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4th annual Boca de Oro gears up to showcase SoCal’s literary and cultural diversity in Santa Ana

Zara Raheem
Zara Raheem, author of “The Marriage Clock,” will deliver the keynote address at this year’s Boca de Oro Festival at noon on March 7.
(Courtesy of Boca de Oro)

The Boca de Oro Festival of Literary Arts & Culture returns for its fourth year on March 7, offering its attendees a day of free readings, workshops, panels, poetry slams, visual art and more in Santa Ana.

The festival will host 100 mostly Southern California-based authors and poets, including Anaheim’s Poet Laureate Grant Hier and Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate Demeter Appel-Riehle, as well as 3,000 visual and performing artists.

A diverse, transnational group of both emerging and established authors will speak at the event, including keynote speaker Zara Raheem, who is an Indian Muslim American from the Midwest; Marytza Rubio, founder of the Makara Center for the Arts, who grew up in Santa Ana; poet Susannah Rodríguez Drissi, born in Cuba; multilingual author Trangđài Glassey-Trầnguyễn, born in Vietnam; mixed media artist and activist Stacy Russo, who grew up in Fullerton; Foz Meadows, an Australian writer who writes “genderqueer fantasy;” and Dania Ayah Alkhouli who is Syrian American.

“We have tons of writers in Orange County, and so many writers of color in Santa Ana itself,” says Madeleine Spencer, the festival’s coordinator who co-founded Boca de Oro in 2017 with Robyn MacNair, performing arts coordinator for the Santa Ana Unified School District’s 60 schools. “So it made no sense that [at the time] the region didn’t have a single literary festival that was free to the public.”

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To them, Santa Ana, a “minority-majority city,” seemed perfect to host the literary festival.

“Latinos followed by Vietnamese and Cambodians [are] among our largest demographic,” says Spencer.

Beyond the city, Orange County has large Middle Eastern and Asian American communities.

One of the ways the festival’s curators have been intentional about spotlighting the region’s sociocultural diversity is the choice to have a writer of color delivering their keynote addresses every year.

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Boca de Oro Festival 2020 poster
The 2020 Boca De Oro festival poster, designed by Santa Ana artist Barbie Godoy, illustrates this year’s theme, “The Spirit of Transformation,” with the nine Greek muses.
(Courtesy of Boca de Oro)

This year’s theme is “Spirit of Transformation,” and the poster illustrated by Santa Ana artist Barbie Godoy shows the nine Greek muses.

Boca De Oro will provide a complimentary trolley to a series of its Santa Ana locations including the Orange County Center for Contemporary Arts, Grand Central Arts Center, Frida Cinema, California Fine Arts Gallery, Calle Cuatro Plaza and Artist Village Promenade.

One highlight of the festival will be readings by the winners of SAUSD’s second annual LITCON, a literary arts competition curated by Jason Crabbe and Marcus Omari within the district’s intermediate and high schools.

The audience at The Wayward Theater in Grand Central Arts Center will be able to witness these young stand-out artists, as well as those competing nationally in Poetry Out Loud, a national arts education organization encouraging the study of poetry.

“The response to this completely voluntary, extracurricular experience from students and teachers has been overwhelming,” says Omari, who is also a local poet and founder of the Poetic Reform Party, formed in O.C. in 2009. “Boca de Oro is where students are validated as vital contributors to our arts community by existing artists of all backgrounds.”

Santa Ana High School Chamber Singers
The Santa Ana High School Chamber Singers, under the direction of Kathy Cobb-Woll and accompanist Laurie Cobb, will perform alongside the Swingin’ Saints Vocal Jazz Choir and the Swingin’ Eighths! from 12:15 to 5:15 p.m. in Plaza Calle Cuarto at this year’s Boca de Oro Festival.
(Courtesy of Boca de Oro)

Spencer says that it is this “huge civic component” — bringing together O.C.’s young, emerging artists — that makes Boca de Oro unique as a literary festival: “Many of our students come from poorer communities and don’t get to travel, so the festival has become a way to bring the world to them.”

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Other highlights of the festival will include an unveiling of the mural “I am here…here to stay” by Santa Ana artist Marina Aguilera, films at Frida Cinema, a scholastic book fair at Birch Park, a celebration of Women’s History Month by Alexis Garcez of Santanera Living through a “specially curated market with all womxn makers, crafters, creators and collectors,” and a closing performance of staged stories by the Latina theater ensemble Breath of Fire.

Boca de Oro, or “Mouth of Gold,” was named in Spanish to not only “center the margins” in a Southern Californian literary scene but to also highlight the power of the word, including oral storytelling that has a strong legacy across communities of color.

“We wanted to highlight that literacy is something that goes beyond the written page,” Spencer says.

For a complete listing of events, authors and a map, visit BocadeOro.org or their Facebook and Instagram @BocadeOro. An app will soon be released on iTunes and Google Play, so visitors can discover, plan and track events in real time.

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