Updated: Sep 1, 2022
On November 20, 2021, Art2Action and the Carver Community Cultural Center presented the premiere of Eleven Reflections: San Antonio, the first in a national series of new digital and performance works, ELEVEN REFLECTIONS ON THE NATION. Building on and evolving from writer/director Andrea Assaf’s seminal work, Eleven Reflections on September, these multimedia performances examine the impact of the post-9/11 era on Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) communities globally, as well as Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the U.S. Local and national artists along with San Antonio community members shared their personal experiences, examining the aftermath of 9/11 in the wake of the 20th anniversary of the tragedy. Actor/Writer/Activist Anna De Luna writes on the experience and the impact of this production, for her as an artist, and for the community of San Antonio.
Co-Creating Community: San Antonio
My name is Anna De Luna and I am an actor/playwright from San Antonio, Texas. I originally became familiar with Andrea Assaf’s original work about 10 years ago when she was in San Antonio performing her play, Outside the Circle (co-created with Samuel Valdez and Dora Arreola), at Jump-Start Performance Company. Last year, her non-profit, Art2Action Inc., came back into San Antonio to produce a site-specific recreation of her play Eleven Reflections... at the Carver Community Cultural Center. Andrea reached out to the connections she made during her previous visit to San Antonio, looking for local actors and members of our MENA community for cultural collaborations. I remembered her immediately, and contacted Art2Action via their accessible online links to schedule a Zoom audition/interview. Even though I am not of Middle Eastern or North African decent, Andrea wanted to include storytellers who could contribute monologues that had some kind of connection to post-9/11 immigration policy. I’ve recently been exploring these issues with my new solo play, Carmen From Mexico, which shares my mother’s childhood immigrant experience. San Antonio’s ethnic population is overwhelmingly Latinx -- and Andrea did not want to ignore our experiences and the proximity of the Texas/Mexico border.
That said, we also have a growing MENA population in San Antonio as well. I’d reached out to this community in the past for another project (My Arab Fall), so Andrea asked if I could provide contacts for "Story Circle" engagements and to audition more performers for her show. Andrea is the kind of advocate that makes a strong effort to know and include the local environment. She and her General Manager, Gabrielle ("Gabi") Vigueira, listen to community gatekeepers and diligently follow up, virtually or in person. I introduced them to a young actress I’ve worked with in the past, Kauthar Harrak-Sharif, who also became part of the production. Kauthar then brought in her brother Ahmed to be a part of the ensemble. Kauthar had quite a bit of acting experience, but very little experience creating her own work. Ahmed had no artistic experience at all, but they both had stories to tell regarding their post 9/11 treatment as Moroccan-American youth. I have a lot of experience as a theatre professional, and Andrea was able to accommodate all of our levels with her diverse writing prompts and rehearsal workshops. Kaurthar and Ahmed (along with a local MENASA advocacy organization, Culturingua) then introduced the Art2Action staff to their local Muslim Children Education & Civic Center (MCECC) Youth and Young Professionals group. Through this connection, Andrea facilitated a writing workshop at the MCECC, and a college student named Najwa Faiz wrote such an impressive poem that spoke to her immigration experience from Afghanistan that she was encouraged to perform it with us. It was her first time on stage, but with Andrea’s direction and encouragement, Najwa nailed it. In addition to the newer talent, Art2Action put together an amazing ensemble of established San Antonio artists such as our Poet Laureate, Andrea ‘Vocab’ Sanderson, and professional Flamenco dancer Tamara Adira. They also included various local musicians, and even brought in world-renowned Syrian opera singer Lubana Al Quntar!
As for myself, this project enabled me to create a new monologue, “The River Was Bad Enough,” from a recent experience I had with my mother visiting the post-9/11 border wall constructed between Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico (don't even get me started on the names!). This was where my mother crossed El Rio Grande 70 years ago. The performance opportunity gave me a chance to bring visibility to dangerous childhood border crossings “por una vida mejor.” Andrea also paired me with a local Egyptian organizer, Lilly Guindy, to create a scene, “A Day In Tahrir.” Lilly had actually protested at Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution, and worked at a field hospital for the injured during the "Arab Spring." Coincidentally, I was also at Tahrir as a tourist during this time and wrote a play, My Arab Fall, focusing on female protesters and the sexual assault many of them endured. I have to be honest and say this was an extremely busy time for me. I was involved in a few other projects and was tempted to use most of my previous material for this production, but Andrea did not let me off that easily…and I’m so glad she encouraged me to write new stuff. But she did indulge my older work by inviting me to share My Arab Fall during one of Art2Action’s Reflection Sessions with my cast-mate Kauthar Harrak-Sharif, and that was a great honor.
Since Andrea left San Antonio in November of 2021, we had another Reflection Session via Zoom with our diverse cast of Eleven Reflections: San Antonio. Here's what I said about the project during that session:
“I think it's really helping to get the Arab or Muslim and North African community more known in San Antonio. It’s encouraging more stories, and more people to share those stories, knowing that there is an open door for them to do so. And now that some of us are a little bit more connected, I'm hoping that the impact is that we can continue to work together on future projects. It was such an honor, and hopefully we can collaborate together in the future. But I think the impact is that like, hey, there is a community here. Now they know they have an avenue, and that people want to listen and are amazed by these stories.”
Art2Action has also reached out to me personally for an invitation to a short term residency, which I hope to take advantage of soon! Needless to say, this collaboration with Art2Action has been very beneficial to me. The experience was professional, supportive, and we were all paid an equitable wage for our contributions. I have no doubt that Art2Action will continue to support LGBTQ communities and artists of color like me.
Anna De Luna is an actor, writer, and social justice activist. She received her training from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, New York and has acted in various leading roles at the Guadalupe Theater and Jump-Start Performance Company. She also appeared at the Public Theater in Anna In The Tropics for which she received a San Antonio Globe Award for Best Actress. She has produced her original, solo plays Chicana Atheist, The AIDS Lady, and My Arab Fall with sustaining success. Ms. De Luna received an individual artist grant from the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture to complete her new solo play, Carmen From Mexico which shares her mother’s real-life childhood immigrant experience.