This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.

I am the daughter of immigrants. My parents came to the United States from Honduras and Mexico. I grew up in the barrios of Houston, Texas without access to quality arts education or after-school programs. Still, from a young age, I knew I wanted to work in the arts when I grew up. I learned how to solve problems creatively by using the tools we had at home, mainly YouTube videos, to memorize monologues and make my own performances in our living room. I would always call my mom and sisters in to see what I had produced before dinnertime. Because of the financial struggles my family faced, I did not see my first theater performance until a high school graduation present placed me in the audience of The Little Mermaid at Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Four years have passed since that magical experience and they have been the most transformative years of my life. In that time, I completed a degree in Theatre Arts at St. Edward’s University, and in doing so, I’ve gained access to a well-rounded arts education.

At college, I was not only given tools to grow in the arts field but also encouraged to use them. While working at a dance festival one summer, I learned about the different experiences of my peers. They had been performing from a young age, took classes in their respective form of art, attended summer and winter intensives, and could hold conversations about artists and companies of which I had never heard. Immersing myself in this environment allowed me to expand my knowledge of the arts field, one that I had been neglecting because of systemic barriers and racial inequality in our education system.

My experiences have taught me something very important: I have to make my own seat at the table instead of waiting to be invited to join one.

Research shows that people who look and have experiences like mine are less likely to continue higher education. I often find myself to be the only Latina in the room and the only person from an underprivileged background. Aside from seeing this in my own environment, I have seen it in the works being produced on stage around the country. The first time I saw someone that looks like me play a leading role on stage was a couple of months ago, at twenty-two years old. The show was fantastic and the only reason I was able to see it was because I was living in New York City and working for the organization that produced it.

We have to do better. We have to work towards a future where little girls don’t have to wait until they’re 22 to see themselves on stage. When one of my mentors became the first Latinx woman to be named Artistic Director of a regional theater this year, I also saw myself in a leadership role for the first time.

The narrative has to change. I am diligently working towards doing just that, but I am the exception to a very large statistic. I want to make sure that we all start having colleagues of different backgrounds and skin colors. I want us all to read books, see plays, and hear music that is written, performed, and produced by people that look like us.

Providing equitable access to a well-rounded education that includes the arts can do these things.

“The challenge to American education has always been to raise citizens who are capable of active participation in the social, cultural, political, and economic life of the world’s longest experiment in democracy, an experiment demanding a free, educated, and committed citizenry. We were amazed to discover anew the role of the arts in realizing that vision and creating that democracy. That is why we offer it as a compelling reason to fully embrace the arts in our schools. It’s how to sustain our democracy.”[1]

This is not the traditional anecdote about someone who grew up with a family that was heavily involved in the arts. It is about being forced to imagine myself in a world and in positions that do not yet exist so that future generations don’t have to.

I believe we can all create this world, and I hope you do too.

[1] Deasy, Richard J. Lauren M. Stevenson. Third Space: When Learning Matters. Washington, DC: Arts Education Partnership, 2005: preface, xiv