- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 22, 2009

CITIZEN JOURNALISM:

Quique Aviles‘ first love may be performing onstage, but it is his performances on the streets of “el barrio” that truly define who he is.

Mr. Aviles, 44, who has performed as a poet, solo theater artist and ensemble member throughout the District and the United States, is a speaker for his community and the poet of the District’s “barrio.”

A student activist in his native country of El Salvador, Mr. Aviles arrived in Washington in 1980 after his family feared for his life in his hometown, El Carmen Cuzcatian. Mr. Aviles graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Georgetown in 1984.

This summer, Mr. Aviles returns to Gala Hispanic Theatre’s summer season at the Tivoli Theater with “El Canuto Del Rock.” Mr. Aviles wrote the show and is performing it under the direction of Abel Lopez, Gala’s associate artistic director.

The language of “El Canuto Del Rock” flows back and forth between English and Spanish, with translations displayed on an overhead screen. Music of the Machetres rings in the background as the intertwined story, set in El Salvador and Columbia Heights, unfolds. Don Ama, an older Salvadoran DJ, and a young biracial filmmaker from Columbia Heights search for their dreams and the reality of their lives.

Mr. Aviles portrays Don Ama, who dreams of bringing rock ‘n’ roll to “el monte,” or the countryside. Mr. Aviles describes the character as a “universal figure … someone who is not expected to dream, but does.” In a choreographed machete battle, Don Ama loses three fingers on his right hand, ending his dreams of becoming a rock star.

“The character is a direct answer to all those stereotypes that exist about Latinos and Salvadorans in D.C.,” Mr. Aviles said. “People think we are hicks, all we can do is pour water at the restaurant, clean the house and work in remedial construction jobs. We do those things, and we do those things well, but we are also thinkers, educators, philosophers, engineers and, if we want to be, rock stars.”

Mr. Aviles‘ previous shows with the Sol y Soul and Spoken Resistance performance groups were unlike anything seen before. Hilary Binder-Aviles, Mr. Aviles‘ wife, describes her husband’s performances as a “blend of poetry, character monologue, visual imagery and music.”

If the venues are large enough, Mr. Aviles will always have live music.

“We’re working with Quique because we have an interest and commitment in developing new work and supporting the creative process of individual artists,” Mr. Lopez said. “We have a long relationship with Mr. Aviles, not only as a performance artist, but also in directing our educational program for young adults.”

As a result of his work with Galas youth performance ensemble, Paso Nuevo, Mr. Aviles has found a young and enthusiastic apprentice in 12-year-old Christian Sanchez.

Christian, a seventh-grader at Capital City Public Charter School in Northwest, helped backstage on the show. He said he also was “helping Quique with his lines.”

Known on the stage as “Chris Wonder,” Christian explained how Mr. Aviles is the voice of “el barrio.”

“I think Quique wants us to see how we, everyone - not just Latinos - live in D.C.,” he said. “What are the good and the bad things? He helps us so we can understand what we all go through is the same stuff. I think Quique is doing a great job of teaching us about that.”

Mr. Lopez, too, praised Mr. Aviles.

Mr. Aviles represents a significant portion of the Latino community in D.C., and it is consistent with our mission at Gala to present a wide range of Hispanic dramaturgy,” Mr. Lopez said.

“El Canuto Del Rock” can be seen at the Gala Theatre at 3333 14th St. NW on Friday and Saturday. The performances begin at 8 p.m.

• John Muller is a writer living in Montgomery County.

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