Mudlark Theater’s relationship with Northwestern University has transformed its connection with Latinx youth. The theater’s inaugural Latinidades Spring Break Camp was its largest yet, and its number of Latinx students has increased since the fall.

Mudlark initially thought incorporating Spanish into its programs would draw Evanston’s growing Latinx population. But that’s not what happened, explained Anastacia Narrajos, Mudlark’s education manager. Apparently, the Latinx students assumed white kids in the city’s two-way immersion program were applying to practice their Spanish skills. That was “worthwhile,” Narrajos said, “but not really the population that we were hoping to serve by expanding that.”

Northwestern’s Myrna García, associate professor of instruction in Latina and Latino Studies program, reading Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match, a book about a Peruvian-Scottish-American girl. Credit: Mudlark Theater

Mudlark kept looking for ways to connect with the Latinx community. It applied for grant funding specifically to develop Latinx programs. Northwestern’s Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations granted the program $47,000 and they got a $3,000 grant from Foundation 65.

The Northwestern grant came with more than just funding. It connected Mudlark with Northwestern’s Myrna García, associate professor of instruction in the Latina and Latino Studies program, and Henry Godinez, a professor in the theater department with a special interest in Latinx theater.

Similar to a symbiotic relationship, Narrajos said, Mudlark is learning a curriculum rich with Latinx history, Latinx theater and techniques for creating a balanced bilingual classroom from Latinx Northwestern professors and undergraduate students in the Latina and Latino Studies program. In exchange, Northwestern gets to see their studies and research applied, then adapt as needed.

“A lot of the projects that I continue to do, such as the Mudlark project, is about filling those curricular gaps that are affirming of Latinx identity,” García said. “Just to be clear it’s with whatever way the student identifies. I know some people don’t use Latinx, so whether it’s their country of origin, Latino, Latina, Chicana or whatever they may use to self-identify – I think just to affirm those identities and see themselves and know that it’s not just something that should be rendered invisible in school or in the community, but it should be amplified unapologetically.”

Latinidades Spring Break Camp had 21 students, a huge increase from Mudlark’s first program using the grant, which was in the fall for high school and middle-school students. That program had about three committed students, Narrajos said. The goal of that program was to have the students create a show at the end of the 12-session long workshop, but that task proved daunting due to students’ schedules.

To unlearn some of the stereotypes associated with people migrating from Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries, Mudlark’s Latinx program highlighted the beauty of the migration of butterflies, which are called “mariposa” in Spanish. Credit: Mudlark Theatre

Things improved when Mudlark changed the age group to ages 6 to 10. Mudlark sees this change as an investment into a relationship with the children throughout their remaining K-12 years.

“We started a little bit younger in the hopes that in five years, if we continue to do this programing, then these students can reach the ages of middle school and high school, and we can create a whole show with them,” Narrajos said. “We’ll have five years of building relationships with them. Also [we’re] providing childcare to parents in the community at this time [spring break] while affirming the students’ identity.”

Mudlark’s relationship with Northwestern has improved the work it is doing with the grant from Foundation 65, aimed at continuing its existing in-school program at Washington Elementary School.

Mudlark’s teacher artists meet with the class twice a week, starting March 13 and continuing through April 26, and the students will perform in the first week of May. The lessons explore topics about social justice and antiracism through 1970s Brazilian theater practitioner Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed, a type of activist street theater.

Mudlark plans to use all of the Northwestern grant money this term, and has applied for another grant to continue Latinx programs next year.

The Latinx population in Evanston has increased more than 30% in the past 10 years. According to the city’s 2022 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN), as of 2022, 11% of Evanston is Latinx. From 2018 to 2023 the Latinx population at Evanston Township High School has grown from 18% to 20.3%. At District 65, the population has remained at about 20% for the same time frame.

Despite these localized statistics, it’s difficult to measure the city’s actual Latinx population.

On the first day of Latinidades Spring Break Camp, the students learned and discussed the meaning and history of their names. Credit: Mudlark Theatre

“For example, the federal government’s well-documented attempt to include a citizenship question in the 2020 Census contributed to a significant undercount of the Hispanic/Latino population,” reads the EPLAN. “These undercounts contribute to a lack of visibility of the population, which in turn leads to inadequate government funding and investments in communities heavily populated by Hispanic/Latino individuals. This systematic process of marginalization and disinvestment causes profound harm to the health and wellbeing of the Hispanic/Latino community.”

Nonprofits like Mudlark have to rely on grants to keep identity-affirming programs alive, García said. This is a financial gap other organizations can help support.

“What happens when the funding runs out? What if our grant doesn’t get renewed next year?” García asked. “This is also an invitation for other nonprofits or other initiatives to take this exciting thing and think about how to make this long-term rather than just the life of the grant.”

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative reporting....

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  1. I wish you would STOP using this RIDICULOUS “x” at the end of the word LATIN!! No one in Central or South America nor Spain created that absurdity!!! As a South American myself I feel deeply aggravated and insulted, that some pompous, presumptuous Americans one day, out of the blue, decided what we are supposed to be called!!!! Whoever it is, it was never given that authority!!!! As the Britannica explains: “ It is a form of imperialism in that the imposing community forcefully extends the authority of its way of life over the other population by either transforming or replacing aspects of the nondominant community’s culture.”

    1. THANK YOU!!!! I’ve been saying this! It is stupid and way too prevalent in Evanston. Evanston truly is out of touch.