Taina Asili was already a songwriter, artist, writer, activist and workshop leader when she started in IMA's Transformative Language Arts concentration. Through her studies of the power of singing, storytelling and writing to help people resist post-colonial oppression, particularly in Puerto Rico, where both her parents come from, she found her own way home. From that homecoming, she's gone on to create writing, art and music, not to mention some powerfully-needed workshops for many populations seeking their own homecoming. As she explains, “I learned a lot about how my own family – my grandmother, mother and father – passed that tradition on, and I now incorporate very deeply what I learned into the work I create now.”
She's currently plenty busy raising her son, Yabisi, for whom Goddard is a second home, while touring with her band, Taina Asili y La Banda Rebelde, preparing to release their debut album, “Mama Guerrilla” (celebrating the mother warrior spirit), and playing at colleges, festivals, community centers, nightclubs and political events in Vermont, Boston, New York City and Philadelphia. She recently performed at a large May Day event focused on worker rights, organized by a coalition of anti-war and worker-support organizations in Troy, NY. She explains that her new album brings together a lot of what she created during her MA, and also, when she performs, she now talks about that history and the broader transformations possible through the word.
The immigrant experience of her family (although Puerto Rico is technically a territory of the U.S.) also informs her teaching. Her current workshop, “Refugee Voices,” brings together 15-20 refugees from Burma, Iraq, Nepal and the Sudan for photography and poetry, all of which helps them forge community with each other and find a new way of making home in this country. Taina explains, “The first thing refugees have to deal with is finding food, clothing and shelter, but there's not a lot of opportunity to really process the experience of being in refugee camps and then transitioning to this country.”
The workshop not only helps refugees tell their stories through photographs and poetry to each other, but to the larger Albany, NY community. An exhibit at the end of the workshop breaks down barriers between the refugee community and their new-found hometown. “It's phenomenal because the larger community, now hearing the voices of these refugees, really want to support them.” The workshop series, funded by the Capital Region Arts Center, is organized by a coalition of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Grand Street Community Arts, and the Workforce Development Institute.
In reflecting back on what she learned at Goddard, Taina notes the essential lessons about the ethics of facilitation, “...to really be able to support other people's voices, and to nurture people in their own self-empowerment.” She also learned of multitudes of resources to use, such as the poetry of Martin Espada, suggested to her by an advisor she had, to many workshop exercises she's created for her thesis project, which combined her poetry, music, and a comprehensive curriculum on using writing for social change.
“That personal and social transformation I experienced is something I want to facilitate in others,” she says.
Visit Taina's site for more on her good work. Photos (from top): Taina performing with her band; Taina and family in Puerto Rico; "Refugee Voices" group; Taina Asili