Consider spending the weekend with family soaking up literary and performing arts at these two festivals in Santa Ana: the Boca de Oro Festival on Saturday and LibroMobile’s Literary Arts Festival on Sunday.
This will be the second year that both events will be able to have in-person celebrations, as both festivals opted for virtual sessions in 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both festivals are open to the public and free to attend.
Boca de Oro Festival of Literary, Visual, Performing Arts and Culture
Boca de Oro, translated from Spanish as “Mouth of Gold,” had its first festival in 2017, when it was originally founded by Robyn MacNair, the visual and performing arts coordinator for Santa Ana Unified School District, and Madeleine Spencer, who sat on several boards including Downtown, Inc.
Boca de Oro Festival of Literary, Visual, Performing Arts and Culture
When: 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. March 4
Where: Various locations in downtown Santa Ana
Contact: bocadeoro.org, Instagram
While the festival went virtual in 2021, the Boca de Oro team also constructed the Boca de Oro Free Lending Libraries Campaign in an effort to continue spreading literature throughout the 64 neighborhoods in Santa Ana during the pandemic.
The lending libraries are small cabinets that contain 15 to 25 books; each book is free to take, switch or return. These mini-libraries were permanently placed on the property of each curator who signed up for the library in his/her neighborhood.
But since the dissolution of Downtown Inc., MacNair, along with other creatives and a team from SAUSD, pushed to continue to make the annual tradition come to fruition. This year’s theme is “Magic in the Ordinary,” encouraging attendees to find the magic that resides in everyday life by slowing down and taking in the creativity and beauty that surrounds the community, according to the website.
Featured as a special guest during last year’s festival, Santa Ana native and teacher Ernesto Cisneros returns to Boca de Oro to close the festival as this year’s keynote speaker.
Cisneros is the award-winning author of “Efrén Divided,” which focuses on a 12-year-old boy named Efrén Nava who is trying to keep his family together after being faced with the deportation of his mother to Tijuana, México.
Cisnero’s sophomore novel “Falling Short” was released last year and has since become a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection.
Aside from the keynote speech, the day will be packed with performances by students from the SAUSD. The students come from schools like Santa Ana High School, Sierra Preparatory Academy and Martin R. Heninger Elementary School to name a few; these students will showcase their literary, visual or performing talents for the festival’s audience.
Boca de Oro will take over downtown with venues spread out across three areas: Artists Village, East End and West End. The Second Street Promenade will be in the Artists Village, Plaza Calle Cuatro and Frida Cinema in the East End, and Birch Park and its Senior Center in West End.
Among this year’s student performers are childhood friends and seniors Jacqueline Ramirez and Kimberly R. Hernandez from Godinez Fundamental High School. The two have been showcasing their talents at Boca de Oro for the past few years.
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Hernandez will be performing as a part of the Godinez High Jazz Band and Chamber Orchestra at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Second Street Promenade, where she’ll be playing the viola — an instrument Hernandez has been playing since seventh grade.
While she’s been doing orchestra and Boca de Oro since she was a freshman, Hernandez, also an avid poetry writer, is particularly looking forward to this weekend because this will be the first time she will be reading her poetry as a part of the festival.
“Since I’ll also be reading my poetry at Boca de Oro, and it’s my last year, I find it really, really amazing and kind of cool that in my last year I get to do something other than orchestra. And I feel like if I read my poem, someone might like it, and they might be interested in my other poetry,” Hernandez said.
While Hernandez has participated in Boca de Oro for several years, last year’s festival was Ramirez’s first time performing after she won first place for her prose piece at SAUSD’s LitCon 2022. Every year the winners from LitCon are eligible to perform their winning pieces for an audience at the given year’s upcoming Boca de Oro festival. But this time around, Ramirez will be reciting her poetry.
Though Ramirez loves writing now, when she was younger, she couldn’t stand it.
Ramirez struggled with a speech impediment, which affected her spelling and grammar and made writing very difficult, she said. But she took that feeling and empowered herself by constantly practicing her writing and eventually finding a new love for it.
“Don’t worry about any mistakes that you’re gonna make,” Ramirez said. “Don’t worry about if it’s gonna sound bad; the whole point of it is that it is going to be bad, but that’s how you learn from it. I think if anybody is willing and wants to perform, go for it and have fun with it. Don’t stress yourself out too much.”
Fifth Anniversary LibroMobile Literary Arts Festival
The first LibroMobile Literary Arts Festival happened in 2018 after the LibroMobile bookstore secured its first storefront location and celebrated being able to have a space. But the LibroMobile bookstore started long before that as part of a hybrid nonprofit organization founded by local author Sarah Rafael García in 2016 called LibroMobile Arts Cooperative (LMAC).
Fifth Anniversary LibroMobile Literary Arts Festival
When: Noon-8 p.m. March 5
Where: Heritage Museum of Orange County, 3101 W. Harvard St., Santa Ana
Contact: libromobile.com, Instagram
LMAC’s mission is to combat the impacts of gentrification by empowering artists of color and culturally enriching the residents of Orange County by reinvesting into the community through free and accessible literary arts and arts education programming, prioritizing the sale of local, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists, as well as offering free visual exhibits at the Crear Studio gallery on 5th Street in Santa Ana.
For two years, the LibroMobile Arts Cooperative operated a mobile bookstore that sold books curbside. The LibroMobile bookstore found itself hopping from place to place at temporary locations in Santa Ana until finally securing one of its locations at a 190-square-foot warehouse in downtown Santa Ana.
But downtown commercial festivals, which typically happened over the weekend, were popping up in the parking lot in front of their store, which boxed the bookstore in, not to mention these festivals were also bringing in people who weren’t interested in buying books.
This means that LiboMobile’s usual Saturdays that brought in $500 book sales turned into $75 book sales, eventually pushing LibroMobile out of its spot. Even after García and other local business owners spoke out against the Santa Ana Business Council in December 2021 — nobody listened, and they were forced to find a new location, García said.
“Since (Santa Ana’s) only bookstore closed in 2015, the whole reason we exist is to be able to prolong that legacy that Librería Martínez started and diversify it even more,” García said. “We cannot not have a bookstore; we’re the only bookstore in Santa Ana.”
LibroMobile is the only bookstore in Santa Ana that prioritizes and spotlights the work of local youth and artists of color all year around, reflecting the Santa Ana community and its local talent.
Though the LibroMobile still travels, its newest bookstore location can be found at the Bristol Swap Mall Plaza.
This year, LMAC invites the community to dive in and celebrate another 365 days of the LibroMobile bookstore. The festival will return to the Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana for a second year.
Attendees can expect local and visiting artists/vendors of color, drag queen story time, live readings, musical and collaborative performances, and the Modesta Avila award reception, which was created by LMAC to honor long-standing local community leaders and recognize them for their efforts.
“It’s all about showing our community that we have role models that are from our community that look and sound like us, and there’s so much rich culture here, within our front yard and backyard, that there shouldn’t be a need to bring artists from other regions,” García said.
This year’s Modesta Avila recipient is Fullerton Museum executive director Elvia Susana Rubalcava, who has a background in community and youth development and has played a significant role in the community’s cultural arts scene for writing, film and theater.
“I’m hoping that I just continue to plant seeds and help people wherever they’re at to continue the work that needs to be done. Because we can’t be living in this capitalist system of just me, me, me all the time. We’re community and we need to continue to fight for that,” Rubalcava said about receiving the award.
While García admits that there are some exceptions to bringing in outside creatives, she reiterates that it has to be equitable because the concept of equity has always been one of the main focuses at LMAC. When deciding who to include for the festival, local artists and vendors from Santa Ana and Orange County are a priority, García said, because reinvesting in the community is part of LMAC’s mission.
“We want to know that the people that represent us that day are people that we would want to represent us all year round,” García said. “That’s the difference between us and any festival that comes into our city. What we do (on) the one day is because that’s our day to celebrate what we do the rest of the days of the year.”
Every year the festival starts its SanTana Poets y Más poetry section with a youth poet because “we want the youth to take the mic first,” García said, which is why Ramirez and Hernandez will also be sharing the stage with another childhood friend of theirs, Dulce Aragon, to read the poems that they’ve been working on in class for the past month.
Aragon, Ramirez and Hernandez are all enrolled in Lori Polydoros’ creative writing class at Godinez Fundamental High School; Polydoros will also perform at the festival as a prose writer, where she will be reading from her latest book, “Quake Chasers: 15 Women Rocking Earthquake Science.”
Aragon is reciting her first poem at the festival on Sunday, which will also be Aragon’s first time performing her literary work in general. Her poem focuses on growing and becoming a better person while playing on themes of nature. Though she initially struggled to come up with her poem, she talked to Hernandez who gave Aragon the most simple and efficient advice: Go with the flow, let your mind go and let it build ideas up.
With that, Aragon was able to put pen to paper. Now, Aragon feels that she could write a poem about anything.
“You could write about anything. It’s just letting your mind flow, and then it’s almost like letting itself write, like let a story write itself,” she said.
The rest of the festival will continue with a collaborative performance from Librarians with Spines, readings from OC Prose Writers, Rubalcava’s keynote speech and a musical performance and lesson from Taller Bula.
Kristina Garcia is a contributing writer for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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