After taking part in the Advocacy Academy, an organisation that encourages young people to push for change, activist Eli Alvarado was instrumental in campaigning for Arts Council England to include a Latin-American tick box on its diversity monitoring forms. Alvarado tells Giverny Masso why this is important and about co-creating her first play…
Tell me about your play...
My Uncle Is Not Pablo Escobar [explores] the Latinx identity, especially in terms of dual nationalities or queer identity, and what it’s like being a second-generation immigrant. I’m a second-generation immigrant and I grew up with a lot of privilege compared to my Latinx first-generation immigrant friends, who didn’t grow up learning English or understanding processes such as university applications. We wanted to embody those experiences in the play. We wanted to tell stories that aren’t really told and to show how many identities we have in our communities, because everyone thinks: ‘You’re Latino – you’re all the same and you’ve all lived the same experiences’, and we haven’t.
What has the process been like?
It’s been interesting. I love writing and I’m an in-the-closet writer. I never show my face to the world. Writing the play has encouraged me to find that part of myself and accept vulnerability, because it is centred around my experience and [co-creator] Valentina Andrade’s experience. [I’ve felt] vulnerable at points putting pieces of my life into the play, but it’s also freeing. It’s been a long process, and it’s interesting to see [the journey] from 2017. We are hoping to put it on stage next year.
Tell me about your work with the Advocacy Academy...
I was in secondary school when I joined. Amelia Viney, the chief executive and founder of the Advocacy Academy, came to give an assembly to recruit young people and she asked: ‘What makes you angry?’. So many things went through my head, such as the lack of support for Latinx students in higher education and the amount of money my mum is paid to do a cleaning job. Amelia said: “If you answered my question in your head, you’re the right person for this,” so I applied and was accepted. The Advocacy Academy taught me to use my anger to change society – it also gave me hope that I could.
How did you feel when Arts Council England committed to introducing a Latinx tick box on its forms?
I couldn’t believe it. When chief executive Darren Henley said yes I was in shock. I am so used to being told no that it was a big surprise. I was so happy. Once this happens, once they put that box on the form, maybe it will encourage other organisations to do the same.
Why is the box important?
I know many Latinx people who love theatre. They love the arts and they want to be involved, but many of my friends say: “I can’t speak English properly so I can’t do it”, or “I haven’t seen any Latinx people in theatre so I don’t know if I’d feel welcome.” They don’t feel as though they would be accepted, like maybe a lot of middle-class, white people do. They want to be part of the world but it’s as though you’re held back by an invisible barrier: language, class, the economic barrier. There are so many things that shouldn’t be in the way, because the arts are for everyone. If we had role models, if we had a box, we would feel much more accepted and welcome.
Training: Pauline Quirke Academy (2014-15)