As artists it is our mission, obligation and duty to build bridges, not walls. Though we may not be able to change the hatred, fear and ignorance which fester in some people's hearts or alter such unfortunate situations as a result of other's thoughts or actions, we can all do our part as individuals to actively seek to be more inclusive than exclusive, encourage diversity, celebrate uniqueness, and support and uplift our fellow artists, particularly those who may be marginalized or misunderstood.
I am deeply proud of my Mexican heritage. My mother was born in Mexico City along with eight other siblings, and came from an artistic background (my grandfather was a painter). Following a divorce, the children immigrated to the USA with my grandmother, an American of Irish and German ancestry, when my mother was 10 years old.
My first trip to Mexico was when I was 13, and it had a huge impact on my life. I was finally able to spend time with my grandfather and we formed a bond that lasted until he passed. He wrote me cherished letters on his old typewriter and I believe that the artist in him identified very much with the artist in me. He loved to learn about my early choreographic work and the cities I'd explored when touring with dance companies which took me all over the world, though I had not yet brought my own work to the country of my families' origin. Being able to share my work and collaborate with the people and artists of Mexico has been a lifelong dream.
That opportunity finally arrived when Eryc Taylor Dance was scouted by a producer in 2014. We were connected with Artistic Director Cristobal Ocana of Umbral Danza Contemporánea A.C., who produces the renowned International Dance Festival Avant Garde and we began a fabulous relationship which would span several years, which we all thought would grow and develop even further.
Our first tour to Merida, Mexico in 2015 was a phenomenal success! ETD conducted workshops for vulnerable youth and master classes for young aspiring dancers. We performed in a stunning theater called The Armando Manzenero. On our second and third tours to Merida we performed at an even more gorgeous theater called the Jose Peon Contreras. Each tour expanded. On our second tour we were invited to come back to Merida in perpetuity and Cristobal Ocana announced publicly the extraordinary news that ETD would take over The International Dance Festival Avant Garde. It was a powerful moment and career highlight.
We returned in 2017 and it was a huge success yet again. My lifelong goal was expanding to horizons beyond any of our initial aspirations, and we showed no signs of slowing down! ETD helped organize a cultural dance program for young Mexican dancers from the Umbral organization. The girls who came to NYC were the winners of a big dance competition that Umbral hosts every year. We coordinated a week long schedule of dance classes with our company, including classes at Ailey and BDC. We hosted a small showing at New York Live Arts for them to perform their work. This new mission was to be called #buildabridge with four different events scheduled for 2018 in the works and a fundraising campaign underway.
But sadly, this ambitious next step in our hugely successful and deeply meaningful collaboration would end abruptly. Right around the time that President Trump announced he was sending troops to the Mexican/American border, ALL communication with us and Cristobal Ocana was stopped. After reaching a breaking point in communications, and in need of contracts to protect ETD and my dancers, Cristobal eventually replied with a link to a story which appeared in https://aristeguinoticias.com/:
Translation: "Do not direct your frustration against Mexicans: Peña a Trump "If you (Trump) want to reach agreements with Mexico, we are ready ... but we will never negotiate with fear," warned President Enrique Peña Nieto, who also took up what the presidential candidates have said, after the president The US will sign an executive order to deploy elements of the National Guard along the southern border, while the border wall is being built."
A text to me from Christobal followed: "Eryc muy tenso el ambiente entre nuestros paises." Translation: "Eryc very tense the atmosphere between our countries..."
So, that was it. I responded that I understood, and that we could hopefully work together again in the future, possibly in 2019, but I am doubtful that will happen.
A wonderful opportunity for continued artistic collaboration and mutual cultural exchange was suddenly thwarted by hate and ignorance bred from irrational fear. The misplaced suspicion of immigrants who built this nation and continue to make it rich, diverse and interesting has resulted in a crippling fear and hatred of the U.S. from other nations. It's a vicious cycle. How utterly humiliating and degrading to entire countries and cultures when the U.S. President publicly announces, worldwide, the intention to build a multi-billion-dollar wall around its neighboring nation and place travel restrictions on a very targeted, select group of people, marked by their faith, in a guise to keep out "dangerous individuals" (mostly loving, hard-working families like the one I come from).
Don't let fear win! Look at who or what you are cautious or fearful of, examine why and try to embrace or go beyond it. Eradicating this paralyzing emotion starts with each one of us!
By Eryc Taylor