Best of Latino cultural arts in May

Playwright and teaching artist Jelisa Jay Robinson, who is African-American, grew curious about speaking Spanish ever since her father began teaching her a few words when she was in the fifth grade. But when she starting learning the language, she received pushback from some of her classmates.

“Why are you trying to be Mexican?” they asked.

As a young girl, she began exploring cultural identity and remembers searching the phrase “black people who speak Spanish” online. In an Austin360 interview last spring, Robinson said that after discovering Latino reggaeton artists who looked like her but were singing in Spanish she saw that “there isn’t just one way to be black.”

Robinson’s first full-length play, “Stories of Us,” takes an in-depth look at black and Latino relations. Last spring the play was among those chosen for the Austin Latino New Play Festival, which helps emerging playwrights workshop their scripts. After readings of her play resonated with the crowd during that festival, Teatro Vivo is now presenting the full production of the play at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. “Stories of Us,” which is directed by local actress and Salvage Vanguard Theater Managing Director Florinda Bryant, runs through May 8. Thursday-Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. while Sunday matinee shows are at 2 p.m.

“This is our first production that looks at Afro-Latinidad,” Teatro Vivo co-founder Rupert Reyes said in a statement. While they’ve presented other plays over the years that have addressed racism within the Latino community, he said “Stories of Us” has much more depth and insight into the Afro-Latino experience.

“The conversation that explores the similarities between blacks and Latinos needs to begin or continue,” he said. “I don’t know what the forces are at play that divide us. I do know that we can be one of the forces that unite us. We hope that all of our plays create a movement for more unity on the community level, the local level.”

Tickets, which range from $12-$20, are available online at

Cine Las Americas offers diverse films

For nearly 20 years, the Cine Las Americas International Film Festival has been bringing movies to Austin that you can’t find in most U.S. theaters as well as films featuring important points of views that are regularly missing from the big screen.

Don’t miss the chance to catch nearly 100 films representing 24 countries May 4-8. All films, which will screen at various locations including The Marchesa Hall & Theatre and the Salvage Vanguard Theater, are in English or with subtitles. Find free screenings at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

Cine Las Americas opens on May 4 with a 6 p.m. reception for members and badgeholders at the Marchesa Hall & Theater followed by the Peruvian thriller “Magallanes,” which was nominated for Best Latin American Film at Spain’s most prestigious film awards. The movie tells the story of a taxi driver (Damián Alcázar) and former soldier who serves as a chauffeur for a retired colonel who was his commander. A secret begins to emerge when Celina (Magaly Solier) takes a ride in Magallanes’ cab.

Costa Rican dramedy “Viaje” closes the festival at 7 p.m. May 8 at the Marchesa Hall & Theater. It explores how two millennials who meet at a costume party and spark up a spontaneous rendezvous look at commitment and attraction.

As Cine Las Americas evolves, the fest will make an effort to include other types of audio visual art, said festival director Jean Lauer. Last year, aside from the feature films, documentaries and shorts that are typically screened, they also presented music videos for the first time. This spring, the festival will feature two music video showcases in partnership with the Austin Music Video Festival at The North Door. Local performers Patricia Vonne and AJ Vallejo are among the music video directors featured. Lauer said she hopes Cine Las Americas will eventually also showcase works such as video installations as part of the festival.

For now, new festival partnerships are bringing more diversity to the film selections. Cine Las Americas teamed up with Señorita Cinema, the only Latina film festival in Texas, to present a special selection of 10 Latina-directed short films curated by the Houston-based festival. The roadshow selection will highlight Señorita Cinema’s best films from the past five editions.

Check out the full film festival lineup and ticket information online at

Accordion contest turns 10

The richness of the squeezebox sound can be found in multiple musical genres throughout generations. Texas Folklife has kept the magic of the accordion alive through its annual statewide Big Squeeze contest, which turns 10 years old this spring. The popular competition highlights emerging squeezebox players who perform everything from conjunto to zydeco music.

To celebrate the Big Squeeze’s 10th anniversary, a special concert will bring back past winners for an afternoon of accordion fun from 1-5 p.m. on May 7 at the Bullock State History Museum’s Lone Star Plaza.

In order to preserve the cultural heritage of Texan accordion music, Texas Folklife also has an apprentice program, which pairs young accordionists with mentors throughout the state. Visit for more details.

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