ReAlisal: The Untold Stories of East Salinas

Congratulations! This Entry has been selected as a semifinalist.

ReAlisal: The Untold Stories of East Salinas: Documentary Theater for Intercultural Understanding & Community Change

Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

"ReAlisal: The Untold Stories of East Salinas" revolutionizes community engagement & amplifies resident voices in a community grappling with marginalization and negative media representation. Through documentary theater, youth & adults build mutual understanding & shared action for community health.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if residents of East Salinas transformed stories of crime and violence into stories of triumph and resilience?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

From gang violence to shootings by police, those who live in East Salinas have little access to platforms to voice their concerns, analysis and visions for change. Stories are told about residents (who are 95% Latino) but very rarely do residents have a chance tell their own stories. This leads to fear, distrust & disillusionment among residents and community, thus leaders limiting their capacity to come together for lasting community change.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Baktun12 activates empathy & revolutionizes community engagement by empowering residents to create documentary theater productions that directly address issues of community health & equity. Youth interns interview dozens of residents on a given issue, participate in focus group discussions & transform interviews into a script under mentorship of Artistic Director, Luis Juarez, MFA. Youth artists create multi-media aspects, conduct marketing/outreach & participate in intergenerational cast presenting to thousands of residents who are engaged in discussion & advocacy. The next production, for example, focuses on health conditions of farmworkers & provides audiences with actions to advocate for investments in health care for migrant families.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Residents ages 8-45 were recruited to take part in a documentary theater-based process to tell the human stories behind the negative media headlines associated with the Acosta Plaza Community Housing Complex. They received theater training from El Teatro Campesino, & journalism from local journalist/B12 member. They collected oral histories to create a multimedia theatrical production, depicting stories of residents spanning 45 years of history & highlighting efforts to improve conditions. The play was presented to 1000+ community members, including elected officials. Each night, audiences reflected (in person & online) on the root causes of today's violence & expressed an emergent vision of new possibilities & positive community identity.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Pilot phase of the ReAlisal project included two documentary theater productions spanning 60 years of community change & the stories of over 40 unsung heroes. Ten free shows of each production were presented at neighborhood venues & reached almost 2000 audience members. "Your Neighbor's Story" resulted in recognition of the need for community-driven narrative change in East Salinas, which prompted the California Endowment to sponsor the second production, "Stories de Acosta Plaza," carried out with significant youth leadership & featuring a cast ages 8-41. Multiple local news outlets ran more humanistic features of the east side as a result of both productions, and audience member surveys indicated increased willingness to participate in community health initiatives. Participants expressed a deeper sense of belonging, leadership & commitment to a community some had sought to escape.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Baktun12 seeks to significantly shift public perception of East Salinas while building local capacity to activate the power of theater for intercultural understanding & informed social action. There are two key strategies to make this happen. 1) Deepen & expand the reach of ReAlisal productions by collaborating with advocacy partners who can build audience base & provide meaningful opportunities for social action. 2) Build partnerships with all elementary schools in Alisal Unified to implement documentary theater programs that engage students & families in telling relevant human stories.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Baktun12's approach to financial sustainability combines foundation support with cultivation of individual donors. B12 has just received a second $10K grant for the ReAlisal project from the California Council for the Humanities, and is cultivating a second grant from The California Endowment. Residents and local businesses donate to the ReAlisal project at each community production, and now B12 is cultivating them as contributing members.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Often literary/arts groups such as the Steinbeck Center seek to tell local stories, while advocacy groups, such as the Center for Community Advocacy engage civic participation of residents. What is unique in Baktun12's ReAlisal series is bringing storytelling & advocacy together to shift public perception & galvanize the community around a new understanding of what we're capable of. Cornerstone Theater, out of Los Angeles, has come to East Salinas to present theater inspired by & featuring residents, but it lacked the advocacy, documentary, & youth leadership components. And B12 is local.

Founding Story

Growing up in East Salinas, I witnessed the impacts of inequity. I was lucky to receive training in Chicano Theater at El Teatro Campesino & see how art can be used to give voice to marginalized communities. I dedicated my life to the power of teatro to reflect back what I saw around me, but it wasn't until I saw the documentary theater work of Anna Deavere Smith that I realized theater can be used to put the pieces back together. You tell someone you are from East Salinas, & they say, "Oh I'm sorry." The constant negative imagining by local press has a devastating impact on what we think we're capable of. Smith inspired me to interview unsung heroes who reflect back the values of this community & use them to inspire empathy & action.


Luis Juarez, Artistic Director is project lead. He holds the vision & with the support of youth interns & strategic partners, he guides the process of collecting stories & writing the plays. Kinan Valdez of El Teatro Campesino provides stage direction. Clarissa Salcedo, Project Coordinator, assists Luis with logistics and facilitation of workshops. Nathalia Carrillo, Board President, works with youth interns on outreach/grassroots fundraising.
About You
Facilitating Power
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Project
Organization Name

Facilitating Power

How long has your organization been operating?

Organization Country

United States, CA, Salinas

Country where this project is creating social impact

United States, CA, Salinas

What awards or honors has the project received?
Funding: How is your project financial supported?

Individuals, Foundations, Businesses.

Supplemental Information
On which of the following California counties does your project focus its impact? (check all that apply):


How does your idea help cultivate empathy skills to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change?

Baktun12 is using the power of theater to build much-needed empathy in two critical ways. The ReAlisal series amplifies the human stories of East Salinas too often overshadowed by negative media headlines. Public perception of East Salinas not only informs policies that are passed here, it shapes community identity. Baktun12 highlights those who have worked to improve conditions, and illuminates the social-historical contexts of today's issues, supporting residents to believe in change, value our trailblazers, and to take informed action. Participation in productions & civic action theater workshops gives youth the chance to stand in others' shoes and gain insights that further inform how they work together to create community change.

Tell us about your partnerships

-Artists Ink: A group of East Salinas-based artists who teach multi-media arts in schools, designs B12's promotional materials and video elements of productions
-El Teatro Campesino-- B12's artistic excellence partner, provides stage direction, dramaturgy, and instruction to B12 youth interns
-Building Healthy Communities Collaborative: provides support in developing advocacy opportunities for B12 audiences and participants


The primary challenge Baktun12 faces with this project is lack of space. Past rehearsals and final presentations have been held at the Breadbox Recreation Center, but this is not a quality theater space and access to the space is limited. Baktun12 has been cultivating relationships with the principals of keys schools in East Salinas and is developing an MOU with the Mullens Theater at Alisal High School to serve as the primary site for ReAlisal productions and workshops, and is cultivating additional sites for satellite productions and workshops for youth and their families.

Does your project use any of the following approaches to cultivate community members as empathetic and collaborative leaders?

encouraging philanthropy, creating a safe space, developing emotional competency, building leadership skills, group play, storytelling, collective problem-solving, identifying shared values and differences, instilling courage, enabling action.

Target Age Group(s)

6-12, 13-17, 18-35, 36-64, 65+.


Tom Nelson's picture

Theater is the perfect venue for self expression for Salinas/Alisal youth. I like this proposal, and I may be interested in possible collaboration looking ahead. Please read the iLead+Design Community Action Studio proposal to see if you agree.

Storytelling – a wonderful way to involve the community members to share their voices/experiences in educating/informing others about their community. Is this a program that could be replicated by other areas in California?