The Oxnard Performing Arts Center Corporation, is pleased to announce the culmination of The Esperanza Project, a year-long programming series addressing Teen Latina Mental Health, with the premiere of the Esperanza Documentary on Thursday, June 3 from 6:30-8:30 pm on Zoom. The series was curated by OPAC’s Artist-in-Residence, Oxnard filmmaker Arcelia Martinez, in an effort to raise awareness about the disproportionately high rates of suicide amongst young Latinas compared to their peers and create space to tackle the stigmas surrounding mental health in the Latinx community. 

Arcelia has been exploring and bringing to the forefront issues affecting the Latino community since her days as a filmmaking student at Oxnard College. “I want us to communicate about the difficult things that keep our beautiful Latino heritage from shining brighter. Too often we’re stuck in survival mode as we try to fight off external factors and never have the bandwidth to deal internally with what is going on. Mental health is a major taboo and it can’t be left unspoken anymore,” she says. 

While Latinos make up 74% of Oxnard’s population, they are still sorely underrepresented among mental health professionals and continue to face a crisis in knowledge of, access to, and the use of mental healthcare. This was something Arcelia experienced firsthand in dealing with her own family’s mental health struggles. Through her residency and despite the pandemic, Arcelia and the Esperanza team – Latina women of all ages from all across Ventura County – educated their community via public discussions, or Salons, addressing the basics of mental health, stress factors, and different healing modalities. Her last Salon on June 3 is the screening of her documentary followed by a discussion on mental health and the power of the arts and art therapy.

The 30-minute documentary is a snapshot of where Ventura County teen Latinas stand in the mental health battle. It features firsthand accounts from several local teens, a mother whose daughters struggle with depression, a young activist fighting for more resources and support for students within the school district, and a mental health professional whose own lived experience led her to a career helping others.

In addition to the Salons and the Documentary, The Esperanza Project provided monthly craft-and-chat sessions for teens known as the “Sin Vergüenza Charlas.” Sin Verguenza means “without shame.” Each month featured a different guided activity and conversation. From cultura-inspired jewelry-making and a game night to a vision board party and indoor gardening, in these Charlas, teens met inspiring guest speakers, all local Latina artists and business owners. The project also included a dedicated Instagram account that hosted weekly Self-Care Sundays, featuring 1-hour IG takeovers with local youth, artists, and Latina entrepreneurs. After seeing the impact of this series, it is OPAC’s hope to continue the project after Arcelia’s residency concludes in June. 

The Esperanza Project was made possible thanks to the generosity of the California Arts Council, Bank of America, Mechanics Bank, Port of Hueneme, Clinicas del Camino Real, Vista del Mar, and Downtown Oxnard Lion’s Club. OPAC would like to acknowledge the project team, including interns from CSU CI and student filmmakers from Oxnard College: Raymond Lerma with Lerma Productions, Tony Ramos, Stephanie Perez, Carlos Baboza, Jocelyn Cruz, Michelle Ramos, Andrea Galan, Citlali Duran, Jocelyn Guerrero, Leslie Gonzalez, Sophia Behar, Erica Castillo, and Tania Salcedo.

Tickets to the Documentary Premiere are free but must be reserved in advance through OPAC’s website. The first 50 attendees will receive a free swag bag, to be picked up in advance at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center.