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September 22, 2023

Q&A: Cristal González Avila speaks about her artistic inspirations

Youth in grades 3 through 8 are invited to a five-day workshop entitled “The Mask We Wear & the Stories We Tell.” Facilitated by Cristal González Avila, it runs June 27 through July 1 at the Watsonville Center for the Arts. This hands-on workshop invites participants to create a paper mache mask and discover the story behind it. It is free to Pajaro Valley Unified School District students. 

We spoke with Cristal, an El Teatro Campesino company member, and first-generation Chicana actress, playwright, poet and director from Watsonville, about this workshop, her craft and the experiences that inspire her work. 

What can you tell us about ‘The Mask We Wear & the Stories We Tell’?

In this week-long intensive, youth will get to create a mask from imagination: mold the structure, add layers of paper mache/story, and life to it with paint. We’ll work together to tell the story behind their masks. I’ll share my love of folk tales, ancient mythology stories, and theater to spark their imaginations. Seeing what characters and stories come through students’ masks is exciting, at times deep in layers of sadness, a range of emotions and expressions are molded and brought to life. At the end of the week, they’ll share their work with their parents. Through the process of making their masks, kids will see different possibilities, look at their stories, celebrate them, and let them breathe. It’s an honor to witness the power in their voice.

When did you find your creative voice?

I started to find my voice when I was 7. My parents had just split up, so my older sister used dance to help keep me entertained. She created a Christmas talent show. I didn’t know it then, but it was a container to feel free. In this place I created, the real was bearable. I performed the entire Selena tape for my family that Christmas. That’s where I finally found a place, a creative outlet, for my pain and transformed it into joy. After that, I was hooked. As a young girl, I thought, “What else can I do to bring myself joy?” My imagination felt like the only thing I had control over. I was a curious kid, and expressing myself through art felt liberating. Performing was a portal to my feelings. It wasn’t until high school that I got my first formal training.

What inspires you?

Our children. Listening to their stories and hearing about their experiences is such a joy. As a teacher, I use the artistic process to tap into their imaginations and ignite the learning process. It fills my heart with purpose. I write and perform so that kids see themselves on stage. There isn’t much literature that elevates the Chicano experience. Growing up my family’s story wasn’t validated, so I push for those narratives to be at the center of my artistry.

Your performances are deeply personal. How does your life influence your art?

Performing is my grounding place. It’s where I find most of the answers I’m looking for in my personal and artistic journey. My first storyteller teachers were campesinos. I was in the campo with my parents during the summer and harvest seasons, I remember the stories people told there. They are in my DNA. Campesinos are the people who showed me that stories have the ability to transport us all from places and spaces, stories keep us connected no matter the distance. I write for them, I carry those stories in my heart and aim to honor their lives in my work. 


Visit bit.ly/summer-teatro to register for “The Mask We Wear & the Stories We Tell.” To learn more about Cristal, visit cristalgonzalezavila.com.

About Cristal González Avila

Cristal González Avila was born and raised in Watsonville, nourished by the apple orchards, strawberry fields y el canto de campesinos. She is a Chicana actor, director, playwright and teaching artist serving South, Central and Northern California for the past 15 years. She holds a B.A. in Theater Arts from San Jose State University and is a Reed Award recipient for Excellence in Acting and Oral Interpretation. Her work has taken her as far east as the nation’s capital and as far south as Mexico’s capital, performing for dignitaries and migrants alike.


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