In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College is sharing a variety of creative projects that explore the culture, experience and history of Hispanic people in the Pikes Peak region and beyond, including a brand new short film titled Huerfano, a collaborative piece developed as part of the FAC’s “3x3 Projects: Creative Collaborations from Isolation.”
The creators of Huerfano describe it as a “case study and love letter to a place both fascinating and incomprehensible.” If you have ever driven through Huerfano County, you understand how accurate those descriptors are. The flat plains and sweeping valleys would feel endless if not for the stunning Sangre de Cristo mountains that abruptly halt their sprawl, and the sense of a fraught past weighs heavily on the region. Xochitl Portillo, who wrote, narrated and starred in the film, captures this seemingly indefinable essence with haunting verse:
“Generals. Chieftains. Mothers. The mines, the homesteads, the monuments, the graves. Soil, water, air and the brazen sun.”
Those lines encapsulate the complex history of the region, which was first populated by Indigenous people, and later by Mexicans migrating from present-day New Mexico and parts nearby. The area’s inclusion in Colorado’s statehood in 1876 and the discovery of coal brought forth an expected industrial boom, conflict, oppression and death. Today, Huerfano County is best known as a hub for tourists flocking to explore the vast open spaces, and historians and geologists seeking a deep dive into the past. Coal has gone by the wayside in favor of alternative energy.
In a meet-the-creators video on the film’s webpage, Portillo describes how works such as Huerfano allow her to express her heritage, and to explore the trichotomy of past, present and place.
“I personally use poetry and performance as a means of healing my mixed Mexican, white, Indigenous lineage and the colonial indigenous trauma that comes with that,” Portillo explains. “I was very excited to get to work on this process. I am a Colorado native and I love being able to tell stories that are untold truths.”
Portillo’s co-performer in the short, Gwendolyn Gussman, also utilizes performance as a method of storytelling, albeit through dance instead of verse. Gussman choreographed the piece she performs throughout the film, a dramatic and delicate dance that incorporates the stunning scenic backdrop of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, accompanied by subtle guitar, ambient sounds and Portillo’s measured narration.
“I am super motivated creatively by psychosomatic experience,” says Gussman. She explains that she works to interpret her experiences in the world through movement. “How can I elicit emotions and feelings and experiences and memories that I’ve had in the world through my body and express that in a tangible way for others?”
Kevin Q. Marchman and Fa’al Ali comprise the other half of Huerfano’s creative team.
“You have all these unique people that you throw together and the idea of what you have is not the final project — most of the time [the result is] much more beautiful,” says Marchman.
Available through Oct. 15, free, fac.coloradocollege.edu/connect/huerfano