The Landscape of Awareness

Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato, Mexico

I’m fascinated by the way some ideas enter the public sphere, take hold and spread.  I see how trends in new music and art, initially forbidding and seemingly impenetrable, can capture the public imagination. Sometimes it's just a passing trend.  But sometimes, the art or music becomes a catalytic force; it’s a springboard for discussion, it generates new work. It sets us in motion.

I’ve noticed a change in the landscape of public awareness about human trafficking  since 2011, the year we began to develop Cuatro Corridos . At that time, human trafficking was beginning to emerge in the public consciousness as one of the critical human rights issues of our time.  Over the past three years, I’ve learned a great deal. I think back on conversations with my friend Lauren Vitiello, who works for the USCIS Asylum Office and attorney Dahlia Setareh and reading  a remarkable series of articles written by San Diego U-T reporter Elizabeth Aguilera.   I reflect on the presentations given by representatives of  organizations with whom we’ve worked in presenting public forums.  Each piece of information informs my understanding of  the complex issues surrounding human trafficking.  Each person with whom I speak informs my performances as we continue to present the opera.  

I notice a change in the public landscape as well.   While standing in line at the San Diego Airport, and staring idly at the electronic signage reminding me to take off my shoes, I was surprised to see a panel dedicated to human trafficking awareness.  I noticed similar signs popping up in all types of public transportation,  from campus shuttle buses at UC San Diego where I work, to subways of the New York City  MTA. During a cross country trip earlier this year, I saw large billboards denouncing human trafficking in Missouri, Oklahoma and Arizona.  My sister-in-law Donna gave me a newspaper article about the formation of a human trafficking task force in Arkansas.

These incremental changes may seem small, but taken together they have enormous impact.  Because the truth is, one of the biggest challenges to building awareness is simply making the idea visible. Victims of human trafficking face this challenge every day; they are hidden in plain sight.  It’s heartening to see that we’re being reminded, over and over, in public spaces, to engage with the idea that human trafficking is unacceptable.  

And there are many more artists who are speaking out against human trafficking.   I am proud to be part of a growing community of artists, including photographer Kay Chernush and musician Mark Sullivan, who are also constructing engaged, sustained responses to the issue, through the arts.  During my time at the Cervantino Festival this year, I had the chance to see a remarkable exhibit on view in the central square of Guanajuato by the artist Marya Martell.  The exhibit entitled Sueños Roblados  was a series of enlargements of photographs which document the empty rooms of girls who have disappeared.  We know nothing about what happened to the girls; they may be be trafficked or murdered.  An empty bed, a poster on the wall, a room filled with dolls and pillows; Martell provides evidence that these young women existed.   No matter how unlikely the possibility that they will return, the photographs serve as a testament to their lives and a reminder to us that much more needs to be done. I found it incredibly moving.

Cuatro Corridos has given me a chance to be a part of this evolving landscape of awareness.   Since the San Diego premiere in 2013, we’ve taken the project to Tijuana, DallasAlbuquerque and Los Angeles, and are bringing to one of the most important theaters in Mexico City this coming May.   I'm pleased by  what we’ve been able to accomplish and grateful for the support of everyone who has contributed to the project.   

I wish that we could snap our fingers and that human trafficking would vanish - that the whole notion would be unthinkable.  Real life is a lot more complicated than that and there’s no simple solution.  But I’m proud - very proud - to be part of a growing number of people who are walking in the same direction, though a landscape that is slowly and steadily, beginning to change.