Chris is an 18-year-old high school student with a part-time job at Dairy Queen, but he longs for a more exciting life. So he decides to seek acceptance into the notoriously violent 38th Street Gang.
Proving himself worthy to take on a drug dealing job, the recruiting gang members take him to meet their leader - Chris' mother.
"I thought it would be funny, ironic," said Thania Robles, a junior majoring in English at The University of Texas-Pan American and author of the play "A Mother's Love."
Robles is a student in Dr. Philip Zwerling's ENGL 4340 playwriting class who presented her work, along with several other students Tuesday, March 29 during the fourth annual Ten Minute Play Festival for FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts) Week 2011.
In its sixth year, FESTIBA, with its theme "Reading Along the Rio Grande," promotes literacy and the arts throughout the community. The week has numerous activities including the Border Heroes academic conference celebrating Valley residents who have bridged cultural understanding between two countries and their people, art exhibits, and film screenings, as well as a student speech contest and a presentation on the University's efforts to discover more about the region's history through archaeology.
Zwerling, an assistant professor of English, said he started the play festival to give his students the opportunity to see their work performed and use that as a learning experience for their writing.
"The greatest educational experience of the semester will not be anything I tell them, but rather the moment they see their play on stage ... because there's nothing like that moment you see what you've been writing on paper, the characters that you've created out of your imagination actually take shape and flesh on stage," Zwerling said.
Students were required to write and produce their own plays, find actors, and if they didn't want to direct it themselves, someone to direct their work. In all, 17 plays will be performed throughout the week, Zwerling said.
Robles said she didn't want to write a stereotypical story about a boy who is inducted into a gang, so she decided to create the character of a mother heading a gang for humor and irony. She said she developed the mother character - who interchangeably discouraged her son from getting involved in organized crime while barking orders at her subordinates - based on things her mother has said to her.
Like Robles, Paul Quintana, a senior majoring in history with a minor in English, based his play, "Underwear," on a misunderstanding he had with his girlfriend.
"I had fun with this project and we have other writings that we're doing in class and I'm having a ball doing those. I think they're really fun," Quintana said. "The challenge for me is creating characters that aren't like me and this class is made for that."
Earlier in the day junior Alan Villanueva impressed judges with his speech on obesity during the UTPA Hauser Presentational Speaking Contest. He won a free pizza party for his classmates as well as his name engraved on a plaque that is kept in the Department of Communication.
"I was so excited when I heard I had won. I didn't really expect to win," Villanueva said. "But overall, it was a cool experience to do something I had never done before. This is going to help me a lot in the future."
He said his family was the inspiration for his speech. Several of his family members suffer from obesity, so his ultimate goal was to relate the severity of the health condition to the Rio Grande Valley region and to the students of UTPA.
Villanueva was among the four students who were chosen by their peers in their COMM 1303 Presentational Speaking course to participate in the competition. Speeches were also given by UTPA students Karen Antonacci, with a speech on sixth sense technology; Jacob Cammarata, who spoke about Ischemic strokes; and Andrew Rodriguez who talked about magic tricks.
Serving as judges were: Dr. Jessica Parker-Raley, basic course director for the Department of Communication and coordinator for all sections of presentational speaking; Dr. Dora Saavedra, a long-time professor and advisor for communication studies; and Marisa Saavedra-Flores, director of the Hauser Communication Research Laboratory and assistant director of the basic communication course.
Dr. Timothy Mottet, professor and the Henry W. & Margaret Hauser Endowed Chair in Communication, said the goal of the competition is to help students find their voice and use it to affect positive change in their personal and professional lives.
Elizabeth Parker Garcia, a UTPA alumna and now a lecturer for the Department of Communication, coordinates the event sponsored by UTPA, HEB, State Farm Insurance and Pearson Education.
"As Dr. Mottet has mentioned, it is our goal to help students find their voice," Garcia said. "So today we wanted to highlight the good work our presentational students are doing and give them the opportunity to speak in front of a larger audience outside the classroom."
Cammarata garnered second place in the contest, Antonacci received third place; and Rodriguez came in fourth place. All winners received a gift bag.
Nearly 100 students, faculty and staff attended a presentation Dr. Russell Skowronek, archaeologist and professor, led with faculty members and graduate students on CHAPS (Community Historical Archaeology Project with Schools) about how much of the Lower Rio Grande Valley's history remains unexplored.
CHAPS is a community-focused research program that one day will bring to light the yet undiscovered archaeology and history of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
"This area is a Tabla Rasa - we don't have much information," Skowronek said.
CHAPS hopes to produce citizens literate about their region's cultural and natural legacy. Through a partnership developed between University faculty in many disciplines and K-12 schools, first initiated in May 2010, curriculum and lesson plans are being developed focusing on local history, archaeology and earth sciences with a goal of increasing students' mastery of math, science, language/communication and social studies skills. The project emphasizes the gathering of students and their families own histories.
"The goal is to inspire students to want to learn, to want to explore, and to keep them interested in subjects like geomorphology, archaeology, anthropology, history, and GIS mapping," said Roseann Bacha-Garza, a graduate research associate who works with CHAPS.
Dr. Margaret Dorsey, assistant professor of anthropology and curator of the Border Studies Archive, described the five collections in the archives and the recording technology used in preservation. One collection, an oral history of the Spanish land grants, is being conducted by faculty and students. The land titles are traced through the County Clerk's offices and an attempt is made to talk to the various owners ancestors.
Another presenter, Bobbie Lovett, a lecturer in anthropology, has put together with the Anthropology Club a chart of projectile points (arrow heads) found in the Rio Grande Valley and northern Mexico and their ages. The chart has been incorporated into the CHAPS programs in schools and at presentations in the community.
"It is a way to get students interested and aware of this sort of information," she said. "We want to give them the tools to learn and identify these points themselves ... and how to record the data."
John Milford, lecturer in public administration, described the CHAPS community outreach efforts and the partnerships that have been developed. Dr. Kenneth Summy, associate professor of biology, talked about the Frontera Mapping Project, where Valley flora and fauna are being identified and mapped by students using the latest in GIS and remote sensing technology. Skowronek also described the work of Dr. Juan Gonzalez, assistant professor of geology, in gathering information on the geomorphology of the Rio Grande Valley since the Ice Age.
During the session, presenters also introduced information on a new interdisciplinary course to be offered in fall 2011 called "Rediscovering the Rio Grande Valley - a Natural and Cultural History of South Texas."
The course will involve researching a site incorporating CHAPS' multiple interdisciplinary approach and cooperation from the community. It will be cross-listed in several different colleges and be available to undergraduate and graduate students.
"We want to identify a property, hopefully near the University, ... and we want to understand that property's story and the people's story that is encompassed within it," Skowronek said.
Senior Lupe Flores, an anthropology major, said he was pleased to hear about the new course.
"This area really hasn't been studied and has largely been ignored. It is really a good idea to document our history and the life once here and the development progressing in this area," said Flores, who signed up to show his interest in the course.
FESTIBA continues Wednesday with the Border Heroes Academic Conference, Cosecha Voices writing workshop for migrant students, film screenings among other events.
For more information, visit FESTIBA's website.