Being a teenager can be hard on anybody. Add an immigrant father searching for a better life, the demands of a traditional Mexican household, and a rebellious older brother embracing American ideals, and being a teenager goes beyond being difficult to becoming a monumental struggle for identity.
The one-act opera En Mis Palabras (In My Own Words), explores the dynamics between 15-year-old Ana Maria (Micaiella Dominguez Robinson), her traditional-minded father Esteban (Steven Taylor) her defiant brother Rodolfo (Daniel Fosha) and her elderly grandmother, simply called Abuela (Leslie Remmert Soich).
It opens with Ana Maria writing in her journal and attempting to find her own voice in a cross-cultural world:
I write my world, I draw my dreams,
I paint my plans, I swim my stream,
I chart my stars, or so it seems,
In my own words ...
In the other room, her father and brother quarrel about her Americanized ways. The argument escalates as it progresses, with Ana Maria expressing a desire to make her own choices. In response, Esteban forbids her association with her American friends. Rodolfo defends her decisions, leading to a scuffle between father and son as Ana Maria runs away.
Twenty-year-old Micaiella Dominguez Robinson's own Hispanic heritage brings added perspective to her character.
"My mother instilled me with a great pride of my heritage," says Dominguez Robinson. "I even had a quinceaera when I was 15. But I still had a hard time growing up as a minority."
"When people have to straddle two different cultures, they often embrace one culture and reject the other," says Colorado Springs native Fosha. "Ana Maria's older brother is the first one to cross this cultural bridge. He rejects the traditional Mexican life represented by his father and grandmother and encourages Ana Maria to be an American as a validation of his own choices."
En Mis Palabras , composed by Roger Ames, was commissioned by the Central City Opera in 2005 in an attempt to bring cross-cultural awareness to Colorado residents. When it first opened in 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 19.7 percent of Colorado residents were of Hispanic or Latino descent, a number that continues to grow.
"We wanted to tell a story that was cross-generational and explored the tension in immigrant families," says librettist Jeffrey Gilden. "It's really about language and how hard it is to communicate with the people we are closest to."
In the second scene, several months have passed and Ana Maria's beloved Abuela has died. She approaches her father and brother at the funeral home, but is unable to set things right. Abuela's spirit returns to encourage Esteban to forget the past and to embrace the future with his daughter's best interests at heart. Abuela also visits Ana Maria with the sage counsel that the past is something to be learned from and family is what matters most in life.