New American Arts Festival Highlights Cultural Diversity

Performers prepare for the final dance of the festival.
Performers prepare for the final dance of the festival. New American Arts Festival
After moving to Colorado from India, Deepali Lindblom noticed that art and theater in the United States often focus on classic American stories. She decided to create an organization that allows people from diverse cultures to tell their own stories rooted in their backgrounds and experiences, and founded Roshni to make cultural events more accessible to everyone.

Five years later, Roshni offers such programs as New American Stories, in which refugee and immigrant children can create their own original plays, and Sew and Sing, which teaches refugee and immigrant mothers how to sew and has them participate in a choir.

Roshni is currently hosting the New American Arts Festival, a two-week program comprising fourteen events tied together by the theme "InterCulturalism." The festival showcases artists from the Roshni organization as well as artists in the greater community. "All cultures have interacted with each other and become different cultures," Lindblom says. "We have all become a fusion of different cultures. All of our work is a result of that."

This is the festival's second year. Last year's theme was "Cultures on the Margins," and offerings dealt with the trauma that often comes with having a certain background and how healing can happen.

This round, Lindblom says, "We have created stories about love, how we experience love in different cultures. It’s very reflective, very heartful, and it’s all based on our real-life experiences." Colors of Love, A dance and theater performance featuring women who belong to Roshni, will be performed on Thursday, September 15, and again on September 21.

For a September 16 event, Abraham Elahmadi, a first-generation student at the University of Colorado Boulder, is bringing together a group of poets to speak about their life experiences over blues music. "Poetry is a direct way to show your heart and your experience," he says.

Raised by a Muslim father from Morocco and a Catholic mother from the U.S., Elahmadi will present his own poetry about conflicting cultures. "I grew up practicing both [religions] at the same time; my parents split when I was three. I was in two different households practicing two different religions," Elahmadi explains. "Eventually, I decided to go full Muslim."

Being a Muslim in the United States comes with its own set of unique challenges, though. Elahmadi says that his father often asks him to pronounce their last name in a more Anglo-Saxon-sounding way (particularly at airports) in order to appear less Muslim.

Fabian Vazquez will direct a play he wrote titled Fronteras Inexistentes, which tells the tale of his mother's immigration to the United States. "She actually crossed the border as an undocumented worker," Vazquez says. "Pretty much this original one-act is chronicling the first couple of years that she was here in the United States." The play debuts on Saturday, September 17; the six-member cast is made up almost entirely of actors from Latino backgrounds.

"The thing that I really wanted to the blurring of that border between Mexico and the United States and the interchanging of those cultures, because it can be a struggle for immigrant workers," Vazquez explains.

Lindblom also wrote a play, The Monkey Mind, whose title refers to a state of mind that is unsettled and confused. In the play, a pelican, turtle, seal and hermit crab all are living on an island, where a monkey disrupts their lives; the story is designed to help children understand the best ways to respond to everyday situations. It will be performed September 23 at Crawford Elementary School, which has many students of color.

"Because we serve a refugee population, it’s really good for kids to have examples of their native country here at school," says Mike Abdale, principal of Crawford Elementary. "The kids will get to see that...and then she’ll start an after-school program for them."

The festival will conclude Saturday, September 24, with a seventeen-minute dance that will include African, Brazilian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Indian and Mexican drum and dance traditions.

"The purpose is to bring new and diverse stories to the underserved,and bring the stories of the underserved to the forefront," Lindblom says of the festival. "These are upcoming artists; some of them are debuting through these stories. Art has always been more accessible to those that had resources to consume it, and that’s why the underserved have never thought that art could be an expression or a means to express."

The New American Arts Festival runs through September 24 at various locations throughout Aurora. All events are free, except a murder mystery event with a $5 fee; find out more and register for all programs here.
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Katrina Leibee, a recent graduate of Colorado State University, is an editorial fellow at Westword, covering politics, business and culture.
Contact: Katrina Leibee