Student organizations at OU are an excellent way for students to make their voices heard by creating a platform on which to stand. One such group, called LatinArte, hopes to use its platform to change the perception of art from Latinx creators.
According to the organization’s OrgSync page, LatinArte is dedicated to pushing back against a hostile atmosphere and changing people’s minds by “showcasing Latinx art by Latinx students for the Norman community.” The organization wants to open up OU and Norman to the unique art of Latin America while also providing an inviting space for other Latinx artists to work.
“It started as an idea after realizing that the university doesn’t really provide a lot of venues for Latinx artists,” said Norma Lilia Ruiz Cruz, founder and president of LatinArte. “I talked to a few more artists that are also Latinx, and we decided that we would get our venue if nobody else was going to give it to us.”
Originally from Tijuana, Baja California in Mexico, Ruiz Cruz is a dramaturgy junior at the Helmerich School of Drama. She said she hopes LatinArte will influence the school to be more culturally diverse, campaigning for better representation of Latinx playwrights and actors.
“So many of the (theater) shows are just white, and there’s a vast number of people they could cast better that they do not,” Ruiz Cruz said. “Consciousness only goes so far, mainly because people aren’t affected by show and casting choices. If you’re white, you can still get cast in a show. But you can’t if you look like me.”
The goal of equal recognition is what first drove Ruiz Cruz to create LatinArte late last semester, and she said it is the driving force behind most of the group’s goals. At the moment, the group is planning a Latinx arts exhibition for the fall semester, featuring primarily visual artists. Ruiz Cruz said she hopes future semesters will see larger expositions and events, with one major goal being the production of a play written by a Latinx playwright.
Uldarico Sarmiento, assistant professor of scenic and digital media design in the School of Drama, as well as the group’s faculty adviser, said organizations like LatinArte are incredibly important, especially in places like Oklahoma.
“In general, it’s harder to find Latinx artists and performers in Oklahoma,” Sarmiento said. “Most of them are going to be closer to the coast or in bigger cities. So, being in Norman, this is a great opportunity to change that and share our stories.”
Sarmiento spent over six years at OU completing his undergraduate degree, during which he noticed a severe lack of Latinx individuals and artists. While he feels confident that some things have changed since then, he continues to advocate for better inclusion of other cultures into the arts at OU. He brings this idea with him as he advises the group.
“The most important thing we can accomplish as a group is to share a little bit of our culture and perspectives,” Sarmiento said. “We have different backgrounds. It’s important for us to get our voices heard.”
For other LatinArte members like Diego De La Espriella, the group gives them a way to discuss their culture with like-minded people. De La Espriella, an acting and dramaturgy junior, said LatinArte has helped him reconnect with his Colombian background.
“My second high school was predominantly white,” De La Espriella said. “Because I was surrounded by people who weren’t of my heritage, I kind of felt the need to suppress part of it. I just don’t want anyone here at OU to feel that way. I want them to be able to embrace who they are and where they come from.”
Like Ruiz Cruz, De La Espriella said he hopes to see more creations by Latinx playwrights, painters, sculptors and other artists on campus. For him, the first step toward getting equal recognition is for everyone’s works to receive the same opportunities for presentation.
With all this in mind, Ruiz Cruz said she wants to use LatinArte as a platform for Latinx artists of all kinds to make their presence known.
“We need to make sure people realize Latinx artists exist and that it’s not only a trendy thing,” Ruiz Cruz said. “There’s lots of Latinx people here in Oklahoma, and we are just as valuable as any other artist.”