Claudia Renteria began her acting career when she was 12. In Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, Renteria began attending summer school, which included theater class.
It is that love of art that helped her through the many changes she has made in her life. “Theater has saved my life many times,” she said. “Once I started taking the classes, I loved it.”
The RoundTable sat down with Renteria to talk about the impact of art and performance on people’s lives after her recent Mother’s Day program, which focused on the letters artist Frida Kahlo and her mother wrote to one another.
On Mother’s Day, Renteria and the Evanston Latinos Organization and its co-founder, Norbella Peña, hosted a reading and dramatization of the letters as well as readings of attendees who submitted pieces about their mother-and-daughter relationships, the majority of which were specific to the Hispanic culture.
“Some submissions were women discussing their accent and how worried they were that they could lose their jobs because of their English,” Renteria said about the event. But really, all of the letters were “about finding commonality in immigration”
Renteria has bridged theater and immigration in her life to represent not only her own experience, but that of others in the Evanston community. Today she works as the Family Engagement & Community Specialist at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center in District 65.
While Renteria may not be acting as much as she used to, she is using what she learned from the theater world to enrich the arts in Evanston and the greater Chicago area.
Renteria says Kahlo’s immigration narrative resonates with many other young women, including herself. She too found a new life in the states but also realized she was missing a country that, while it may have been geographically close, felt worlds away.
She began her professional theater work in 1983 at Casa de la Cultura in the Mexican state of Puebla. She was able to play parts in a number of classic works, including La Piedra de la Felicidad by Carlos José Reyes at the Teatro Ocampo under the direction of Dalia Coria.
When she moved to the United States in 1986, Renteria thought she was staying for a vacation but ended up living in Rogers Park for several years.
“When I came to America, my life changed,” Renteria said. “I started working and going to a new school and coming to a new city, a country. It was scary. I started looking for theater right away.”
In 1989, she trained in Chicago with the Aguijón Theater Company. This led her to a number of impressive parts in the Chicago theater world, including playing Maria in a production of Yerma, by Federico García Lorca. She was also part of the Goodman’s Theatre’s Latino Theatre Festival in a production of Lorca’s La Casa Bernarda Alba. Her other credits include performing readings of Rosa de Dos Aromas at the University of Illinois Chicago.
In 2012, Renteria worked with WTTW for an arts feature, participated in a workshop in Cuba and, a year later, volunteered for the Evanston Public Library reading stories to young people at the McGaw YMCA.
Recently, she helped organize Hispanic Heritage Month in Evanston working with the Evanston Latino Organization.
She credits much of her success to Rebeca Mendoza, president of Evanston Latinos Organization, who helped her feel more connected to Evanston and its Latino population. But she also gives credit to her art.
“People and places have really opened their arms and been very supportive, and I am so grateful for that. It doesn’t matter where we are from, we are all connected through art, it brings us together.”