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Austin play rekindles the origins of Texas indigenous culture

by Michael Barnes, mbarnes@statesman.com
Genevieve Schroeder-Arce as Maria and Madison Palomo as Mom in "Young Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnets," produced by Teatro Vivo and the Indigenous Cultures Institute. [Contributed]

Maria Rocha, executive director of the Indigenous Cultures Institute, has collaborated with Roxanne Schroeder-Arce, director of UTeach Fine Arts at the University of Texas, on “Young Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnets,” a one-act play for young audiences that will be performed Jan. 25 at the Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

We met with Rocha, who once ran Austin’s Teatro Humanidad, a predecessor to the Latino Comedy Project, at Seventh Flag coffee shop on South First Street.

American-Statesman: What drew you to this story?

Maria Rocha: My adopted daughter, Roxanne, was commissioned by Dallas Children’s Theater to write a play about the legend of the bluebonnet. She talked to me about the established versions of the legend, which are primarily written by non-indigenous people and are full or errors. For example, in an earlier version, it was about a Comanche girl who is the first to see the bluebonnets. But the Comanches have only been here for about 400 years, and bluebonnets have been here for much longer than that.

Tell me a little about the narrative.

It’s about a modern-day girl, Maria, who’s having trouble at school. She feels it’s not about her. So she’s been suspended. The mother decides to send her to Laredo to spend time with her grandmother. During that stay, the grandmother tells her about Yana Wana and helps her connect to her indigenous identity. These tribal relationships are very powerful. They sustain you.

Is she identified with a particular group of Native Americans?

Many of the Hispanics in Texas are probably descendants of Coahuiltecans, the original Texas Indians, who have been here 15,000 years. They were the Indians the Spanish first encountered here. Faced with disease and extermination, they blended in with the Mexican Indians. Nowadays, more people are identifying with specific Coahuiltecan tribes. You know, we asked the Comanches, did they have a story about the legend of the bluebonnet, and they said “no.” So we are using the Coahuiltecan creation story for the basis of the legend.

Does this newly recovered identity help Maria once she returns home?

Yes. She is transformed by helping people in Laredo acquire clean water. She takes on the responsibility of addressing the contaminated water in the indigenous community. It becomes the foundation of who she is and that allows her to go home and be successful. Because she knows who she is.

When: 8 p.m. Jan. 25

Where: Emma Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St.

Cost: $11.50-$15; children under 12 are free.

Information: indigenouscultures.org

“Young Yana Wana’s Legend of the Bluebonnets”