Latina Teens Celebrate Their Heritage

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The girls love going into Manhattan to see cultural sites including museums and off-Broadway shows.
The girls love going into Manhattan to see cultural sites including museums and off-Broadway shows.

When the staff at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center noticed a trend of first–generation Latina teens coming to the center with depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts, they came up with a program that has been an enormous success: The Latina Girls Project, which uses not only individual, group and family therapy, but also organizes monthly outings, supported by a generous grant from the John and Janet Kornreich Charitable Foundation, to show the girls the world outside of their communities and provide them with hope for their future.

The Latina Girls Project loved the performance by Segunda Quimbamba, which performs the music of Puerto Rico.
The Latina Girls Project loved the performance by Segunda Quimbamba, which performs the music of Puerto Rico.

Many of the outings are designed to expose the girls to their heritage and to celebrate Hispanic culture. On one recent trip, the girls attended a performance by Segunda Quimbamba, a Jersey City-based percussion and dance ensemble that performs authentic bomba and plena, the drum music of Puerto Rico. The music was uplifting and joyful, and the girls were instantly drawn to the rhythmic expressions of the group, which features drums, wind instruments, guitarists, vocalists and dancers performing Latino songs. The musicians provided the girls with some interesting and important historical information—but the most important and impactful part of the experience was when the performers invited the teens to dance and drum. To watch as some of the most shy and withdrawn girls bravely and excitedly joined the group onstage was inspiring beyond words. The trip revealed how music and dance are terrific therapeutic tools which help teens heal by encouraging self-expression and self-awareness, and it also exposed the teens to positive messages about Hispanic culture, making them feel the richness of their heritage.

For another cultural event, the guidance center staff took 18 teens to see a play called La Gringa at the Repertorio Español in Manhattan. For most of the girls, it was their first exposure to a Manhattan theater. The play was an excellent choice for this age group due to their ability to identify with the protagonist. La Gringa depicts the struggles of a young Latina woman whose parents are Puerto Rican but who is born and raised in New York City. She visits her parents’ homeland as a young adult who is seeking out her cultural identity. She immediately falls in love with her country of origin, but is met with the reality that she is neither a “native” Puerto Rican nor a North “Americana,” as family members label her. The play uses humor and sensitivity to deal with the cultural conflicts related to the different values and their impact on relationships within their families. The girls especially enjoyed how the protagonist is able to assert herself and seek out her individualism.

A group from the Latina Girls Project at the Statue of Liberty in summer 2014.
A group from the Latina Girls Project at the Statue of Liberty in summer 2014.

Another trip this year was a spectacular evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate Women’s History Month. The teens, who were invited by the Met’s Multicultural Audience Development Initiative’s Advisory Committee, had never experienced such an elegant affair and the guidance center staff members who chaperoned the trip were so proud of the girls’ ability to conduct themselves with grace and maturity as they interacted with accomplished women of diverse social, racial and educational backgrounds. The teens confidently introduced themselves as young women from Long Island looking to expand their opportunities in their future careers. It impressed the girls so much that a few of them are saying that they’re now looking into college, their next milestone in life.

To learn more about North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.

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