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Yanga unchained: A drama about 'the first liberator of the Americas' comes to Dallas

 Mexican statue of Gaspar Yanga
Anwar Vazquez
This statue of Gaspar Yanga stands in the town that bears his name: Yanga, Veracruz

Cara Mia Theatre received a grant of $25,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts -- to commission the world premiere of an English translation of a play by the prolific Mexican screenwriter, actor, dramatist and producerJaime Chabaud. The drama is about an epic, historic figure you may have never heard of.

His name was Gaspar Yanga, and he's been called 'the first liberator of the Americas.' If you have heard of him, that may well be because the African-American Museum presented an exhibition last year called "Yanga: Path to Freedom in The Americas."

Yanga was an African prince who was enslaved and brought to Mexico in the 16th century. He eventually led an armed rebellion against the Spanish colonialists. Along with some 500 fellow escaped Africans, he settled in the mountains in Veracruz and fought the Spanish to a standstill for 30 years. Today, the town they founded bears his name.

So Yanga's story combines both Mexico's struggle for freedom from Spanish rule and the fight against slavery. Which is why Cara Mia and Soul Rep Theatre are collaborating on the premiere of the English translation of "Yanga."

Anyika McMillan-Herod, co-founder of Soul Rep Theatre
Malcolm Herod
Anyika McMillan-Herod
Anyika McMillan-Herod, co-founder of Soul Rep Theatre

Many people aren't even aware that Spanish Mexico used enslaved Africans — extensively, said Anyika McMillan-Herod, co-founder of Soul Rep.

"When most people think of the Atlantic slave trade, it's really relegated to the United States, the Caribbean," she said. "People forget that when it started, it was the Portuguese and the Spaniards [bringing enslaved Africans to the New World]. So I think this is just a wonderful way for us to explore together this history that hasn't been shared much — but now may never be shared in some states because people don't want to face these facts."

The NEA grant underwrote the translation by Tomás Ayala-Torres and a trip to Dallas for both the translator and the playwright, Jaime Chabaud. The two stage companies are presenting the reading as part of their ongoing collaborative series, Cafe Negro.

Obviously, said McMillan-Herod, "Yanga," the play, is "very relevant and urgent for us to collaborate on as black and brown sisters and brothers."

She said the hope is that Soul Rep and Cara Mia may eventually be able to tour the play.

Details: The free staged reading of "Yanga" will be Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Sammons Center, 3630 Harry Hines Blvd. Reserve a seat here.

Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.

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Arts Access is an arts journalism collaboration powered by The Dallas Morning News and KERA.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by the Better Together Fund, Carol & Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James & Gayle Halperin Foundation, Jennifer & Peter Altabef and The Meadows Foundation. The News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access’ journalism.

Jerome Weeks is the Art&Seek producer-reporter for KERA. A professional critic for more than two decades, he was the book columnist for The Dallas Morning News for ten years and the paper’s theater critic for ten years before that. His writing has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, American Theatre and Men’s Vogue magazines.