Using magical realism and a journey into the Maya cosmovision, Minneapolis performers Magdalena Kaluza and Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra have created an intergenerational story of emergence and healing transformation. Their show Star Clan Girl calls on ancestors and cellular memory to inspire a new generation of descendants to look up into the stars and to care for the earth.
Photos of Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra (left) and Magdalena Kaluza (right) superimposed over performance of Star Girl Clan. Photo by Pierre Ware.
In the fall of 2021 the City of Minneapolis Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy announced funding through the Creative Response Fund for 15 artist-led teams for projects providing creative healing and support to Minneapolis communities that continue to be directly impacted and affected by the stress and trauma of 2020. One of these projects, Star Girl Clan, led by artists Magdalena Kaluza and Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra, was performed on Friday evening October 9, 2021 at the corner of E. Lake Street and Chicago Avenue as part of Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration.
Liz Pangerl, Consultant with the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy interviewed Magdalena Kaluza and Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra about their healing work in the community, what it means and how it will continue to manifest in their work going forward.. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
“Building multiracial communities requires us to do the hard work and healing must be an integral part, but it’s not always a walk in the park.”
— Magdalena Kaluza
Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your work as artists in the community.
Magdalena Kaluza: I am the child of a Maya k’iche’ political refugee and a white working-class activist. I facilitate participatory processes and co-create art around radical imagination and healing. As a member of Palabristas, a Latinx spoken word collective based in Minnesota, I’ve performed and hosted writing workshops throughout Minnesota. I also practice community muralism with Creatives After Curfew and Power of Vision, a collaboration between Hope Community and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra: My family is from El Salvador, but my people [Maya-Lenca Nation] are from the Managuara region which includes El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, but also parts of Panama and Costa Rica. I am a Twin Cities-based trans-disciplinary artist, (meaning my work connects the fields of art, theology, and science) musician (Lady Xøk), and culture bearer with my work rooted in Indigenous Futurisms. I create immersive multimedia, interdisciplinary, experimental storytelling works. Both Magdalena and I have performed puppetry with Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop, New Native Theatre, and Star Girl Clan.
What is your connection to this community? Why is it important to you?
Magdalena: I grew up in the Phillips neighborhood, not far from Chicago Avenue and Lake Street, and I currently live in the Powderhorn neighborhood, so the intersection of Chicago and Lake is very dear to my heart and using the space was special for me.
A lot of spaces on Lake Street hold the trauma that surfaced during the uprising, which means we have a lot of work to do. What’s going to happen with the empty lots? Who is our city going to serve? With climate change looming, we’re going to see an influx of climate refugees, and we need to make sure that Black, brown, and poor people are not pushed out of this city.
I think of street art, and public art and art created deeply in relationship with working class communities as a tool to keep people in place and fight displacement. Working with Rebekah, the Monkeybear community, the Heart of the Beast community, and the New Native Theatre community has been incredibly life-giving for me. I get to share something that’s important to me with the world. I hope I can help Latinos here in the U.S., myself included, to reckon with our indigeneity, and to celebrate it.
Rebekah Crisanta de Ybarra performs shadow puppetry. Photo by Pierre Ware.
What was the inspiration for this project?
Madalena: We started working together at Monkeybear. We wrote a different show together and performed it at Pillsbury House and Theatre. Then we were both accepted into a residency with Puppet Lab, a program of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. It was there that we wrote and performed Star Girl Clan, a story based on our experiences as children of immigrants. It’s a story built on thousands of years of storytelling, and guided by our teacher Gina Kan Balam and mentor, Willy Barreno.
What community were you doing creative healing work with?
Rebekah: As an artist, my priority is around Indigenous resiliency, tribal resiliency, and sovereignty issues. Fundamentally anti-colonialism and anti-white supremacy become a priority for an intersection like Chicago and Lake in response to the uprisings.
But what Magdalena and I have been working on through the Star Girl Clan project and are hoping to deepen is to foster deep conversations that can build inter-tribal alliances as our people face more and more climate chaos and are not only political and economic refugees but are also being forced to leave their homes because of rising waters.
What is deeply important to us is to have more ceremonial conversations between our elders, where we can share the type of things that aren’t normally shared in a public setting. We use the play as a mechanism to just open everybody’s hearts to the possibility.
Performers in Star Girl Clan. Photo: Pierre Ware
What was the outcome of this project? What made it successful in your eyes?
Rebekah: It was a beautiful event. Besides the many south-siders in attendance and because of the busy-ness of that corner, we had people walking by or coming off the street or the Metro Transit, people who were struggling – most who fit our target demographic – who stopped to see the play. In this instance we were doing more awareness building around the ancient connections that we have north and south, specifically Maya and Dakota people. I hope we brought some love and light to the community for that day.
Inviting elders Gina Kan Balam and Jim Rock to join us for the talk after the show was also important, along with the support of the New Native Theatre. We also cultivated a crew that was predominantly Indigenous or Latinx.
What does the idea of creative healing mean to you? How do you see this manifesting in yourself, your immediate community and beyond?
Magdalena: Healing work can happen in many ways. One thing I really care about is making sure we can bring our full selves to spaces and be in our bodies. I studied cranial sacral therapy and have spent time in healing justice circles to learn what practices we can use to bring our bodies into space. What practices can we employ to settle our nervous systems so as to have more resources at our disposal – creating greater windows of space for feeling uncomfortable, but still safe enough to do the work. Building multiracial communities requires us to do the hard work and healing must be an integral part, but it’s not always a walk in the park because there’s so much pain. When we face trauma, pain comes up and we get reactive, but there are still ways to show love for each other. People are incredible, and as humans we really want to connect. I do see a yearning for that connection, for that sense of agency and self-expression. And mutual aid is a big part of that too. How do we support each other through the hard stuff?
I feel very open to connection and grateful for all the conversations that Minneapolis is having because of the uprising too, I would say. Things have been moving forward faster than they would have otherwise and we need to continue to speed that up.
Rebekah: As a trans-disciplinary artist, everything I do is about healing trauma and shifting away from what is because of centuries of colonization and trauma. Shifting away from a space of victimhood, into reclamation, revitalization, and strength.
For most Indigenous people, healing – whether it comes from oral narrative storytelling, or a temazcal smoke bath, or dance or song or craft – reveals an element of togetherness and intergenerational teaching.
The collaborations between Magdalena and I are inter-tribal. When we write our plays, we must negotiate symbols and words because we need to find a common language to share space and tell our story. Creative healing for me is just doing the work, sharing the stories, and performing. If I’m doing it on my own and I heal myself and I can pass it on to my kids, that’s great. If it lives on the internet and it can reach other people in my tribe, even better. But ideally, I would like for the work we do individually and together to create a community where traditional healing forms have a space to live in connection and cultural exchange. We’re performing the play, but in reality, we’re building community with our elders and with more traditional forms of community healing.
Musicians perform in Star Girl Clan. Photo: Pierre Ware
What has the response from your community been like? Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
Rebekah: Star Girl Clan started in a very small, organic way and every time we performed it, everyone loved it. The performance at Chicago and Lake is the closest to what we envisioned in our first brainstorming session. The response has been very positive, and were asked right away when we’ll be performing it again.
Our hope is to perform in direct Nation-to-Nation Indigenous communities where we can then foster the deeper healing conversations we’ve been talking about.
Magdalena: There are several children I know here in south Minneapolis who have one parent who is a Latino immigrant of Indigenous ancestry, perhaps Nahuatl or Mayan or another group from Central or South America and the other parent is white. In some cases, some of the children are adopted or have a donor parent who they don’t know.
A couple of these kids made it to our show on October 9, and they got to experience a form of storytelling which allowed them to connect with and experience an Indigenous community. We heard rave reviews from them. Even the families that didn’t make it are asking when they might be able to see it. It’s exciting, and it inspires us to continue to perform Star Girl Clan.
What are your hopes for your community moving forward?
Magdalena: Rebekah and I have different circles that we’re connected to. We can bring in and continue to strengthen relationships with the Palabristas and Inquilinxs Unidxs por Justicia which is a housing justice organization in Minneapolis that works with low-income renters, many who are Latino.
So, throughout the U.S., the Americas and Canada working with those who talk about what it means to be living outside of Guatemala and wanting to remain connected. And how to prevent future migration because so many people migrate out of need, not because they want to. These are some of the communities that I see myself connected to.
How might you extend the experience?
Rebekah: The La Mama Experimental Theatre Club in New York City would welcome us, as well as the New Native Theatre here in Minneapolis. In the past we’ve had requests from Southside elementary schools including Anishinabe Academy. I also visited Red Lake Middle School and they have a beautiful theatre where we could perform. For now, everything is on hold due to the pandemic. As soon as everyone feels safe again, we can pick up the conversations around how we can work directly with Indigenous youth.
The audience watches Star Girl Clan. Photo by Pierre Ware.
What is next for you?
Rebekah: We’re focused on building relationships with communities that want us to tour. We are also looking at how to build out the play into a 40-minute performance, either by expanding the current project or adding some other performative work we do, or in collaboration with local Indigenous artists in the communities we visit. We also secured a storage unit to care for what we’ve created so far, knowing we may have to wait another year to start touring. And, we’re grateful for the Creative Response Fund and the support we’ve received to continue our work.
Madgalena: Rebekah, myself and Rihanna from New Native Theatre traveled to Guatemala to meet with theater companies there to discuss the possibility of an exchange with folks in Central America, something we’ve dreamed of. We’ve also had many, many people tell us we should consider a children’s book or turn the play into a video. Could we pursue these ideas so that Star Girl Clan can be disseminated more broadly at some point in the future? Yes, and there’s a twinkle in my eye about all of these opportunities.
Learn more about the Creative Response Fund Projects here
Creative CityMaking is a program of The Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy at the City of Minneapolis. Funding is provided by The Kresge Foundation. Arts Midwest is acting as fiscal agent for the disbursal of grant funds.