Harlingen Speech and Drama Kids go to national competition

Only have a minute? Listen instead
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

HARLINGEN — Meet Rick.

He’s a white man and an ex-Border Patrol agent filled with rage about immigration and immigrants and anyone else who he thinks takes jobs from Americans.

Such a character would challenge any actor, but 16-year-old Carolina Kortan has taken on that role so well that she and her duo interpretation partner Azeneth Corral have repeatedly impressed judges.

In fact, they have accomplished their roles so well — Azeneth plays the Mexican journalist Gloria — they will soon take their performance all the way to the 2024 National Speech and Debate Tournament. At the tournament June 16-21 in Des Moine, Iowa they will compete against students from throughout the United States.

Carolina Kortan

More than 30 middle and high school students from the Harlingen district will compete in the contest, demonstrating their skills in dramatic interpretation, humorous interpretation, and even something called program oral interpretation.

Instructors championed the students’ success and celebrated loudly their excitement and their pride.

“We are so excited for all of our students that have qualified for nationals,” said Aracely Navarro, fine arts specialist for the Harlingen district.

“These past few weeks they have been working so hard so I can’t wait to see how they do,” she said.

The students at Harlingen High School South have impressed and inspired again Eddy Cavazos and John Reynolds, both directors of theater and speech.

“Both Reynolds and I are extremely proud of the students South is sending to nationals in Iowa to continue the legacy of excellence our program holds,” Cavazos said. “They continue to amaze and inspire us.”

Those two students from South — Karla Rivera and George Matthew Gutierrez — each demonstrate in their pieces the contrast of human nature from the dark and tragic to the beautiful and the hilarious. Each of their pieces, though, extend the power of discovery, healing and success.

Karla’s piece, “Fenix,” tells the horrifying story of a man attacking his ex-girlfriend with sulfuric acid, and it rises to the level, or perhaps descends into the quicksand, of a hate crime. While the piece is set in Colombia, the presence of such an attack and the dark energy from that presence is universal.

“In Colombia there is a lot of sexism,” said Karla, 17, a senior at Harlingen South.

“People will attack women just because of their hate toward them,” she said. “Mine focuses more on the Latino community and how people in my community are hated on just for …”

She paused for a moment and then explained the expectations that many Latinas face from others who insist they fit into specific roles.

“You’ve got to be skinny, you’ve got to be pretty, you’ve got to have long hair,” she said. “I think this piece really just helped me realize that it really doesn’t matter how you look on the outside. It’s really just how you choose to use that pain and hurt that you have to form it into something good.”

This message of authenticity extends to the audience from a much different direction in George Matthew’s delivery of “Flamin’ Hot.”

In his performance, George Matthew tells the story of a man who went to work as a janitor for Frito-Lay. While working in this capacity, he developed the now very popular “Hot Cheeto.”

“I’m doing humorous interpretation, so rather than trying to make people cry, I’m trying to make them laugh,” said George Matthew, 16, a sophomore at South.

“I would like to say it’s a rags to riches story,” he said about his character Richard Montanez.

“He basically shows throughout the story that despite your skin color, despite your stereotypes, despite what people think of you, even if you are Mexican you can go off to pursue greater things,” he said. “He shows that these stereotypes don’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters is your passion.”

Gutierrez Middle School of Arts and Sciences continues to produce performers of high quality and unusual depth. Lauren Elliott at age 12 has taken on the role of a woman with deep sorrows and emotions at once scarred and still bleeding.

“My dramatic interpretation is called ‘Sorry,’” she said. “It’s about a woman in a mental hospital and she feels stuck in there and she is miserable and she doesn’t want to be there. She ended up in there because people would call her crazy.”

Crazy can mean many things.

Lauren, a seventh greater at Gutierrez, explained it well.

“The reason why she went quote-unquote crazy is because she is sick and tired of being sorry and she’s sick of apologizing for every little thing,” Lauren said. “It’s about women always having to say ‘I’m sorry,’ always being tricked into thinking that everything is in her own head and she is sick of it.”

Marion Galvan

Marion Galvan has spent the past three years developing her acting chops at Gutierrez, and she’ll start classes this fall at the Dr. Abraham P. Cano Freshman Academy.

Marion, however, will still present her work “La Historia” as a middle school student at the contest.

She plays multiple roles in this piece about Andrea who disappears in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. The family goes through the agony of this as have so many families of women in the very real and tragic world of Juarez. Like many of those women, the fictional Andrea is eventually found to have been murdered.

“It’s about the element in every member of the family,” said Marion, 13. “It’s really difficult because it’s all tied up in a ton of characters. I really had to play all those characters, like the grandmother and the mother.”

Azeneth’s and Carolina’s piece is called “Building the Wall,” and it’s powered by the intensity of the current state of things and even has an element of dark satire.

“It’s about immigration laws and the injustice towards certain immigrants who are trying to cross the border and certain immigration and border laws that kind of surround it,” said Azeneth, a junior at Harlingen High School who plays the part of a Mexican journalist named Gloria.

She engages in a series of interviews with Carolina’s Rick about his anger toward immigrants and toward life in general. Rick, you see, has been convicted of murdering undocumented immigrants in a most hideous fashion. But the two young ladies are quick to point out their piece is more about the misunderstandings and the injustices that are the natural result of those misunderstandings.

That misunderstanding and the resolution of that misunderstanding and the healing power of clarity is the central theme of all these pieces. They are dark, tragic and funny, but united in the common theme of humanity.