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DEI Spotlight Events - September 2021

The Trouble With My Name

Written and performed by Javier Ávila

Held on September 14th, 2021, at the Alexandria and Annandale Campuses as part of the Hispanic Heritage Month.

"You must be willing to listen before you can be heard."

There were any number of memorable quotes from Puerto Rican professor, poet, and novelist Javier Ávila during the performance of his celebrated one-man show, The Trouble with My Name, but they all shared a common theme – his search for empathy as an occasionally unwelcome resident in his own country.

“I was struck,” Professor Ávila answered, when asked what influenced his show, “by how little most Americans understood about Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, and this show became an attempt to shed light (on Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans) in a positive way. I wanted to reduce our negativity, and invisibility.”

The Trouble with My Name debuted in Ávila’s home state of Pennsylvania and has since been performed throughout the United States including, one year after Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico.

“That performance was one of my best experiences with this show,” Professor Ávila said. “It was in San Juan, in front of friends, family, former teachers, professors. And it was entirely in Spanish, which made it a different show than the English version. The punch lines needed to change, the stories had to be adjusted. It was a lot of work, but the standing ovation at the end was worth it.”

Ávila’s show was also inspired by a former professor of his at the University of Puerto Rico, who opened every class with a performance based off what the students were learning that day. Ávila decided, similarly, to tell stories in his teaching, but he was determined to make them funny. The approach worked, and Ávila’s success led to him being named Pennsylvania Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. After that award, he began to receive numerous offers to speak at colleges and decided to format those appearances as a one-man show.

From a sparse stage adorned only with a recliner and a small table of prized possessions that served to remark (often tongue-in-cheek) on his Puerto Rican upbringing, Ávila delivered an animated, poignant performance to an audience of enthusiastically nodding heads. His stories consisted of humorous, occasionally painful poems and anecdotes that detailed his life in Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania, his grandmother and parents, the sentimental importance of food, his experiences with racism and, always, his search for empathy.

After his second performance, Ávila was asked which title he’d prefer to be called, given that he’s a poet, novelist, actor, professor, and more.

“An educator,” he replied, after a thoughtful pause. “That’s who I want to be.”

To learn more about Javier Ávila, visit https://www.javieravila.net. To view a recording of his performance at the Annandale campus (NOTE: this recording is only available for enrolled students and faculty), visit https://online.nvcc.edu/videoservices//. Click Academic Resources then SSO Login, log-in, and scroll down to DEI-Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

DEI Spotlight Events are held monthly. For information about other programs by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, please visit https://www.nvcc.edu/diversity, or contact Dr. Nathan Carter at nacarter@nvcc.edu.