Claudia Renteria began her acting career at the age of 12. In Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, Renteria began attending a summer school, which included acting classes.
It is this love of art that has 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 featured the letters that artist Frida Kahlo and his mother wrote to each other.
On Mother’s Day, Renteria and the organization Evanston Latinos and its co-founder, Norbella Peña, hosted a reading and dramatization of the letters as well as readings from attendees who submitted articles about their mother-daughter relationships, including the majority were specific to Hispanic culture.
“Some of the submissions were of women discussing their accent and their worry about losing their jobs because of their English,” Renteria said of the event. But in reality, all the letters were about “finding commonalities 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 a family and community engagement specialist at the Joseph E. Hill Early Childhood Education Center in District 65.
Although Renteria no longer performs as much as she used to, she uses what she has learned from the theater world to enrich the arts in Evanston and the greater Chicagoland area.
Renteria says Kahlo’s immigration story resonates with many other young women, including herself. She, too, found a new life in the United States, but also realized that she missed a country that, while geographically close, felt worlds away.
She began her professional theatrical work in 1983 at Casa de la Cultura in the Mexican state of Puebla. She was able to play roles 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, she thought she would stay 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 new 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 roles in the Chicago theater world, including playing Maria in the production of yerma, by Federico Garcia Lorca. She was also part of Goodman’s Theatre’s Latino Theater Festival in a production of The House Bernarda Alba also by Lorca. His other credits include readings of Rosa de Dos Aromas at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
In 2012 she worked with WTTW for an artistic feature film, participated in a workshop in Cuba, a year later she volunteered at the Evanston Public Library at the McGaw YMCA reading stories to young people.
Recently, she helped organize Hispanic Heritage Month in Evanston in conjunction with the Evanston Latino Organization.
Although, she says, she owes much of her success to Rebeca Mendoza, president of the 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 so supportive, and I’m so grateful for that. No matter where we’re from, we’re all connected through art, it brings us together.