ASU borderlands residency takes artist on ride through Sonoran Desert

Yadira De La Riva to use storytelling to change views on the border, immigration

Artist Yadira De La Riva dances


Bilingual artist and educator Yadira De La Riva grew up with a foot on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico border, and she wants to change the narrative on immigration.

She thinks that can happen through the power of art and storytelling.

“Border issues are often intertwined and complicated,” said De La Riva, a visiting artist from New York who will travel through Arizona and northern Mexico, working with Arizona State University students and border communities to teach theater as a tool for social engagement.

“Trying to build a wall is not only contradictory, but is divisive. As two separate countries, we sometimes need to be reminded how interconnected we are through our families, lifestyle and economies. We must remind U.S. and Mexico of this reality.”

The two-week residency — part of the ASU ongoing “Performance in the Borderlands” series — will run Oct. 16–29. It will feature a series of workshops, lectures, performances and public engagements that bridge the Sonoran Desert.

An initiative of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts’ School of Film, Dance and Theatre, “Borderlands” is an annual art series of plays, installations and educational workshops that brings together a collection of local and national artists to focus their talents on borderland issues.

This year’s theme, “Voices of Power,” examines the role of women of color in the arts and social justice. The series kicked off Sept. 13 with a panel of prominent artists discussing their work’s potential to drive social and political change. ASU Now will follow the initiative to document the ways it engages people and the region.

Artist Yadira De La Riva dances

Artist Yadira De La Riva performs at Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area in south Phoenix. She'll hold a free, public performance there Oct. 19. Photos by Deanna Dent/ ASU Now

De La Riva’s performance, “One Journey: Stitching Stories Across the Mexican ‘American’ Border,” will take place Oct. 19 at the Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area, Seventh Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road in south Phoenix. The free event is open to the public and starts at 7 p.m.

The one-woman play weaves personal borderland interviews De La Riva accumulated over a decade to tell the story of a family separated by border enforcement and the U.S.-Mexico war on drugs. The goal is to shed a feminine light on borderland identity that is influenced by dual languages, values, cultures, economics, nationalities and immigration policy.

“Yadira’s work is a timely piece that speaks to the complex identities of being from both sides of the U.S. and Mexico borders,” said Mary Stephens, producing director for “Performance in the Borderlands.”

“We chose her for the residency based on her previous work in Arizona, her ability to speak in multiple languages to reach diverse audiences and her training as a theatre educator who can collaborate across borders.”

Her residency will take her through the Tohono O’odham Nation, Tucson, Douglas, Agua Prieta and Nogales.

On Oct. 21, De La Riva will conduct a workshop with Douglas High School students using storytelling as a form of community asset mappingCommunity asset mapping provides information about the strengths and resources of a community and can help uncover solutions. Once community strengths and resources are inventoried and depicted in a map, you can more easily think about how to build on these assets to address community needs and improve health. where participants will develop several short-story dramatic works focused on reclaiming community narratives. A day later she’ll cross the border into Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico, and perform “One Journey” at the Border Crossing Fence.

“One of the reasons why I became an artist is because I didn’t feel there were enough border stories being told,” De La Riva said. “I want to be an example and reminder that we have so many beautiful and inspiring stories to tell. Our border is so rich in culture, music, colloquialisms, pride and humor.

“We have the potential to tell those stories, and we need to ensure we are heard.”

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