Mino's Story

Immigrant

My name is María del Camino Lora, but everyone calls me – Mino! I was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic by a large and artistic family. I moved to the U.S. at 19 after receiving an academic scholarship to attend Manhattanville College, where I earned a B.A. in English Literature & Theatre. After graduating, I continued waiting tables at night and working as a theatre educator during the day. I later earned an M.A. in Peace Studies & Conflict Transformation from The Graduate Institute, and founded what is now the People’s Theatre Project as part of my thesis. At 34, a year after my first child was born, I became

a U.S. citizen. President Obama’s letter welcoming me as a citizen proudly hangs on my wall.

 

Pa’lante!

Mino's story is that of an activist,

a nonprofit executive, an educator, y una mamá. 

 

Activist

Before I was born, my parents lost everything except the walls of our house to a hurricane. They raised us to be resilient, but their story could not prepare me for what Hurricane George revealed about the island. At 15 years old, I saw las Casuchas (tin houses) submerged in the Río Ozama. Family belongings floated off with the current. Hundreds of people died. Thousands more had their livelihoods destroyed. Witnessing the hurricane’s impact on children, many younger than I was, living in deep poverty broke my heart. Before the hurricane, daily life as a teen made it easy to overlook these families, something I came to learn was by design. Government failed them, and I’ll never forget the shock of realizing that was even a possibility. What I learned was a fundamental truth about my own nature:

In moments of crisis, I take action.

I organized food and clothing for as many families as I could. Wrote op-eds for a national paper about how race

and class injustice increased and extended the hurricane’s impact. And I grew into what I came to know as ‘activism’. This is the fire I brought with me to the U.S. During my 20+ years living in NYC, I’ve participated in and organized countless direct actions that center the voices and stories of young people, immigrants and people of color.

 

Nonprofit Executive

During the 2008 recession, I took all the money I had saved from waiting tables to fulfill my dream. With $400, I founded the People’s Theatre Project, a theatre and social justice nonprofit that now employs a staff of 30 and serves 1,000 young people annually with a current operating budget of $1 million. I initiated innovative partnerships to make PTP a community centerpiece, and one of NYC’s thriving Arts & Culture institutions.

This includes partnering with over 20 schools through the DOE’s Multilingual Learners Department; with the Manhattan DA’s Office to educate senior citizens on fraud against aging immigrants; and in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs to bring our teens to be heard at City Hall. In my capacity as Executive Director, I also serve on the New York Immigrant Coalition (NYIC) and Northern Manhattan Agenda (NMA) leadership councils, and regularly meet with local, state, and federal officials to advocate for immigrant rights and equity in education.

 

Educator

Over the past 20 years, I’ve worked with thousands of students in schools across all of NYC and internationally as a theater teacher, coach and nonprofit founder. I spent a summer in South Africa teaching theatre to girls impacted by HIV. I returned to the Dominican Republic in partnership with the Obama Administration’s U.S. State Department to help teens produce their own plays for Santo Domingo’s International Theater Festival; and as a student at Manhattanville College, I launched a literacy and mentorship program through which cafeteria and maintenance employees learn English from and build relationships with students and school administration. 

 

Artist

Producing multilingual performances with immigrant actors is central to my work as an artist. I got my start in classical theater, and after performing in national tours of Cyrano de Bergerac and Romeo & Juliet, and free productions of Shakespeare in the Park in Connecticut, my work shifted toward activism and politics. I joined the Theatre For the New City, and became a student of Legislative Theatre and Theatre of the Oppressed. So far, I’ve directed 40 plays that feature stories of immigrants, POC and marginalized communities.

 

Mamá

My husband Bob and I are raising our two young children in the Bronx. Both are bilingual, and in public elementary schools. Emma Lucía wants to be the world’s first singing dentist when she grows up. Meanwhile, Marcos can’t wait to be a sanitation worker – the one that rides on the back of the truck!

Pandemic Response

Witnessing my students’ pain at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, compounded by the growing COVID crisis compelled me to action. To provide immediate relief, I organized a fundraiser to hand deliver direct aid to our families, and connected undocumented residents with additional support. In the absence of in-person education, we reimagined how People’s Theatre Project could continue to serve  our community. First, I committed to keeping my staff employed. Then we launched a weekly web series to amplify stories of hope and resilience, highlighting the small businesses, nonprofits, and government officials working to get us through these dual epidemics. And when the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) was cut from the city budget in June, I brought together 14 local arts & culture nonprofits to create a virtual arts summer camp for over 200 children and teens.

 

As part of my work on the New York Immigrant Coalition’s Leadership Council, I met with Senator Chuck Schumer to demand all immigrant New Yorkers be included in the federal COVID relief bill, which was later gutted by Republicans. While co-organizing a Children’s March for Black Lives in Upper Manhattan that featured a line up of youth speakers and was attended by over 1,000 people. I realized then:

 

Running for office needed to be part of my plan.

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