Exploring the dual identity of Latinas in America with ‘Coser y Cantar’
blog by Ben Kirst • April 21, 2013 @ 7:00am
Dolores Prida—the woman dubbed the Latina ‘Dear Abby’ because of her popular column, ‘Dolores Dice,’ in Latina Magazine—died in January in New York City. She was 69 years old.
Prida, however, was not merely an advice columnist. She was the writer of plays, an opinionated columnist and friend to some of the most influential people in the United States. The night before her death, she attended a party hosted by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomeyer, who famously co-opted Prida’s descriptive phrase “wise Latina” during her controversial appointment hearings.
Prida’s influence will survive, and her memory will be honored in Buffalo next weekend. Raíces, the Voces Latinas Reading Series from Road Less Traveled Productions, will offer Somos Dolores, Somos Mujer… A Tribute to Dolores Prida, highlighted by a staged reading of Prida’s Coser y Cantar, at 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 28 at the Road Less Traveled Theater (639 Main St., Buffalo).
Dolores Prida is “...one of the most important playwrights in Latino contemporary theatre in the US,” Raíces Artistic Director Victoria Pérez said in a recent RLTP press statement. “It is with great pride that we pay tribute to her work.”
In her academic paper “Performing Cultural Identity in Dolores Prida’s Coser y Cantar,” Maria Luisa Ochoa Fernandez of the University of Huelva in Spain wrote:
Coser y Cantar (1981), as Prida herself states, is “about the experience of being Hispanic in the United States, about people trying to reconcile two cultures and two languages and two visions of the world into a particular whole,” which is an experience shared by many Latinos in the U.S. that Prida artfully succeeds in taking to the theatre with this play. In this work, Prida brings the personal experience to a political dimension so as to denounce and criticize the assimilationist tendencies imposed by the mainstream that aim at homogenizing American society according to Anglo-American values.
The subtitle of Coser y Cantar, “a One Act Bilingual Fantasy for Two Women”, already hints at its content since the play can be considered as Prida’s fantasy of what would be a possible theatrical representation of being a bicultural and bilingual woman, which is corroborated by Prida herself when asserting that “[it] deals with how to be a bilingual and bicultural woman in Manhattan and keep your sanity.” Therefore, she will explore the inner struggle within women caught between two cultures at the same time as she will try with her work to look for an emotional equilibrium between one culture and the other, and accordingly, perfectly reflecting the dual personality (hence, the hybridity) of a female Cuban exile belonging to the one-and-a-half generation.
Coser y Cantar is really one long bilingual monologue between a Latina named “Ella” and her Anglo inner self “She”, who are two halves of the same person. They are the cultural sides of a personality: the Cuban immigrant (that is, the woman’s cultural heritage) and her more acculturated, and therefore, Americanized self, which perfectly exemplify the personal struggle between two cultures that many Latinas living in that same dual condition experience.
The reading will feature Buffalo actresses Rosa Fernández and Sarielys Matos with narration by Rebecca Ward. Sheila M. López is the director.
“Dolores Prida was devoted to empowering women,” López noted. “Coser y Cantar is a play about a young Cuban woman trying to stitch together two worlds… associating strongly with her new environment in New York City but feeling haunted by her raices, or roots.”
The second half of the program will include a study the roles of Latinas in the United States—an opportunity to “...explore our identity and the struggle of living within two cultures,” according to Pérez. Smirna Mercedes-Pérez, Mariana Cole-Rivera, Ingrid Córdova, Sarielys Matos and Rosa Fernández will be part of the presentation, which will be directed by Pérez herself.
“I am overjoyed to be part of a tribute to Dolores Prida,” she concluded. “(Prida) was a genius who intertwined comedy, fantasy, tragedy, and farce in two different languages. Gracias, Dolores, y que descanses en paz. Rest in peace!”