Q&A with El Museo del Barrio's Gabriel Higuera
Gabriel Higuera is of Mexican and Cuban heritage, lives in Brooklyn and works at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem as the coordinator of public programs. He describes himself as a writer, educator and organizer. Today his play inspired by the Mexican tradition of pastorelas will debut at the museum’s Heckscher Theater.
Set in East Harlem, the shepherd in the theater play is replaced by a tour guide, leading a flock of visitors through an entertaining and informative journey through the history and sites of the neighborhood. Some surprises are revealed as the tour winds to a close.
The theater play is part of the museum’s Three Kings Day celebration today, which will also include live parrandas with Eddie Alicea y Su Trio de Epoca. Admission is free, but space is limited and will be offered on a first come, first served basis. The event runs from 3 to 5 p.m.
I recently met up with Gabriel Higuera for a Q &A.
Q: Tell me about your play and does it focus on the Mexican community here in East Harlem or is it broader than that?
A. The play is about a tour group walking through El Barrio. This is interesting because so many times, people forget the beauty under their feet. They ask: “Why would someone take a tour of my barrio?” This play will tell you why. The history and cultural production of East Harlem has a worldwide audience, and it is important that the audience understands and appreciates that. The play is in the pastorela format celebrating a neighborhood, which since the 1950’s, has been largely Puerto Rican.
Q: You work in a respected cultural institution founded by the Puerto Rican community and which is more diverse today. You walk daily in the community. Do you see conflicts in the community?
A: I am honored to work for El Museo del Barrio. I feel a strong connection to the roots of the institution. I know what it is like to grow up Latino in a city where my history is not taught, not understood or appreciated. East Harlem is richer for having El Museo, the Julia de Burgos Cultural Center and many other organizations dedicated to preserving and promoting Puerto Rican and Latina/o history and culture. The only conflicts I have encountered in fulfilling the mission of El Museo that are merely budgetary.
Q: Going back to the play, will it show some of the hardships that Latinos in the community go through every day and will there be some cultural elements included in the play?
A. In the play, there is a focus on the poetry of East Harlem. This poetry often speaks of the hardships as well as the beauty of this area. Through poetry, I make connections with other cultural groups who are facing the same issues: identity politics, economics…
Q: Will the play include political issues such as immigration and housing?
A: Keep in mind that this is a holiday play. Through the use of projected images, some of the themes you mention will be gently touched upon, serving as food for thought. – Ismael Nunez
(photo courtesy of Gabriel Higuera)