Maya Escobar: Who I Am
Jewishinstlouis.org had the privilege to meet with 25 year-old graduate student (and future jewishinstlouis columnist!), Maya Escobar. Maya studies at the Sam Fox School for Design and Visual Arts. She will receive an M.F.A. in a non-degree specific program, although she has a wide range of abilities: weaving, painting, photography, cinematic skills, graphic art editing (she is the Online Art Editor for Zeek, a Jewish literary journal) and more.
Interviewing Maya is like walking through a sunny blizzard; everything comes at you fast and from all directions, but a warm smiling face guides you through. Sometimes it seems that even her words can’t match her thought process, a mind whirring with such activity that I had to ask her if she does other things besides “heavy” stuff. Things like sleeping.
“Yeah…” she sighed. “I should do more of that.”
Maya is pretty unique as a half Guatemalan, half-Jewish St. Louis resident. Born in Urbana, IL, Maya and her Guatemalan father and Jewish mother moved to Chicago’s West Rogers Park when she was 3 years old. Her family was one of the very few non-Orthodox families on the block
As she grew older, Judaism became less appealing. The stereotype of privileged and perhaps spoiled American-Jew did not sit well with her.
“When I was younger I didn’t even want to be Jewish…I didn’t like the conceptions of what a Jew was. My friends at Hebrew school came from much wealthier families,” she said. “People expect a history of what an American Jew is – I thought, no that’s not me! That’s not who I am.”
The question of “Who I Am” is a major one for Maya Escobar. I could describe her as a petite, light-skinned Latina (or to the majority of Caucasian Jews, tan!) with thick dark brown hair and eyes that light up proportionate to her very wide toothy smile. But such categories would probably be too simplistic, or too confining, in her mind.
The notion of “Who I Am” took a major change for Maya right before she left for college at the School of Art Institute in Chicago, where her notion of “American Jew” changed for the better. During her senior of high school, she met a small group of Jewish girls who were “intellectual, outgoing, beautiful, and compassionate.” The girls had such a profound effect on Maya that she now looks to her Judaism as a source of major artistic inspiration.
“I am embracing Judaism and so proud to be a Jew,” she gushed. “This idea of a stranger being in a strange land, and a constant search for something that is there…I love it, I love being a Jew.”
As I write this, Maya is preparing for a return to Berlin in order to put on the finishing touches to her next major project (a combined visual and aural piece), Berlin’s Eruv. Berlin does not have an eruv (a structure that encircles a Jewish community in order to allow certain actions to take place, like carrying on the Sabbath, according to Jewish law). But to Maya, the people themselves comprise the extent of the Berlin community, and therefore in a sense are a metaphorical eruv.
The project began last summer, when Maya traveled to Berlin through her MFA program. She interviewed several and all types of Berliners in the Jewish community and took footage of the city.
Maya’s St. Louis exhibit will consist of her footage projected onto several walls. Visitors will walk around with an iPod, listening to her interviewees as they proceed.