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Latina playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes honors her own story in ‘My Broken Language’

Going back to your childhood can be a daunting task. That’s especially true when you’re trying to fill in the gaps, answer questions, and heal the wounds of past generations – all while navigating the life of a daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and Jewish father.

“I had to take off so much armor to sit down and write this book and express, what does it mean to be half white, what does it mean to be half brown ? Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes said of “My Broken Language”, her new memoir, released on Tuesday. “What does it mean to be ashamed of my body? What’s the implication if we are not ashamed of our bodies? What does it mean if I went to Yale and my older cousin is illiterate? “

It’s about letting go of the barriers of “the programs we’re taught,” she said in an interview with NBC News.

Hudes, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his play “Water By the Spoonful”, is responsible for introducing indelible Latin characters like Vanessa and Nina in the Tony-winning musical “In the Heights” – the expected version of the film is coming out this summer – and Olivia and Beatriz in “Miss You Like Hell,” to name a few of its multi-layered characters.

They all have images of the women in Hudes life, but through her memoirs, she shares these stories.

“This is the first time that I have given up on the pretext of fiction,” she said. “Writing this book seemed like a homecoming, because books meant so much to me in my own spiritual and intellectual awakening.”

Hudes said the memories stemmed from his desire to humanize his people and community beyond their vilification by national leaders of the ’80s and’ 90s, who “set up a whole system to destroy the lives of every person. involved in or near drugs and put a terrible moral stamp on those who needed help. “

“My experience was quite different and reflected something much more beautiful, wise and alive and which reflected values ​​that I thought this nation could learn and benefit from,” said Hudes, originally from West Philadelphia. “Having said that, it was important to recognize that there was tremendous suffering and struggles in my family, ranging from illiteracy to AIDS. We inherited traumas around them, and we didn’t. not healed of all that trauma. … The legacies are very rich, and they are very deep, and they are beautiful, and they matter. “

American identity is often defined by stories of overcoming obstacles in order to be successful. This history of America contrasts with a past vision of glory where the privileged are praised and the rest are seen as second class citizens. The gulf between these reflections has resulted in ever-changing standards of who has citizenship and to whom stories are told and the inability to settle on a unified vision of what it means to be American.

Imperfect languages ​​- and that’s OK

Speaking English, Spanish, and Spanglish, Hudes describes in the book, is knowing too much and too little about the language and being three times as good – and not good enough – at following the path backwards in family history.

It was Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel, Hudes said, who urged her to rethink loyalty to language because “language that strives for perfection is a lie.”

Hudes tongues are flawed, they’re broken and that’s OK. That’s when she finds some relief and comes up with what becomes the thesis takeaway: you can’t always make circular stories about identity into something conclusive.

Thesis by Quiara Alegría Hudes “My Broken Language”.Penguin Random House / One World

“My Broken Language” is a meditation on Latin youth and femininity, but also on how we examine intergenerational trauma, harmful relationships, addiction and immense grief. Hudes elegantly lights up the underside of what we see as representation and asks us to push her away and think about who she releases, if any.

This is in part because the mainstream press still struggles to analyze artists like Hudes and the works of fiction their lives inspire. She does not accept the fantasy of greater visibility. She just wants to heal intergenerational trauma and help future generations do the same – hopefully with more information.

“My Broken Language” and its renewed focus on reciprocity, values ​​and teachings signals a long-awaited sort of resurrection – a renaissance of once doomed mysticism rooted in Latin heritage.

“I’m not telling a story about a migrant family that comes from the farm and Arecibo here just to receive enlightenment from the United States,” Hudes said, referring to a city in Puerto Rico. “I am telling the story of a migrant family who arrived here and who have enlightenment to offer the United States, and I think the two-way street is very important.”

Hudes revealed that part of her writing process and philosophy was asking what a woman values ​​are and what Puerto Rican values ​​are.

“These are cariño, honor it respeto [care, respect and honor] especially when it comes to the elderly, “she said.” This is something that we struggled with as a nation last year.

Proud of the “ number of Latinx roles I have created ”

Hudes perfected this philosophy in her drama writing, approaching characters and actors like a “hire agent” because she does “very good jobs so that excellent Latinx performers can rise to their standards. skills ”. It’s no surprise that his work on stage gives audiences more than they expected by challenging notions of cultural hegemony, offering an alegría de vivir – the joys of life – as white audiences expects a story of martyrdom.

“I think back to the plays I wrote and I do the numbers on how many Latinx roles I have created. I’m so proud,” Hudes said. “I think of the actors who filled those roles and the difficulties they had to audition and get rejected for playing ‘a drug dealer’ or ‘maid # 2’.”

What’s next for Hudes? There is of course the film adaptation of “In the Heights”, and it does not exclude from writing another book. She still has bigger plans and hopes, not only for herself, but for a new generation of theatergoers, especially young people from diverse neighborhoods.

“We have to be concerned about bringing the theater into the neighborhoods,” she said. “Theater is the human body in space, in real time – this space gives a lot of information.”

While Hudes was away from the suburban Philadelphia home she shared with her parents, she changed and stayed the same. Although she is now an award-winning playwright and memoirist with her own family, she still channels the power of reciting tree poems and fern stories in the woods, just as she did when she was a child. The sunlight and rain transforming her mother’s garden was nothing less than chemistry for the young Hudes.

Hudes said she still has to think about the habits that have been programmed into her mind about what makes a “suitable” lead character. But she opposes it, remembering that there is power in her experiences.

“Don’t let your imagination match the size of what you saw,” she says. “Write down what you haven’t seen before.”

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