By Caitlin Shannon, Editor of Student Life and Arts
Vicks Vaporub, Witch Hazel and Arroz con frijoles. These are just some of the things that will bring back memories if you’re Latinx. Javier Ávila’s one man show, “The Trouble with My Name,” addressed these and many other topics relating to the Latinx experience in the United States. As the culminating event of Drew’s celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Office of Student Engagement invited Ávila to the Forest on October 17 to present his combined comedy show and poetry reading to continue celebrating Latinx Drewids.
Ávila, a professor, poet and proud puertorriqueño, had Crawford Hall giggling, whooping and reflecting as he presented his autobiographical show. Mixing personal stories with poetry and insightful reflections on the Latinx experience in America, the show comments on language, race and social justice.
“Do I look white to you?” Ávila asked the audience in order to start the show off. His dark hair, tan skin and name signaled the audience to reply “no.” “Well, growing up in Puerto Rico I thought I was white,” Ávila responded. Although this may seem like a heavy note to start on, Ávila has mastered a way of talking about race and other difficult topics in a manner that is conversational yet informational. At first a little shy, the audience eventually warmed up and soon the room felt like a family gathering where your tío is telling old family stories while primos whisper to each other and everyone is just having a great time.
Ávila wanted to make sure that in addition to reflections on the general Latinx experience in the United States that the audience left with a little bit of important information about his homeland, Puerto Rico. “What does a Puerto Rican have to do to become an American citizen?” Ávila asked the audience. “Be born!” answered Drewid Jasmin Casiano (’21). “I like you, Drew!” he replied, surprised by our knowledge that Puerto Ricans are in fact American citizens. He went on to list the many answers he’s gotten to that question over the years such as take a test, live here for seven years, etc. Puerto Rico is, to quote one of Ávila’s poems, “commonwealth, colony, commonwealth,…colony.” Another one of his poems, “Puerto Rican Military Contract for the United States Army,” summarizes succinctly the trouble with their position: “I can die for your country / but I can’t vote / for your president.”
Throughout the show, Ávila read his poems as he covered topics from food and family to racism and his profession as an educator. “My favorite part about the show was his poetry readings. He kept the show interesting and lively, and it was something I’ve never really experienced; a one man poetry show,” said Emmanuel Lopez (’19), co-chair of Drew’s Latino Student Organization Ariel. The audience’s love for Ávila’s work was apparent by the amount of his books sold and the line to get them signed once the show was over.
Ávila ended the show with perhaps the struggle that many Latinx people in the U.S. face daily, the trouble with their names. In a comedic yet sincere way, Ávila shared the daily struggle of having a non-anglo name by listing all the different ways that people have mispronounced his names. “I felt like he gave a very authentic and relatable performance. I’m very thankful that Drew is giving us performers that can relate to our diverse community,” continued Lopez, reflecting on the poignancy of the performance.
Audience members left with smiles on their faces and books in hand, speaking to the great turnout of the event. Brianna Vazquez-Smith (’19) summarized the general feeling of the audience, saying “Listening to his talk and being in a room with people who share some of the same experiences and laugh at the same jokes made me feel like I was at home. I felt like I was learning about family I never knew I had.”