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‘Taking the helm’: Night of Cultura controls narrative, reflects diverse community

Members of the Latine Film and Theatre Association stand around a table in rehearsals for their Night of Cultura. The two-night event will showcase a combination of short films and plays April 26 and 27. (Darlene Sanzon/Daily Bruin)

“Night of Cultura”

April 26-27

Northwest Campus Auditorium

By Ruwani Jayasekara

April 25, 2024 1:56 p.m.

This post was updated April 25 at 8:42 p.m.

The Latine Film and Theatre Association is uprooting societal stereotypes in its upcoming Night of Cultura.

Gracing the Northwest Campus Auditorium stage April 26 and 27, the annual two-day event will showcase a combination of short films and plays, entirely produced by Latine artists on campus. Co-chair of theater operations and third-year English student Alex Rosas said the LFTA establishes a creative space for Latine students to embrace an art form they are historically excluded from, encouraging stories for and by Latine artists to be shared. In collaboration with UCLA Residential Life, Night of Cultura is a celebration of intersectional identities and the community that develops as a result, Rosas said.

“It’s very important for us to be able to be free to create what we want to represent ourselves the way we see ourselves and not how society has told us that we need to be,” Rosas said. “We are such a multifaceted culture, and art and storytelling and creation is just so essential to our survival.”

[Related: Student play ‘You Never Existed’ promises relatable comedy, cultural reflection]

Acknowledging the production’s evolution over the past couple decades, fourth-year English student and LFTA Co-Chair Cruz Garcia said the theme of this year’s event is “Nuevas Raíces,” translating to “new roots” in Spanish. Drawing inspiration from the pitches submitted for consideration, Garcia said he resonated with the recurring theme of multigenerational relationships and the complex intersection of family and identity. The theme places added emphasis on chosen family, articulating that individuals are a product of the collective communities they surround themselves with, Rosas said.

Heralding itself as a no-experience-necessary organization, LFTA invites students from a diverse array of backgrounds to find their creative niche, offering roles ranging from actors and writers to crew members and stagehands, third-year sociology student and co-chair of Theater Operations Kyra Saldaña said. Leaving writer calls open to the general UCLA community, Rosas said Night of Cultura’s mission is to provide artists with a platform to create without judgment and reshape the ways in which the Latine community is represented in media. By taking control of the narrative, the organization is not a monolith but instead a reflection of the diverse community that is prevalently condensed into harmful stereotypes, Saldaña said.

“In media, we don’t get to see our community really thrive in healthy ways. We see a lot of toxic representations of love,” Saldaña said. “To help to not have our stories be misrepresented in media, that starts with us telling our own stories, us taking the helm of every single stage of production.”

(Darlene Sanzon/Daily Bruin)
LFTA actors rehearse an original play for their Night of Cultura. The annual showcase is produced entirely by Latine artists on campus. (Darlene Sanzon/Daily Bruin)

As Night of Cultura serves as an introduction for many to the intricacies of film and theater production, Rosas said the co-chairs of LFTA facilitate the journey from script to stage, allowing artists to focus on developing their craft in a supportive environment. As only a handful of stories can be shared throughout the nights, LFTA general club members were enlisted to vote on the productions that would best reflect the Latine experience to the broader community, Rosas added. Interchanging between three short films and two theatrical plays, each story brings something unique to the stage, intertwining themes of love and self-acceptance with grief and trauma, Saldaña said.

Encouraging artists to take creative risks, the showcase invites students to explore the multifaceted nature of the stage and screen and immerse themselves in new roles within the production, Saldaña said. Although initially intimidated by her own lack of theater experience, Saldaña said Night of Cultura has played a pivotal role in her growth as an artist, bringing her acting, writing and directorial debut to the stage. Bridging the gap of inequality, LFTA’s strength lies in the creative environment they establish, building a space for all perspectives and levels of experience to coexist, Saldaña added.

“Every year I’ve learned so much about myself and … my art and how I want to tie in community in whatever I create,” Saldaña said. “I feel like that’s the beauty about LFTA – we’re all able to do multiple roles and get experience in multiple things and really motivate each other to go after our dreams.”

[Related: Alumnus written and directed short film ‘Enamorado’ touches on queer Latino love]

Building off of LFTA’s previous productions, this year’s showcase brings a new generation of first-time artists into the spotlight, Garcia said, expressing the tangible impact passion for the arts can bring to a production. Referencing the overarching theme, Rosas said “Nuevas Raíces” honors the legacy and roots from which Night of Cultura has grown and emphasizes the influence its community will continue to have on future generations to come.

“It’s so amazing to be able to see people so freely express who they are and not be apologetic and take up the space that belongs to them,” Rosas said. “I shouldn’t be holding myself back because to hold myself back is a disservice to all the art that we’ve created in the past and all the art we’re going to create in the future.”

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