Tomas Martinez performs during Centro De Oro's Keepers of our Culture  on July 6 in Rochester. El Mensajero Photo by John Haeger Tomas Martinez performs during Centro De Oro's Keepers of our Culture on July 6 in Rochester. El Mensajero Photo by John Haeger

Storytelling helps Latino seniors preserve culture, memories

ROCHESTER — Minerva Morales said giving older adults a voice to express their memories and cultural values is worthwhile for the entire community.

"We pass on our values and cultures … (and) let others know who we are and where we came from," she said.

Morales was one of the members of Centro de Oro who shared reflections on their native countries, childhoods and other reminisces during a July 6 presentation at Rochester Broadway Theatre League’s Floreano Conference Center at the Auditorium Theatre. About 50 family, friends and community members attended the event, titled "Cuentos del Alma: Keepers of the Culture.

The presentation was part of the Creative Aging program at Centro de Oro, an Ibero-American Action League drop-in center that offers activities, companionship, and fitness and nutrition workshops for Latino seniors.

Creative Aging programs are developed through a collaboration between the New York City-based organization Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) and Monroe County Office for the Aging, explained Julie Kline, ESTA program director. The partner organizations felt it was vital to reflect the diversity of Rochester’s elder population by offering a Creative Aging program at a center whose members speak Spanish, she added.

The collaboration provided for classes and workshops at Centro de Oro over the last several months as well as meals and a field trip, said Annette Ramos, who served as a teaching artist for the project and liaison with RBTL. She also helped the seniors prepare and rehearse the essays and poems they read during the July 6 presentation.

Raquel Serrano, Centro de Oro’s program coordinator, said the seniors produced 47 submissions in Spanish that were to be published in an anthology. The book will be available for purchase at Centro de Oro for a $2 donation, she said.

"They’ll be published poets and writers," noted Ramos. "Future generations will know their stories."

"We are thrilled about the final performance of Centro de Oro’s ‘Creative Aging’ program," Kline said in an e-mail. "We were thrilled to visit a session of Annette’s program at Centro de Oro in person and witnessed the deep connections she was building among the participants."

Ramos’ background in theater and storytelling as an RBTL staffer and executive director of Rochester Latino Theatre Co., as well as her and Serrano’s enthusiasm and performance experiences, made the pair a perfect fit to lead the Centro de Oro program, Kline added.

Morales said the program’s workshops were helpful, as she was initially reticent to write anything or stand up in front of an audience. She also helped write down the memories or essays of other seniors who struggle with handwriting.

"The most important thing is we treated each other like family," she added of taking part in the program. "We supported one another."

That sense of family is what Lolin Rios, who also read a couple of essays during the July 6 presentation, likes most about Centro de Oro. She has been coming to the center for the past seven years, she said.

Rios said she also felt some trepidation about writing her story and telling it in front of a group, but she became more comfortable as the process moved along, she said. And the writing process brought back a flood of memories, she added.

"I became overwhelmed with emotion … (thinking) about my Puerto Rico," she said. "It’s important that everyone hear our stories."

Elisa DeJesús, vice president of Ibero’s family division, which oversees Centro de Oro, said that she will help plan another community event to provide an even bigger audience for the seniors’ stories.

"I truly believe this is only the beginning," she said. "They have to continue telling their stories."

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