Mexican American Studies Professor Lydia Otero and Theatre, Film and Television Assistant Professor Elaine Romero – in collaboration with Borderlands Theater – worked alongside youth, anthropologists, historians and playwrights to collect oral stories from the Barrio Libre neighborhood, which was demolished in the late 1960s to build the Tucson Convention Center complex. The narratives were theatricalized, in March 2016, by a team of three award winning playwrights to illuminate the neighborhood’s rich history and reclaim the voices of its community members.
Barrio Stories proved beyond all measure that when educational (UA), civic (Tucson Convention Center) and arts (Borderlands) institutions collaborate, incredible results that have a significant impact on community can be achieved. Borderlands Theater mobilized over 100 volunteers to help over the four day event. 80 audio recordings of patrons' reactions to the event were recorded over the four days, 12 of which can be heard on the Barrio Stories website. The overwhelming response from the public was how well organized the event was. Many of the elders who came shed tears and youth overwhelmingly reported that they learned a lot of history they didn't know about.
Perhaps the most significant result was the reclamation of space that occurred at the Tucson Convention Center. For fifty years the space has carried an aura of trauma. Many former residents that were displaced when the TCC was built have never set foot on the grounds since. Barrio Stores changed the physical landscape of the convention center grounds with extensive set design (created through another partnership with Pima Community College and Changemaker High School) which brought back to life adobe structures, local businesses, and historical memory from a cherished time before the convention center was built. There was an undeniable feeling of community and family. Fifth generation Tucsonense, Bob Diaz said, “It felt like a family reunion.” The public telling of a history that has largely been swept under the carpet along with the conveyance of precious memories was a cathartic and healing moment for Tucson.
The project combined its $15,000 Confluencenter grant with a $50,000 Met-Life/Theatre Communication’s Group A-ha! Award and a $3,000 grant from Arizona Humanities to create this highly impactful community event, which reached over 5,000 Tucsonans.
Visit BarrioStories.org to hear oral histories, see photos, and learn more about the project.
02.25.16: Theatre Libre Tucson Weekly