Icebreaker: Life As A Non-Traditional Hispanic Artist
By Roque Diaz
Life as a non-traditional Hispanic artist. If you are reading this, you are probably interested in the different stories of artists. Where do I start? Well, I am a bit of a gypsy.
With my diverse artistic background, I have not lived longer in a place/location for two years. This wasn’t always the case. I knew from a young age that I wanted to perform and travel around the world. Was it easy? The intersection of my ethnic background and my education pursuits have molded the person I am today. My path has not always been easy nor clear, yet my desire to test the boundaries of my field has fueled my persistence. Sit back, relax and enjoy a memoir on my life travels, and where I am moving forward artistically.
Born in Puerto Rico, I am the younger of two sons born to teenaged parents. My parents relocated to North Carolina to provide a better life. Being the only Puerto Rican students in our new school in North Carolina, my brother and I were held back a grade, under the assumption that we could not understand English. I spent my grade-school and middle-school years overcoming this stereotype by maintaining excellent grades and excelling in music. My curiosity for music grew from hearing my brother practice trumpet.
Unable to afford additional instruments, I learned to play my brother’s trumpet on my own at home.
My innate proficiency quickly advanced my skills garnering respect and recognition from my middle-school band teacher. I became the first middle-school student to earn first chair in the all-county band. My drive to excel led me to become soloist in my high-school marching band and with the Blue Knights Drum and Bugle Corps (Denver, CO), where I won the individual solo championship in 2001.
My father insisted that I attend university to build a better life for myself. As a first-generation applicant, I lacked guidance on how to apply, and was unaware of any scholarships. Thus began a long road of accruing student debt and foregoing opportunities to study with private coaches due to economic struggles.
I enrolled at East Carolina University, although my ideals of studying music education with “real world” performance experience were not being met. I was recruited as soloist with the Emmy and Tony award-winning show Blast, touring for five years. Gaining invaluable “on the job” experience and sustaining employment as a performer while continuing my studies helped craft the kind of artistic career I wished to pursue.
Through my professional experiences as an influential mentor, I participated in several outreach programs that resonated with my diverse past. As a cast member of Blast, I partnered with Gustavo Dudamel’s Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) program, providing a clinic on critical thinking. Supported by the LA Philharmonic, YOLA provides free instruments, individual and group instruction, and academic support to students from underserved neighbourhoods. Hispanic parents were particularly grateful for showing children that, regardless of ethnic or financial background, one can persevere through hard work. I was also commissioned to instruct a weekend clinic in Las Vegas for a free public charter school with limited opportunities or resources for art education.
I also consulted with high school band programs in Las Vegas, where the student population is primarily minority. I witnessed a lack of exposure to fundamental concepts at an early age, hence their progression and inspiration suffered in high school. As a Hispanic who persevered to gain success as a working musician, I reached some students who felt their heritage race was keeping them from reaching their full potential. I remain deeply humbled from witnessing the effect of an artistic environment without boundaries.
My experience and education have crafted my vision of universal access to arts, especially among those with underprivileged backgrounds like myself.
After teaching music at a privileged international school in Singapore, I saw how the dichotomy of those who have and those who have not relates to music education. Thus, my passion for progressing further in my studies grew stronger in order to cultivate arts advocacy.
The 21st century is an ever-changing society that is moving forward in many areas as the arts are being left behind. I am in the process of forming an arts organization with the mission to provide consistent/sustainable employment to diverse artists by advocating through performance, teaching, national/international touring, professional development and by building bridges through community collaboration. The community collaboration will promote attainable access for all people to be immersed into an arts community (either local, national, or internationally).
My diversity lies not only in my ethnicity or my experiences, but also in my unique ideals for arts education. My determination to continue fostering the evolution of arts advocacy through adversity will bring a strong contribution to TheatreArtLife promotion for igniting connections across the globe. I bring the appeal of small-town minority talent with big ideas and determination to succeed in today’s ever-changing society.