Coya Paz is mostly known for her work as the Co-founder of Teatro Luna and Proyecto Latina or more recently as the race expert at Vocalo and lip gloss expert at Paper Machete. I sat down with Coya to talk about her views on many life aspects. Here’s her take on…

On moving to the United States, “home” and the English language…
I was born in Peru, in Cuzco but I only lived there as a baby. My parents are both Anthropologists, so they’re moving all the time, even now. When I moved to the US permanently I was 12, but I used to spend my summers here with my grandparents. My English reflects all this. I learned it in Latin America in either school or from my grandmother, an immigrant from England who spoke a Scottish type of English, which is a crazy English.

My comfort food is from Ecuador. My dad’s family is from Ecuador. But that’s not the only place I grew up. I have no immediate family living in Ecuador now so Ecuador is not the place I go home to. My dad lives in El Salvador, so now I go home to El Salvador, which is a place I never went until I was like 30.

On religion…
My dad is Jewish, we celebrate Hanukah. I’m not Jewish myself, I’m actually a Quaker; we’re very left meaning Christians. But I really love Jesus. I never talk about it because, even saying it now, there’s no way to say you love Jesus that doesn’t make it sound like you want people to come to your basement church. I believe in a Theology of Liberation and I think Christianity should be that. To me Jesus was the guy who was hanging out with prostitutes and lepers and trying to feed people, but give them some wine too.

On the writing process…
I am not a modest person. I think I’m smart and talented and have good ideas but I know that everything I do is stronger when I am working with other people who are smart and talented and great writers because then you create a think tank; to me it’s been more generative than when I sit down by myself. I really believe in community around creating work. I want credit for having good ideas and knowing how to put them on a stage and get people working but I have no investment in being a single author of anything.

On starting a new theater company…
It’s really a pain in the ass to run a theater company. I remember crying over an excel spreadsheet because there was a grant due and I couldn’t get the spreadsheet to add up, so it’s a pain in the ass. There is a way that I want to work that most theaters are not working in or they are working in with their people who are not exactly my people. There’s some beautiful original work happening all over the place in Chicago but it’s not politicized in the way I am politicized.

My friend Ricky Gamboa (I love Ricky like I would go into a battle if he needed me to, except I’m a pacifist so I hope he wouldn’t need me to, but if he did I would put on my rings and take off my earrings) tells me I don’t really want to start a theater company, that I’m not even really interested in theatre, and that’s true. what’s important to me about making work is making work that is for/ with/ in a community and that you know what that community is or what community you are trying to make through the work.

On theatre…
I have so much respect for a lot of the teatros that have existed, our foremothers. I think about the world the way I do because of them, so I’m grateful. But I also know we can do better; we can make the stories of our communities beautiful. We value them so let’s make them beautiful. We value our histories and we value our problems, not that we want to have our problems but they’re ours so let’s talk about them in ways that show how much we care about them.

I’m so worried about this phenomenon of deciding that you know what a community needs. The “here I come with my play to show you how to fix your problems” phenomenon. I prefer to approach it in a way that says here’s what I’m interested in, are you guys interested in it too? What kind of conversation can we have about it?

On community, roots and identity…
In my own way I don’t have a very clear cut community. When people ask me what are you? I don’t know how to answer. I’m adopted I lived in a different country every two years growing up. I don’t have any roots anywhere really, that’s why I’m obsessed with the idea of what it means to be an American. I have an American passport but I’ve never felt like I belong here. I romanticize Ecuador so much but when I was there everyone was like “oh that’s the gringa”

I’m queer so almost everyone I know is either queer or Latino, but not queer Latinos, My queer friends that I hang out with, none of them are Latino, and my Latino friends that I’m close with, they’re not queer. Everyone’s progressive, so it’s not that I have to choose between the two, but I do have to reposition myself constantly. How does any person keep a sense of who they are in a way that’s open to the kinds of relationships we need to be healthy?

On chisme…
I really want to write a book about chisme. I love chisme so much! I think chisme is absolutely a performance. All the good chismosas have a sense of timing and who their audience is. I’m really interested in talking about chisme as a way of helping people who don’t think of themselves as actors to understand that they already know how to act and perform and also the way chisme might be used to bring communities together. So much of community is about whom we talk about or who we’re interested in talking about, and that doesn’t mean it’s negative all of the time. Chisme is about not-quite-up- front telling of stories.

On being American…
My partner and I went to a bar because we had decided we wanted to go to the bank which is four blocks from our house and we were going to drive but we said no let’s not drive we’ll walk to the bank and that way we can stop at the bar to have a beer. Who in their right mind drives four blocks to the bank? But we needed an incentive to walk 4 blocks and then have $5 beers even though we have beer at home. But we wanted someone to bring us the beer because we deserved it for walking four blocks. This is all her talking about why we are Americans.

Personally my whole idea about what it means to be an American or to stake a claim in being an American has shifted. Here in Chicago we are really divorced from the fact that we live in the US, I think we all have to be accountable to the fact that for whatever reason we live here, we get to be American too. I’ve decided not to let the tea party get to be the Americans.


Interested in seeing Coya Paz in action? come see Tour Guides opening on Friday night 12/03/2010. Directed and developed by Coya Paz, Tour guides will give you the tour of Chicago you wish you could get. It will be playing at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. Be on the look out for a chance to win two free tickets to opening night!

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