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Art for Social Justice at El Puente

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Hector Calderon, principal of El Puente Academy of peace and justice, eloquently summed up a central tenet of El Puente, the North Brooklyn community organization:

“We don’t focus on art for art’s sake; it’s art for social justice. Because it’s through the arts that we best communicate best our deepest dreams and struggles.”

Last Friday, the school, located at 250 Hooper Street, presented its 13th annual Integrated Arts Project, which takes a social theme relevant to the students’ lives and explores it in a single performance combining a variety of art forms.

This year’s theme was immigration, a topic that not only inspired the performance, but informed the year’s academic curriculum as well: Math classes focused on statistical analysis of immigration trends, while social studies classes looked at the history of immigration in America and examined the politically charged atmosphere surrounding the issue today.

The performance itself combined drama, live music, dance, spoken word poetry, and even shadow puppets. Its plot revolved around a caseworker for an immigrants−rights organization and his cases, which gave an unflinching look into the immigrant experience.

One case concerned an undocumented family whose father makes the difficult choice to go back to Mexico when his mother dies. The daughter wants to go to college, but desperately needs the “DREAM Act” – a law that allows undocumented immigrant students to earn conditional permanent residency – to become law soon.

Another case involved an El Salvadorian teenager in an ICE detention center, through whom the audience hears a harrowing tale about gang warfare in her native land.

And another focuses on a temporary worker trying to extend his visa, focusing on the accompanying red tape and anxiety.

Around 50 students participated in the performance in either a onstage or backstage role.

The event also featured a table to raise awareness about the DREAM Act, along with a large message board in which students were encouraged to give their opinions regarding immigration issues.

This year’s performance marked a milestone for the Academy, which is closing out its first year in its new location, a renovated building that used to house the Transfiguration Church elementary school.

Since its inception in 1993 as one of the city’s New Vision schools, the Academy had been housed in a handful of temporary locations while the city’s Department of Education made glacial progress on a promise to provide funding for a permanent building.

The $18 million renovated building, replete with all of the facilities the school’s former homes lacked, “dignifies our dreams, our struggles, and puts us in a position to get where we want to go in the future,” said Calderon.

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