Vincent Memorial Catholic High School teachers Aracely Valenzuela (from left) and Guillermina Guillen attend a graduation ceremony for one of their former students at the University of Guadalajara. The women are the founders of Club de Literatura Hispana Abriendo Puertas, a Vincent club that stages Spanish-language plays. | COURTESY PHOTO
CALEXICO — Every year for the past 13, students of Vincent Memorial Catholic High School’s Club de Literatura Hispana Abriendo Puertas, CLHAP, have raised funds, taken on multiple tasks and basically jumped through hoops to put on Spanish-language plays like “Los Niños de Morelia,” “La Casa de Bernarda Alba,” and “Bodas de Sangre.”
Literally translated to the Club of Hispanic Literature Opening Doors, it’s unknown whether the doors will be open for a 14th year of student productions by the longest-running club at Vincent Memorial, the only drama club, and, really, one of the rare opportunities in Calexico where a live play can be seen.
“Next year is in the air. No idea how we are going to handle it due to social distancing. But yes, we have plans to do another play,” said Aracely Valenzuela, a teacher that leads the productions and one of the founders of the club. “Students are already asking what is next.”
For now, the legacy of CLHAP (pronounced and widely referred to as “clap”) continues to live on because regardless of the challenges the club and its members face, they have preserved and found a way through. To make these productions a reality in a school of only about 260 students, those involved have to wear multiple hats, hold fundraisers, and meet on weekends, and have been doing so since 2006.
CLHAP was conceived and brought to life by Valenzuela, who goes by “Mrs. Val,” and Guillermina Guillen, often referred to as “Señora Guillen,” the pair is a self-described as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza and have had a large part in the legacy that the club has had at Vincent.
Guillen is the Spanish literature and culture teacher and Valenzuela is the English teacher. Neither was originally familiar with acting but were willing to help in any way they could.
“In 2006, some students from my AP Spanish Literature and Culture class came up to me. One of them said that they wanted to leave a legacy at the school by forming a club, and they wanted us to be in charge of it,” Guillen said.
CLHAP took about a year to coalesce into what it is today. Formed in April/May 2006, founding students thought about bringing in speakers, writers, or authors to discuss the literature they were learning in the classroom. In the fall of 2006, it was agreed to bring in an actor to perform a monologue for the school.
“This was a moment of learning for the students who soon realized that they had to book him, (find) a place for him to act, pay for his hotel, his food, his transportation, for him and his assistant,” Guillen said. “So, about 80 seniors, almost the whole graduating class, and five juniors went to work planning how to make his performance a reality.
In November, well-known Mexican actor Alberto Mayagoitia performed a monologue of “Mi Cristo Roto” at Rodney Auditorium on the campus of San Diego State University-Imperial Valley in Calexico.
In 2007, when the rest of the seniors had graduated, only the five juniors were left.
“They came up to me and said, ‘we want to continue the club, but this time we want to act,'” said Guillen. “And that’s how our club was born.”
The first performance put on by the students was “La Casa de Bernarda Alba.” The second play was “Bodas de Sangre,” in which Vincent alum and former teacher Hector Ochoa performed.
“I learned a lot about teamwork, discipline, and I kept doing theater in Mexicali,” Ochoa said when asked how CLHAP shaped him. “It also brought me closer to my friends at that time, because we made some awesome memories while working on CLHAP.”
He credits the success of CLHAP to Guillen and Valenzuela’s efforts.
“They are hard-working, smart, dedicated women that everything they do, they do it with love. I think that has been what has made CLHAP so successful or appealing to students,” Ochoa said.
Additionally, he considers both teachers his mentors.
“They are the type of teachers that you always remember. I am very lucky to have them as mentors,” Ochoa said. “They are both hardworking, smart women that have contributed a lot to my development as a person and as a professional.”
Through the women’s guidance, the club has become an invaluable part of the Vincent community and its influence has reached beyond the city. Recently, CLHAP received an invitation to perform at Casa de la Cultura in Mexicali.
Additionally, Calexico High School students have often been encouraged to attend the club’s plays, which are held in the Vincent Memorial gymnasium, to see in person the works they are learning about in their AP Spanish Literature and Culture classes.
“Señora Guillen” and “Mrs. Val” hope that CLHAP will continue after they are gone and that maybe someday Vincent will be able to have a drama club that performs plays in English.
Beyond CLHAP and after Vincent, Guillen, and Valenzuela hope to form a book club so that they can read books fit for “grandmas.”
“I want to be remembered for being a person who was passionate about what they did,” Valenzuela said. “It is no longer how I want to be remembered, but how I am remembered. One’s acts speak for themselves,” Guillen said. “My acts speak to who I was: an adviser of CHLAP and teacher, and I hope my acts demonstrate the passion I have for my job because it’s truly about the passion and love that you have for what you do.”