Immigrants and refugees build bridges not walls in Miami Beach dance performance Saturday


Immigration, refugees and national borders are issues that have emerged as global ones over the past decade in a way that most of us were never anticipating. We are two artists, two professional dancers, who have each made different journeys from the places of our births.

Over the past two years, we have collaborated and partnered in trying to understand the often-vitriolic public discourse, the political jockeying, and the real human stories that underlay these issues, especially between our two adopted countries.

One of us, Jasmany was born in Cuba. He went from growing up in his hometown of Matanzas, with a love of music and dance, to, at 17 years old, being hired as the youngest professional dancer in the Ballet Nacional.

Unlike many others who make this transition, he was allowed, after some struggle, to continue his dance career some years later in Mexico. The choice was hard to make, as it required an absence from family and friends for an unknown amount of time. He also faced legal problems with the Cuban government until being granted Mexican citizenship. At that point, he was able to return to his home country with a different migratory status: Cuban living outside Cuba.

One of us, Diego, was born in Italy. For him, being an immigrant to the United States was a joyous thing, but being an emigrant, back in his country, was painful.

Italians have always traveled in search of new opportunities. The people from the South of Italy would move to the North, the Sicilians and Neapolitans would travel to the U.S, or South America. Guided by hope or fear, by opportunity or need, you have to make the hard choice to leave your home, your friends, your country, to go somewhere else and start again. It’s a hard decision no matter why you decide to leave — like Diego seeking new opportunities, or to follow a love affair, or like so many today, to escape poverty and danger.

The rhetoric about the U.S. and Mexico reached a fever pitch during the U.S. election in 2016, and still continues today. Across the world it encompasses questions of religious discrimination, understanding other cultures, economic competition, and…fear. Just this past month, a caravan of mostly Central Americans, fleeing violence and economic dead-ends, has made its way north through Mexico and arrived at the U.S. border, with an avalanche of media attention and a war of words among various politicians.

While the journeys for each of us personally have not been as hard as for many, we honor the painful stories of those who travel far from their countries in search of their dreams and to escape their nightmares, and we work to share these with our audiences. This excerpt from a poem by Warsan Shire about refugees deeply moves us, and inspires us in our work on these issues:

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

Into the mouth of this conflict, the ongoing attempts to build a wall between our two adopted countries, we have tried to forge a bridge, of movement and choreography, of expression through dance, that pays tribute to immigrants, that tells the truths as we understand them about migrants and refugees.

And together, the Cuban in Mexico, the Italian in Miami, we have chosen to call our work Bridges Not Walls/Puentes No Muros,as an artistic response that speaks of the pain, but also the hope for immigrants, that challenges us to understand each other across our borders, and not to harden our separation.

Jasmany Hernández Negret

Director of Mexico City Ballet/Compañia de Danza Clásica de Quintana Roo

Diego Salterini

Co-Director of Dance NOW! Miami

Bridges Not Walls/Puentes No Muros is a joint evening with the Mexico City Ballet/Compañia de Danza Clásica de Quintana Roo and Dance NOW! Miami sharing the stage on May 19 at Miami Beach’s Colony Theatre.

For more information on the performance visit www.dancenowmiami.org.