Arts Issue 2018 | Interviews | Stage & Screen | Woodlawn

Looking In From the Outside

Diana Quiñones Rivera on encounters and filmmaking in Woodlawn and beyond

Part of a mural in Woodlawn by Bryant Jones, whom Diana Quiñones Rivera interviews in "D on the South Side"

Diana Quiñones Rivera is a filmmaker from Puerto Rico who moved to Chicago in November 2015. While she was a 2016 fellow in Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices in Docs program, she lived in Woodlawn for a year before moving to Avondale. Her new short film “D on the South Side,” which was screened in January and February as part of Collaboraction Theatre’s winter festival, deals with her time living in Woodlawn. “It was tough living in Woodlawn,” Rivera said. “I guess I didn’t expect it to be as segregated. I knew it was segregated but I didn’t think it was going to be a place where I would feel uncomfortable, and it [was].” Invited to make the film by the organizers of long-running weekly performance series Salonathon, Rivera’s experience with Woodlawn’s racial dynamics were a good fit with the Collaboration festival, which was titled “Encounter.” Its focus was on “racism and racial healing in Chicago.”

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What inspired “D on the South Side”?

This is the first personal project I’ve made. And I made it because I was invited to be a part of Camp Salondawega from the people of Salonathon. They invited me to submit some work to be considered for the camp. So I was wanting to do something about this experience that I had, but I wasn’t sure because it was a moment where I was very vulnerable. I always talk about racism everyday, with everybody and people get tired of it. But for me, most things in this world are dominated by racism. I’ve experienced some of it in Puerto Rico, but it’s more in your face here. So I submitted this proposal to make a performance where I would read a script of something that I wrote and I would show video and images that I took not only of the South Side, but also of photos of my family. I wanted to show my history and background and how that relates to my being naive. It was like coming to Chicago, I “I’m moving to Woodlawn, I’m going to be with my people.” It was the first time that I was like, “Diana, you’ve never thought about white privilege and you’ve never thought about it as a part of your life experience,” and I never had to. In New York, New Orleans, we’re all together.

Everyone saw me as white—there are nuances, the way that you talk, the way that you carried yourself. [At first] I was walking down there, like, hey, this is my neighborhood. I would see a few white people in the neighborhood, and they were walking very apprehensively, eyes looking down. I feel like people thought, “Why the fuck is she walking like that…”

People called me “white bitch.” There was a lot of hostility towards me because in that neighborhood I was white. I wanted to live there but I didn’t want to go through that everyday. Just going on public transportation and being the only light-skinned person there was difficult. People had a point of making it uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable for them, it was uncomfortable for me. There was this really heavy energy. And they would say things like “all these Jews coming here, taking over our banks”—I’m not Jewish!

I wouldn’t say anything. It wasn’t my place to say anything. I would sit in the back of the bus, the last seat, and if someone wanted to look at me, they could turn their head. I wanted to disappear, really, I didn’t want people to look at me because I was like this big spot. So, I really stuck out.

A lot of “D on the South Side” is about your experience living in Woodlawn, but you also talk about people’s experiences who have lived there.

I wanted to give a context to what I was talking about. Segregation doesn’t come from today. It’s organized. It’s institutionalized. There’s people that have worse stories than me. When a Black person goes to the North Side, they have really bad experiences of police harassing them. They come out of their neighborhood where they’re harassed by white police, they go to another neighborhood and are not only harassed by white police but by white people. It’s important to include the other side of it.

How did you go about making the film?

Collaboraction’s Encounter series wanted pieces that were twenty minutes long and no more than that. I actually have more material. I want to talk about what it was like living in New Orleans, England, a little bit more about Puerto Rico. When I talk about colorism in Puerto Rico, it’s very basic and minimal. I have so little time to say all the things I want to say in this piece. It was very important to me to have the people that I interviewed talk from their own perspective. I would like [there] to be a forty-minute piece where I get to show more about Chicago and talk about moving to Avondale. This is a little look into my experience, it’s not meant to be comprehensive or for everybody. This is about a light-skinned Puerto Rican woman living in the South Side of Chicago and the experiences that I had.

How has the audience been receiving it?

White people, Black people, Latinx….Everybody. There was this lady that works in the neighborhood. She thanked me for making it, she told me, “This happens to me too.” This harassment from men happened to her. Someone threw something at her from a car in that neighborhood. She was like, I’m so sorry. She felt like as a community, she should be sorry. I told her thank you for expressing her feelings but I didn’t feel unsafe. I felt more like everybody was looking at me. But for people who live there, it can be unsafe.

How do you approach new projects?

I do my research first, I read a lot about what I’m doing. But other projects have been me jumping in. Either I know the people, or I have a connection to the person. All the films I made in the beginning were people that were my coworkers who were dancers. Then we became really close because we lived in the same building. It was easy collaborating. Now in Chicago, I’m doing a doc series for OpenTV that will be premiering in June. It’s about a dancer and choreographer, following her rehearsals and performances.

What projects are you pursuing in the future?

In the past, I have made a lot of films about dance because it’s one of my passions. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing works incorporating dance. Right now, I’m making a film. I started the research in 2013, I started filming a documentary about the socioeconomic and political issues in Puerto Rico, but seen through the lives of people who practice Bomba music and dance. It incorporates dance and the power of it to change people’s minds and open up. It came from enslaved people and how they expressed in this form because they were being oppressed. I would love to continue doing films like that.

I am actually getting into writing a TV series this year. I just can’t wait to work with a full crew, to do something that is based on my life. It would be a story on my life in New Orleans. I’m looking forward to doing more fiction because I have been doing documentaries for years now. It’s been great, but I would love to jump into something more elaborate.

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