On Stage


A tool for change

Emmanuel Ortiz brings poetry and politics together

By Michele DeVinney
Always a devoted reader growing up, Emmanuel Ortiz had never aspired to be a writer and certainly didn’t envision himself performing his own published poems in public. But it was in seeing how he could broaden the literary discussion and empower people toward a greater good that Ortiz saw the potential for bringing arts and community together.

Born and raised locally, Ortiz moved to Minneapolis for college and discovered a new and more diverse world. New populations of people opened doors for the third-generation Latino, and Ortiz began to imagine connections he hadn’t experienced before.

“I had always been a good reader, but I found I wasn’t reading about people like me. I never set out to be a writer until I saw writing as a tool for social consciousness and awakening. I never saw my story — a mixed-race person from a small town in the Midwest, a child of divorce. I had to write to fill that void.”

Adulthood and his exposure to a new environment also awakened new aspirations once he reached the Twin Cities.

“As I got older I got politicized, and I started to recognize that spoken word artists could be a tool of social change.”

Ortiz began focusing not only on his own efforts but those of others, developing a talent for organizing along with writing, using both to galvanize a community and merging art and politics. Guerrilla Wordfare and Voices from the RIM (featuring work by and about Refugees, Immigrants and Migrants) provided exactly the kind of vehicle Ortiz hoped would broaden the conversation to include voices often marginalized in society. One of the special gatherings took place Sept. 15, 2001.

“The date had been planned in advance without knowing what was going to happen on 9/11. When all of that happened, I considered whether we should cancel it or not, but then I thought no. With all the backlash that took place after 9/11, what better time to hear these voices? It turned out to be a powerful event.”

Ortiz left Minnesota after more than a dozen years and spent some time in Oakland, Calif., learning more from the creative community in the San Francisco Bay Area. He also lived for a time near the Mexican border before family considerations brought him back to Fort Wayne five years ago. Now back in his hometown for the time being, he works to create the same kind of community he found in Minneapolis, one which can use the arts to create social change and progress. He also seeks to bring together a community of Latinos who share his vision.

His strongest connection has been to Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Arts & Culture where he organizes events for spoken word artists, and he can also be heard performing at places like Three Rivers Co-op and IPFW. He is currently working with fellow artists Ketu Oladuwa and Curtis Crisler to develop a radio show based on his Acoustic Spoken Word Café, a program which will begin airing on WBOI in July.

“I mostly see myself as an organizer, someone who is building a community through the arts. That’s my focus, my mission.”

Posted: Mon, 07/02/2012 - 11:38 am
Last updated: Thu, 08/30/2012 - 11:37 am