The Power of Mother Tongues: Creative City Artist Yara Liceaga's Reflections

Kamaria Carrington
Interim Program Associate, Creative City
by Luis Cotto
Yara Liceaga Presenting Accentos Espesos/Thick Accents performance event and third iteration of her project. Photo by Luis Cotto 

Creative City artist Yara Liceaga reflects on her transformative experience working on Accentos Espesos/Thick Accents with me over tea at a coffee shop in Central Square. Her two kids listened in as they sipped hot chocolate. Yara shared how this grant opportunity impacted her work as a diasporic artist originally from Puerto Rico.  

Yara set out to create a project about native Spanish speakers having to relate personally and professionally in English while living in the US. Through interviews with Jamaica Plain's Hispanic community, Yara chronicles their ordeals, negotiations, and affectionate relationships through publications in El Mundo Boston Newspaper. These interviews are also the basis for an on-going book of poetry, prose, and dance performance inspired by interviewees stories at the Egleston Square Peace Garden presented this past September 2018.  

Yara and Interviewee both holding the poetry book- by Luis Cotto
Yara Liceaga and Interviewee both holding poetry book which is the second iteration of Accentos Espesos/Thick Accents. Photo by Luis Cotto 

Yara shared the origin story for Accentos Espesos that came from a deep longing. She revealed how she was both inspired and supported to make the multi-media literary project that centered around her love language and mother tongue—Spanish.

 She begins “I want[ed] to make something in my own language. That is the language I feel in. When I love, am sad, connect!—that is the language that I feel in. Translation can happen, but something is not quite grasped—not fully.” 

While working on a project out of MIT, Yara witnessed a collaboration between MIT and the Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI) called, “Listen to the City." From this collaboration that held space for community members to be listened to as a means of strategic community development, there was a poetry event. The event titled, “Secret Languages” was located at DS4SI. Yara was in the audience when she witnessed immigrant poets reading their work in their native tongues. She was so moved that she felt compelled to share. “I read in Spanish and almost cried. It was the last poem I wrote before I left my country (Puerto Rico).” Where, Yara reflects, “[Artists] are ambitious but aren’t well resourced.” She was encouraged by the event holders to share her work. She remembered, “…it was beautiful. I was blown away by the fact that they were very respectful of my process. I was able to be in my native language and unapologetic.”

It was this experience couple with sitting in on a Creative City grant writing workshop where she learned about Denise Delgado’s Creative City funded project, Bodega Signs & Wonders. Yara’s vision clicked into place. “Denise Delgado—had a specific project that dealt with Spanish. And I thought, if she can do it, I can… Before these two events, [being a multi-lingual Spanish speaker of origin], what I feel as an artist [in this country] all the time is insecurity. I wonder if they aren’t going to even look at what I bring to the table… But I knew that they couldn’t say no to this project.”

by Luis Cotto
Photo by Luis Cotto

Yara continued to share how this Creative City process was different and more affirming than other grants she has received in the past “…working with NEFA—the support has been a huge thing. That they granted me the money for a Spanish speaking project! I felt so loved, literally. I was expecting that they would restrict me in some way—channeling my work into English can be so restricting…. Working in reference to my native tongue—Spanish—makes me still feel like me. I don’t have to make up anything about me. Because [in the U.S.] I have had to transform myself in a way that makes me feel like I can’t be myself—so that I can eat! This is how the many grant application processes have been. This difference was very importante!”

Yara noted particularly how the process of working with the Creative City grant supported and honored her vision, “One of the best things about this project is that they didn’t limit me. I could buy everything I needed. No one doubted, questioned, or withhold what we could use the money for. My experiences [of past grants and administrators] have been so dramatically different!”

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