimensions you each—
Quique: It’s interesting that you bring up El Barrio Street Theater because it was in the middle of the pandemic when we were scared of each other, of humanity. Wash your hands, and there was no, no vaccines. You kept seeing dying, people dying by the thousands. It was a scary moment. And I think it got to a point where when lot of people started losing it and felt just—artistic individuals that were used to being or having people over for rehearsals or writing with other folks. This house has always been, like, a creative hub. So, that being cut off, no?
But it was other artists that said, let’s do something. And it was me and Matthew Vakey, but we both were teachers at Gala Hispanic Theater for their afterschool program, Paso Nuevo. And he said, “I’ll help you with the writing.” So we wrote, it was called [00:55:00] The Trial of the Century. Where we put humanity onboard, all this. So it was the, so we took like older ideas of street theater that we worked with Oran before—
Hilary: Because we started doing street theater in the early two thousands. I mean after Teatro Nuestro, it’s through SOL y SOUL we started doing it. Through SOL y SOUL.
Quique: Well, but Teatro Nuestro, we started, we were doing street theater in the eighties.
Elizabeth: In the eighties.
Quique: In the nineties. We were doing street theater for 25 straight years. Nonstop. Talking about all kinds of different things. So those are, were all collaborative processes.
But in the middle of the pandemic with all this fear and with all this, we convinced ourself as artists that we needed to do this show. So rehearsals would take place at the park where we perform on Mount Pleasant Street, on Mount Pleasant Lamont Park. So we’d rehearse there with the actors and the musicians would rehearse in the front yard or the backyard of the house, social distancing, masks, making sure—so that [00:56:00] speaks to aspiration of our creative beings, no? Saying that we need to do something, we need to get the hell outta here. We need to give back something, no?
And the audience came. The audiences came. We did four shows. And Theater Lab gave us support with their sound system. It was a big production. We ended up with 25 people, all the kinds of different generations from let’s say 65-year-old woman from Argentina all the way down to, she was like—
Quique: Eight-year-old child that played the role of a caged Salvadorian kid, because that’s when they were taking away, Trump started taking away the children of migrants showing up at the border with their kids, no? And they put the kids in cages. So we did kids in cages and then a lot of people said, “No, man, that’s gonna be too strong. That’s gonna be like, no.” And the father of the child who also was an actor with [00:57:00] us said—
Hilary: No, the child, she said, the little girl said, “No, I wanna do this.”
Elizabeth: As a couple, is your life together one long staff meeting?
Hilary: Pretty much.
Quique: This is a lot of slamming up the door in, or “do not disturb” signs.
Hilary: No, there we, I would say there has rarely been a point in our married life together where we haven’t been working on something together. Or Quique is working on a one man show, which, which has also meant that I’m helping to raise money for it. Or you’ve got, or we’ve got a team of people that are meeting here, ‘cause the other thing Quique, when, I think it’s important to point out that whenever you’ve done your one man show, it’s never a one man show. There’s a team. Quique’s always been very intentional about bringing young people in to be part of the process, to learn. So we’re always meeting. And I think there’s never, I don’t think there’s ever been a time where we haven’t been working on something. Maybe there’s been little lulls and, but we would joke, we would go, like on vacation, we would go visit my parents in Florida and then we would say, “Okay, we have to, we’re gonna go have a meeting.” They’re like, “Who are you meeting with?” We’re like, [00:58:00] “No, we’re meeting with each other.” Like we have. It’s like, like—
Michael: “But you meet with each other all the time!”
Hilary: Because we had something coming up and we had to make the work plan and we had to say, okay, let’s check in with so-and-so and make sure this is moving.
But it’s been, it’s been an amazing journey and it sounds a little cliche, but it really has been. And I think that the big community of people that are still part of our life, even if they come in and out and we don’t see them all the time, but they’ve been somehow part of this creative, artistic, social community journey that we’ve been on, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Michael: Speaking of journeys, we like to conclude our interviews with a similar question, and it really does speak to the journey that creativity gives us, because at some level, we create ourselves or we create our relationship with our communities, or we create our communities. As you both have discussed, your narrative arcs, if we were using film language, your narrative arcs are quite dramatic over the last 40, 50 years or whatever, there’s quite a, quite an arc there. Just if each of you could speak [00:59:00] to the role that you see creativity playing in the shaping of who you are as a person.
Quique: No, it’s amazing what art can do. And I often think what humanity be without music, for example, music is such a force, no? The most—it is like when there’s a song that, God, that touches you. And that’s the same that you can do with poetry. And I find myself sometimes going into universities or schools where my work is being used and I’m fine with it. I’m like, that’s the idea. Somebody will make use of this, no?
Now we’re entering this phase of archive, archiving. Of making sure that all our stuff is in stored somewhere. I’m getting older. I still love teaching theater or teaching writing. I did that just a couple days ago, a workshop at the Latin American Youth Center. All these timid kids, and that’s what schools do. They make you [01:00:00] into this kind of jellyfish, a non-thinking, non-questioning person. And that’s what I think the essence of creativity is when you begin to use your own voice, begin to ask questions, when you begin to challenge yourself.
When people come into a workshop, they say, “Man, I wrote this thing, but it really sucks.” I’m like, “Hell yeah, let’s hear your sucky stuff, because it sucks because you can do better. So now let’s hear it. I wanna see how sucky it is.” And then the group will give you feedback. So that’s the way.
So I think you get to a point where your creativity, your own body of work has started to make a difference. And now we’re dealing with a new generation of kids that were born here, Latino kids, because my, my writing with Black and Latino communities that are at university level. And I tell them, “What are you gonna do with your gifts?” That same way that you were saying about your friend you’ve got, so is it that you gonna, are you gonna just become a [01:01:00] consumer? You gonna just go ahead, go out. If you get your degree, are you gonna go out and make money for yourself and that’s it? And buy stuff? Or you go into use your gifts and your talent and what you have within yourself to create a better world, not just for you and your immediate family. How is it that you grow up and use that to, to create a larger group. I think has taught us many things. How language can be manipulated with funders, ‘cause Hilary’s such a master of that. How do we turn this around to make a fit parameters, ‘cause they give you these little boxes—
Elizabeth: Literally a little box.
Quique: In 200 words, you know, explain. And so, gaming the game. And that’s creativity. It’s like you have to be able to adapt to, to, to how. And now we’re living in a time when people have very short attention spans and everything has to be done through technology. So how is it that we [01:02:00] will maintain the concept of live performance or poetry readings, of being in touch with one another. B. Stanley used to say like in those days, back in the eighties and nineties, we went out because we had to.
Michael: I don’t think people appreciate sort of the significance of live engagements.
Quique: It’s very troubling. But yet, I think that has to be part of the mission now. And how do you use these mediums now? And I think that’s why we moved on to film, like working with people then really know how to do film profession and realizing how expensive it is.
I, I wouldn’t change anything. I will say, I’ve learned so much as a human being and I continue to hope that will translate.
Michael: But you’re still drumming, right?
Quique: Oh, of course.
Michael: Drumming is the constant.
Quique: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
Hilary: Something I think Quique and I talk about a lot is that not just our own, his creativity and like the ways I’m creative, but we have been able to create a space where people can come and be creative, right? Have created space to nurture creativity. [01:03:00] And with that has just come so much, like, meaning. I feel creativity has brought joy to my life that I probably, I would never have imagined, and just a sense of meaning. When people come over and we have a group sitting around like over there and they’re like writing a collective poem for something you’re gonna do, or there’s a rehearsal here, or there’s just a conversation about this film and why we’re doing it and what it means and people are engaged—or the other thing was like whenever come, people come over and they bring their kids, we’ve got the artistic stuff, we’ve got the little, do you know the little, the homies over there? The little, how would you describe them? But it’s always—
Quique: You have a pig and—
Hilary: Yeah, there’s, and here, put ’em all on the table and say, so you know? What’s happening? Tell a story. And so it’s just, it has brought meaning to my life in a way that I never would’ve, I didn’t know was possible with how I was raised.
Elizabeth: One of the reasons Michael and I are doing this podcast is because we agree with you that creativity is a vital life force. It’s a necessary ingredient [01:04:00] to a healthy emotional life. And I know we agree that human race is desperately in need of some more emotional health. Each of you, what advice would you give to people about how to nurture their creative impulses, their to sustain it, to develop it, some practical advice to others?
Hilary: Can I go first so you can have the last word?
Hilary: I, and I’ll, I, for me, it’s like you have to step outta your comfort zone. Whatever that is, if you’re actually doing something artistically, but if you are just, when going back to where I started, of, for me, creativity is so much about opening your mind to other ways of looking at things, other ways of seeing a future that can be possible. Seeing a reality that can be possible, it’s stepping, stepping, you’ve gotta step outta your comfort zone and be willing to just explore.
Quique: Yeah. I will repeat the advice that Living Stage gave, that there’s no right or wrong end of failing. It’s is part of the process. That you shouldn’t give up. If you’re trying to write a poem and it’s not happening and you can toss [01:05:00] stuff aside, you can change your mind, no? And that nobody, it’s gonna judge you, hopefully, or—and that the one must, one must speak with might. That you should not have this subservient, especially when you’re working with poor kids, no? Is that your voice is your voice, use it, no?
Elizabeth: Your voice is your voice.
Quique: And then, and that, as a theater trained person, no? You teach, you know how, and then the whole thing, there’s like over 70 muscles in our faces, and society from, when—Bob Alexander used to teach this, and he used to jump on the table and say, “No. Use your muscles!” There’s a difference between saying, “get outta here,” and teaching and saying, “Just do it. Do it.” And the other thing is, the other thing I’ve learned is don’t tell me.
Elizabeth: Don’t tell me.
Quique: Show me.
Elizabeth: Show [01:06:00] me. Ah, don’t tell me, show me. That’s great advice.
Michael: Show don’t tell.
Elizabeth: Show don’t tell. Speaking of showing and not telling or of telling about showing, are there events coming up in 2023? There are doubtless links and websites. Anything you’d like to share with our listeners? The film?
Quique: 40 years And Still Running, Salvadorian artists in DC, which will hopefully will be released in 2023.
Quique: And the premiere would be at Gala Hispanic Theater. So I will say to whoever listens to this podcast, stay tuned.
Elizabeth: Stay tuned. Anything coming up?
Hilary: And Quique, you’re gonna do one more one-man show.
Quique: Oh yeah. But that’s in 2024.
Hilary: Still, stay tuned.
Elizabeth: Does it have a name yet?
Quique: Yes, it’s a crazy story. This will be the third layer, which we’ve done two shows. It’s called El Carnuto Del Rock. And [01:07:00] it’s a Salvadorian person who is obsessed with rock and roll back when he’s a child. And he’s come from the countryside. So he’s really based on my experiences. And it’s is gonna be done at Gala Hispanic Theater in 2024 with Machetres, which is the only Salvadorian lead punk band from Washington DC.
Elizabeth: All right.
Quique: The son of Lilo Gonzalez.
Elizabeth: Oh, of course.
Quique: Who, you know—
Elizabeth: This is Lilo Junior or Lilo—
Hilary: Lilo Junior is the punk—
Quique: Yeah, he’s the front man. And they bring, bringing them from LA cause they live there now. And it’s a crazy story, but it’s funny, it’s like we have people in stitches when we did these shows because they’re, it’s this old man that is in love with rock. He’s, he becomes a radio rock and roll radio DJ in the countryside in El Salvador starts all this rock and roll made [01:08:00] by peasants.
Elizabeth: Like an insurgent act. Oh, this has been fabulous. Thank you both so much for—
Quique: Thank you!
Elizabeth: —working us into your busy lives.
Hilary: Oh, thank you. This was really fun.
Elizabeth: And thank you to our listeners. Once again, we have been talking with Quique Aviles and Hilary Binder-Aviles of Washington, DC and we will be posting some of the links to some of their activities on the text portion of our links. Thank you very much.
Michael: Thank you.
Elizabeth: For more information about Creativists in Dialogue or our other projects, please visit elizabethbrucedc.com or rmichaeloliver.com. This project was supported by the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.