A Journey Through éXodo


by Sofía Benitez, Ariana Sacristán, Daniel Dones, Jacqueline Muñoz Geoghegan


As part of the Creative Arts Across Disciplines grant that Vassar offers for summer proposals, the four of us—Sofía Benitez ’18, Ariana Sacristán ’18, Daniel Dones ’16, and Jacqueline Muñoz Geoghegan ’16—spent six months researching and devising éXodo as an academic, personal, and creative endeavor. This is a multimedia gallery presenting fragments of the vignettes we created for this performance. We hope you enjoy the journey.

The word éXodo means exodus in Spanish. This name came about when we conceived the project. We knew we wanted to talk about borders: between life and death, between the United States and Mexico, between cultures. When thinking about the movement between these borders, the name éXodo popped into our minds.  It took on many meanings and its elements drove our research in numerous ways. The é, with an accent, in Spanish, and a capital X representing the crossing of paths, the erasure of stories, the visibility/invisibility of brown bodies and voices, and the fluidity of journeys from and through death.

éXodo is a performance that examines the concept of death through multiple lenses—of languages, artistic mediums, cultural backgrounds and contemporary approaches. As éXodo, we share Latinx identities—Mexican, Chicana, and Puerto Rican—and thus we perceive and experience death (and life) with diverse ideologies and practices. The initial inspiration for the project came from the Mexican tradition of Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).  This tradition occurs the 1st and 2nd of November as a celebration of the dead. Families have picnics at their loved ones’ grave and make personalized altars for them. It is believed that the souls of the dead come back and feast on the food left at these altars. Day of the Dead does not treat death as a menacing concept, but rather as a natural and beautiful process. Death is not seen as final, as the souls of the dead can come back to the land of the living. We wanted to capture this Mexican understanding of death and contrast it with the dominant American one.

However, éXodo quickly took a turn for the personal and became centered on our own experiences: a collage of the many traditions that we grew up with and the ways in which those traditions (and we) continue to transform. With these sources of inspiration, we began to explore our cultures and identities, bringing us to write, move, and dance in reflections on our own existences. We built vignettes of dialogue, movement, audio recordings, and music that aimed to deconstruct the meaning of death while constructing our individual stories.

Each vignette—there are 15 in total—can be perceived as a standalone element or in conversation with the other pieces. We created scenes with heavier, more solemn moments, in which the relationships between people were sometimes ambiguous, sometimes concrete and realistic. We implemented dance to represent the rebirth that can follow loss, we communicated with those parts of ourselves that have died, and we connected with shared memories of loved ones lost or far away. We contrasted tones by creating scenes that transformed from silly to tragic to absurd. In éXodo there is laughter and tears, silence and noise. This juxtaposition of movement, acting, dance, and sound creates multifaceted realities that expand our perspectives regarding what it means to live, lose, die, and heal.

We wanted to transform these stories into something tangible, so we tried to determine how to best translate our work into the physical set of the performance. There were no walls, only used clothing strung up on clotheslines, filled with people’s stories; many colors, textures, and the scent of sage faintly graced the space. Around the performance space encircled by the clothesline, there was a path of bean­filled sacks. We wanted the audience to have to journey into the space, so we made them take off their shoes and walk on this path to get to their seats.  The experience began before the performance started, as the audience immersed itself in the world we had created.

On this éXodo path, we found a voice to speak about the intimacy of creative processes, the balance between questioning and making decisions, and the countless possibilities that every space and group of people can offer. We began to write in Spanish again, and we discovered in each other people who also wanted to blast Latinx pop music and with whom we could share the details of our latest meals or latest losses. We created incredibly profound friendships that connected us in ways we hadn’t experienced before at Vassar. For us, the process was much more important than the final product.

In our prose, poetry, songs, melodies, screams, running, silences, affection, and bodies, we shared our memories, thoughts and feelings about the many lives and deaths that we have lived as Latinxs, as students, as children, as friends, as lovers, as people, as Ariana, Sofía, Daniel, and Jacqueline.

how many died
to keep a secret
we would one day

pillows of grass
tendrils who love to envelop
the carnal flesh
of purity
and i can’t help but ask
why does humanity lack
so much humanity

the shots must have sounded
when will we speak the truth?
and what truth is there
when all the land we have
was taken
and we’ve not even returned
the air

but still ask
can you breathe?
can you breathe?
but fuck your breath
just throw a bone
and the dust will settle
on a boneyard

Dr. Dr. what is the matter?
why are you throwing
our black family
from the shores of the Republic?
don’t you know that the sea is still toxic
from the chemicals that leak
from the broken wombs
of Puerto Rico
and our women’s forced wounds?

will your free speech
let you speak the lessons
that you never learned
from the textbooks
that were burned?
the contras
the World Bank
the living lost and mourned?

they do not call it the dirty war
no la llaman la guerra sucia
they call it memory, memoria
and they do not forget
they build, reclaim
espacios de la memoria
spaces for the memory
the remembrance of a lost generation
of scholars, rebels, radicals
our queer ancestors
los desaparecidxs
whose drugged and sleeping bodies
flown over the rio plata
gave their lifeforce to the river
but did not give consent

Fidel, Fidel
will you acknowledge
the excavated lingering
where my queer ancestors
were thrown to rot?

if you could “re­educate” them
why could we not reeducate the
sown across the classroom fields
of the schoolhouse
escuela de las americas
but WHINSEC sounds so whimsical

imagine yourself
at the base of a blade
of peridot grass
translucent tentacles of chlorophyll
that we always reduce to a texture
imagine yourself

in a bed of carnelian dust
sardonyx baked into the earth
like forgotten clay
dig dig dig
imagine yourself
you are already buried
we will not forget you.

home is no body and no place
it’s sometimes the moonlight
or making the train on time
it’s soft blankets on rooftops
and nights that do not end

bitter coffee from a place
you’ll only visit once

home, casa, is a border
that expands and contracts in non linear,
non sequential waves

sometimes hurt is home
sometimes displace is home
sometimes someone you don’t want to be with
is home
on a hammock and the subway
the front seat of a cab

on opposite sides of a museum wall

home is wanting to remember
and being able to forget

unfulfilled goodbyes
and other furniture
inhabiting a place I wish I’d see again

my veins,
translucent snakes of clay
like the currents of the river given free rein
shift and pump a substance
that carries stories I wish I could always see

of families, of fights, of tears and compromise

how many have you forgotten,
how many have forgotten you?

it is no longer my birthday
and my parents are still in another country
in a house that is no more, not yet a home

a distance I’ve come to terms with
like ants caught in drops of amber
and a trance seeing
lives revolveat haphazard speeds
hanging sorrows like herbs
on a fridge, unknown, untitled

picking lemons for your mother now for yourself

a decapitated deer dancing in the water
and twenty heartless beats

and my body,
like a lover that loves themselves best,
slips away before dawn,
perhaps, but likely not,
with regret

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