Bonus Episode! Capture the Block from Fringe Fest 2021

Highlights from Mosaic’s community stage at The Wilbury Theatre’s Fringe Fest 2021. Ana sits down with activist Enrique Sánchez and artist Jess Brown to talk about the impact of the pandemic on their lives and communities.
September 3, 2021

Episode Host(s)

Ana, Host of Mosaic
Ana González

ANA: Hey everybody, this is Ana. And you’re listening to Mosaic. And I know I said the last episode was the last episode of the season, but it was a fib, a white lie with your best intentions in mind. But we did something cool this summer, and I want you to hear it! So, we put together this extra episode, a bonus, like one of those hidden tracks on the album.

Back at the end of July, we hosted a community stage at the Wilbury Theatre Group’s incredible, fantastical 2-week Fringe Fest. Over two nights, I talked with public health experts, activists, artists, and we had live reads of some beautiful community essays. All of it was centered around the question: how has the pandemic affected your life? Because we need spaces to talk about this past year and a half so that we can grow, connect, laugh, dance, sing and begin to heal, even though COVID is still very much here.

My first conversation was with activist and educator Enrique Sánchez. Enrique is young but drive. He’s the political director of the Black Lives Matter Rhode Island PAC, and the heir-apparent to an empire of Sánchez-owned Mexican-American businesses in the state. Mind you, this conversation was live at an outdoor event, so ignore the geese and motorcycles. But here it is.

ANA: I want to start off by asking, do you remember where you were? When you heard about COVID? What did you feel? What did you think?

ENRIQUE: It's It's weird because last year when the pandemic before the pandemic broke out, I was one step away from moving to China,

ANA: China?

ENRIQUE: to China, yeah.

ANA: Which part of China?

ENRIQUE: Beijing to teach English and Spanish through a educational like program. So everything happens for a reason, I guess. But yeah, I was this close from moving to China. And spending, you know, a year and a half out there.

ANA: So were you like seeing it from like, the the epicenter of the breakout, like because it broke out in China first, following that news?

ENRIQUE: I was starting to do my homework already on China, on politics in China, culture, society, etc. So yeah, I paid attention to what happened in Wuhan all across the country. Right. And that's when I, you know, started realizing, you know, my plans were going down from there. But fast forward to where I'm at now, you know, I'm grateful that I stayed behind because it's been able to be able to do a lot of great things here in Rhode Island.

ANA: Yeah. So I want to talk about your relationship to Rhode Island a little bit because I know you were born here. Right? Correct. And your family that has deep, deep roots, like your third generation, right of your family who lives here, but you were raised mostly in Iowa,right?

ENRIQUE: Correct. Yeah. My family emigrated to New York in the 70s. My grandfather, my grandparents, moved to Rhode Island in the 80s. I was born in Rhode Island. My parents separated. My mom's out to Iowa. I spent most of my youth teenage years there. I would come back and forth to visit my dad, my grandparents, my other brothers and sisters. And yeah, the last 30 years, you know, my dad, my uncles, my grandfather, cousins have been able to open up small businesses across the city and across the state.

ANA: Can you give people a little bit of an idea of like, what different types of businesses your family owns, like you I know there's Casa Mexico, that's like the storefront, right? That's the distributor. What other ways are your family involved in the state?

ENRIQUE: So my Tía Maria and my two cousins Joaquin and Marcos, they own what was Rancho Grande, and now they own Dolores. My cousin Dre and my cousin Pepe Jr. have Mexico Garivalia up the street and Viva Mexico Cantina Bar and Grill in downtown Providence. And then, you know there's family friends, Tacos Nachos in Pawtucket, Taqueria Puebla Poblanita up on CHalkstone and Academy. Yeah, you know, a family of friends there as well. You know, we're all from the same town, same municipality, in Puebla, Mexico.

ANA: Yeah, so, what was that like being an Iowa were in? Okay, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, I imagine very few Latino people in Iowa. Is that correct? Where were you in Iowa? What was that community like?

ENRIQUE: I was in southeast Iowa. Not a lot of people of color there. If there were, were mostly Latino.

ANA: When did you make the move back here?

ENRIQUE: About six years ago, 2015. I was going to school out there for a year, went to a Catholic school to play soccer. But then I started getting more connected with my family here again. And I wanted to start over again, where I was born.

ANA: How did you go from moving here and not being involved to now being the the political director of the Black Lives Matter? Rhode Island pack? So like, how does that development go in your life? Like, how did you start getting involved in activism, and why?

ENRIQUE: So the last four or five years, I started doing a lot of traveling. I went to Mexico, and 2017 was like the fourth time I had went my life. I met a woman there should there be my partner because she's an educator, herself, a teacher in Puebla, Mexico. I was opened up to a lot of new things, you know, a lot of poverty, a lot of underprivileged communities across Mexico across Guatemala. We went to Guatemala as well. You know, I started opening up my my, my perspective on things right. And what I ended up Thinking that I was going to have fun and enjoy a nice vacation ended up being like a back and forth between, you know, how can I like, you know, come back to the US and pretend like if as if, as if I didn't see stuff or live through things scenarios that would change my life forever. Right? I realized that even here in Providence, even here in Rhode Island, and in our own nation, right, we have a lot of poverty, we have a lot of, we have a lot of struggles we have systems put in place that keep a lot of marginalized people, oppressed, poor. And so, you know, I started developing, you know, thoughts that, you know, we need to challenge the status quo, we need to challenge the establishment, we use that window, establish the systems and have been keeping our people living in these conditions for so many for so many years. That's when I started getting political about four or five years ago.

ANA: What was the first step of that process? Like how, what does it mean to get political? Like, I know, like, I have these thoughts to where it's lik, Poverty is bad, right? But how do you then go from something like that to making a change?

ENRIQUE: So I started getting involved in like, camp, political campaigns in Mexico, and Puerto Rico. So all of that I picked up. And I brought back here when I started, you know, getting involved here 2017 2018, I got involved with the Matt Brown campaign for governorship, I finished my studies in 2019, graduated from Rick and 2019. And then, fast forward, I took a year like a year off to travel again, and then the pandemic hits. Yeah. And that's when I started picking it up even more with the getting involved with a community doing organizing mutual aid, organizing events, for folks who needed you know, supplies, food, clothing.

ANA: I feel like I met you, in person for the first time, I don't think we knew it was each other because I donated to, like, I brought in some coats to a coat drive that you were always like food and clothing drive that look like you and like two other people were doing in Kennedy Plaza in the winter time. And I had like some winter coats. And it was it was the most active food and clothing drive I've seen. Is that the kind of organizing you do? Like, kind of these smaller, constant things and seeing where the need is? What kind of people are you trying to serve?

ENRIQUE: Yeah, we started you know, I started getting involved more with like a lot of the progressive leftist organizations across the city across the states. And we started, you know, building up a collective of folks, you know, who I got connected with on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, social media. And we started and we started setting up drives and candy prop Plaza, Providence, you know, where we see a large population of houseless folks there. We even went to, like, East Bay, before the second wave of COVID-19 heads. And through November, December, January, February, and I think March was the last one that we organized. And ever since then, we've been trying to push for vaccine clinics across the city, across Olneyville, across Westminster, Manton, three areas of the city where we don't see a large percentage of vaccinated folks.

ANA: And so I want to shift the conversation a little bit to talking about being like first generation second generation American because a lot of what we've talked about too, is like citizenship and status and papers and and the way that that intersects with something like getting a vaccine, or get being housing secure all of these intersections of how immigration relates to people and how status can affect somebody's life in this country. And so as somebody who has the privilege of not thinking about citizenship, how does that affect your work?

ENRIQUE: A lot of our clients, a lot of people who walk into the small businesses who go to events are living a life completely different from ours, with the vaccine, for example, right? I don't know how many times I've encountered folks, you know, we're undocumented people who are Mexican, Guatemalan, and are hesitant to go get a vaccine because of the weirdness of having legal status. You know, to this day, there are a lot of people who, who think that if you get vaccinated, you know, you have to present some sort of documentation. And that's not the case. Right. You know, everyone can walk in there free of charge and get a vaccination. Yeah, there is an issue there with outreach. Yeah. And there's no one there's no one really to blame at this point, I would say, but there's always room for improvement.

ANA: How does your family think about the work that you're doing? Because there's a lot of different types of people in central South America and the Caribbean. There's also a lot of colorism. There's a lot of racism that exists in the Latin x community because of that, just like here, I know from my own family experiences that that conversation is difficult, especially among generations. And as somebody who works pretty publicly and consistently with the Black Lives Matter pack of Rhode Island, how does your family and maybe some community members, how did they view that?

ENRIQUE: That's the thing, right? My experiences traveling and being in different countries have pushed me to think the way I think all people in my family are, are skeptical, right, when it comes to talking about politics with me. Question me. I mean, the BLM term has been attached to me, I can say that, you know, some of my family has had some, some sort of, you know, stages where I think that they're racist to to black people, you know, and I questioned them, and I call them out for it, you know, and I think the reason why I got mostly invested with the BLM term was because I feel like I'm a person that always has to stick with folks fighting against oppressive systems and a guess environmental justices and fighting for justice.

ANA: Well, Enrique Sanchez, thank you so much for talking to everybody. Everybody can give a round of applause.

ENRIQUE: Thank you. Thank you, Ana, for the invite.


ANA: That was my conversation with Enrique Sánchez, an activist and educator with deep, Mexican-American roots in Rhode Island, from our recording at the Wilbury Theatre’s Fringe Festival. And now, a live community event would not be complete without some essays. While we had a slew of outstanding readings both nights, I only have time to share Scarlet’s.

SCARLET: Hello? Can you guys hear me?

ANA: It’s about school, love, and loss in the spectre of COVID-19.

Thank you so much for having me. When people ask me what year I graduated college, my answer is 2020. With the accompaniment of the words, during the pandemic, I answered the question with a hint of sadness in my voice. I was disappointed. I didn't get to walk across the stage on commencement day, two cheers and congratulations of my friends and family. But despite COVID and all it brought me I was so grateful for it. COVID affected everyone in my immediate family, but we all recovered. I finished my degree, which was a goal I had set for myself many years before government program, one of the crisis like the foreclosure moratorium, and enhanced unemployment benefits enable my family to keep a roof over our head. To be safe and warm and fed. My mother had to catch up on bills which gave her peace that she had never in her adult life known.

The best part for me was scoring a job with a world famous laboratory performing test on COVID specimens for good wages. I was able to be proud of my academic and professional achievement, and felt equal to others.

In the midst of the crisis, my mother received their proposal of marriage on a zoom call from her boyfriend who lived in Canada. The Canadian borders were closed for the majority of the pandemic, now allowing them to me in prison. It wasn't it was never certain until finally, the Canadian traveller restrictions were lifted under strict orders. Her then fiance was able to travel to Rhode Island, but had to quarantine for two weeks on my house. When we received the news, we quickly rushed and planned a wedding of 12 guests at a Jewish temple in under a month. I will never forget October 2020, and my mom's wedding. The image of her smile that day will never leave me. I didn't get to walk across the stage and received my diploma. But I did get to see her walk down the aisle on her wedding day. It was a special moment, a shining light for our family during a dark chapter of history. Love was not canceled by the pandemic. It just had to adapt.

When the world is starting to open up, the stimulus checks have ended. We now have a vaccine. My college is considering having our graduation this upcoming September. I rejoice that all these great news, but still I feel torn. The world has moved on and I don't want it to go back to the way things were all except one. Seeing my uncle one last time. My family lost our beloved uncle Luisito about two months ago due to COVID. It's been difficult except in his death knowing there was a vaccine out there that he didn't have access to in a developing country. I am currently and still in a phase of denial. But I'm still optimistic.

As we move into 2021 I hold my family and everyone can still continue to be financially stable. I wish we could all experience love and prosperity. And with a heart full of gratefulness. I wish us all peace and happiness for the future. Thank you.

ANA: That was a community essay by Scarlet Santos. If you’re just joining us, this is a recap of Mosaic’s community stage conversations at this year’s Fringe Festival. You can hear the rest of our community essays from Fringe Fest, including one about birds and a stump, on our website, mosaicpodcast.org. And now, a snippet of my conversation with a self-proclaimed world-maker. A performance artist and toy-maker. A RISD professor and industrial designer who can be seen on any given summer day kayaking from cove to cove or performing with her all-womxn brass band, the Clam Jam Brass Band. The Lady J, Jess Brown.

JESS BROWN: Hello, everyone, thank you all for being here. We got like the third sunny day of the summer. So the fact that we have people sitting here in the parking lot I very much appreciate, I

ANA: I think, yeah, they knew something was happening.

JESS: I appreciate that.

ANA: Well, a theme of the night, and last night, and this whole event is about the pandemic, how it's affected your life. Right. And yeah, I want to just start off with what when you first heard about COVID? Where were you? What went through your mind? Did you believe it?

JESS: I love this question, because I feel like I win. Since I am a professor, I was teaching winner session. And that starts in January. So I have a student who had actually just left Wu Han and China. And she came back to class. And she was like, so Hey, guys, there's this thing happening called COVID. And she was like, No, you know, I know that they said that there might be a pandemic. And I said, it's just China. But she said, they literally were going to close the borders. And she had an internship. And she's left without even telling her bosses because she was like, I don't want to get closed down. You know, we listened to her. And we use it as a part of our project, actually, to start tracking what this thing was. So you know, we were ready. Ready, not ready.

ANA: Exactly. And then what like, so you knew, and then yeah, when did it change?

JESS: It changed on I think it was March 5, whenever I was about to take my flight to Guadeloupe for spring break. And I kept hearing this thing is happening. I was like, No, it's not gonna happen to us. It's not gonna happen to us. And when they close the airports down, I was at the Hot Club, and my friend was like, “I think this thing is real, yo.”

ANA: And then how did this like, then it became this long haul? Yeah. Right. And, and, and so this is March now. And, and your semester change, your trimester, like, right? So when did it hit like, “Oh, this is now real”?

JESS: You know, I'm on a college campus. So school shut down. That's when it was real. Because it's like we had evacuated our building, our students were trying to pack they're freaking out. I've got students who are international, who literally can't get home. So they're moving from door to door, we had to go to triage mode, because we still had a job to do. So it's like, how do you assure the students who that and then somehow regular classes didn't seem so important? You know? So at that point, it was like, how do I take care of the logistics that mental illness of my students? And how do I support them to distinct that we have no idea what it is?

ANA: And then that's exhausting. So then how do you have it? Like, how did you get through that time emotionally, personally, for yourself?

JESS: I had to go to therapy. That's how I got through because my students were struggling really bad. And then with if anyone who works at a school, they've not asked us how we're doing. They, you know, they asked about the students, but they weren't asking about us. They weren't saying here's therapy, here are the things you should do. We're just expected to fix this thing that no one knows what that is. It was just so much. It was just so much. So naps and therapy.

ANA: Yeah, for me, I would add snacks to that, but –

JESS: Well, that was the next year. Hello, COVID-29. Yeah.

ANA: So but Okay, so this is, you know, spring going into summer. And then in June and May June, you have this explosion of protests. Yeah. You have this huge, you know, there's the murder of George Floyd, there's, there's the murder of Brianna Taylor, Ahmad arbury. Like, there's this whole onslaught of like the weather's getting nice. But now there's a reason to protest. Yeah. And so how did you react to all of those things happening?

JESS: I feel like I had to react because I’m in it. Even if it's not about me, every time I see it on film, I'm looking at myself in that. So the other piece of that is also like, I took a nap. You know, that was just my, my thing, because while I felt like a lot of my, a lot of white America was like, What is it? We're like, it's all the shifts happening for the last 400 years like, so nothing that was happening was surprising. It's just that people were at home to see it happen. And you couldn't leave your house. And people were having their rights and privileges taken away for the first time. So I felt like there was that empathy, like, “Oh my gosh, I have rules on me. I can't leave the house.” I think there's just the common have all of these things happening? You know, you're seeing family members die, you can't move the way you want to. So I think that's why it was more prescient.

ANA: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and then how does your art factor into that? I feel like a lot of the work I've seen of yours is rooted in community and yeah, Foreman's being with people being in spaces. How did that change?

JESS: So by trade, I'm an industrial designer, which, if you're sitting on a chair that was created by an industrial designer, if you use a camera, the iPhone, that's all industrial design, so we do things to make the human life, the human experience and their lives better. That's what we create. But instead of dealing with objects and infrastructure, for me, I deal with humans and systems. For me, I can't sit in a studio and say, I'm going to paint this picture and hoping that it changes something. Even though you've seen that I do that as well. But for me, it's like, I need to be in a street, I need to be taking action. So when I got to DC, for the Cavanaugh hearings, I was like, there's people on bucket drums, but not there wasn't a lot of noise, or there wasn't a lot of joy, because even in protest, there is joy. So I was like, What is the music this feeling this and I didn't hear any music. And so I created an all women's with an X activism party brass band called clam jam, brass band omashu, the Ocean State.I needed music. So then I didn't know where to get the music. So I had to create the music. And then it's not about just the music we play, but it's about the people that were in it, the work, they're able to do those conversations, the outfits that we do, because then the outfits become a part of the protest.,

ANA: Well, I want to talk about something you mentioned, like the term “critical race theory.” And all of these heady, jargon, buzzwords, news scare tactics, like, like, should we ban this thing? Diversity, equity and inclusion, anti racist –

JESS: De-colonization

ANA: What are your thoughts on all of that? And like, are those terms important? Is there another way that we should be talking about all of it?

JESS: We should completely change the way we're talking about this. You have to break it down in terms I can talk about, but I need to talk to the person who I'm trying to target to understand what this is so that we can all get vaccinated and get out of this thing. You know, so when you say critical race theory, that sounds like there's a giant red button and you're about to set off the nuclear, you know, that nuclear bombs and like that, and that's terrifying. And I feel like it's just a scare tactic. And I don't know if it's intended like that, but that's one of those things like, does it come out of academia, and then it just gets picked up without being talked about it? So all these schools, especially particularly in the south that are like, we're gonna ban critical race, there's like, or you could just call it history? Just call it history? Yeah. Because it is like, I don't want it to be called Black History, because families are opting out of that. First of all, why do you want your kids to be ignorant? One, two, I've had people that look like me have had to listen to anything that you all decided here curriculum. And we have to get a second education when we got go home and go into our communities.

ANA: And that brings me to this other project that you're working on with the Stokes. The Stokes family. Keith and Soni Stokes. Can you talk about this? It's the legacy–

JESS: Right, right. And one of the best things I feel like, at least for me here in Providence that's come out of COVID is that under Mayor Elorza and Shawndell Burney-Speaks, who works for him, they created the African American ambassadors group, and it was anybody who was anybody could like get on this call. And the question was: how do we get the information out to all of our different communities on this call? It was wonderful because we had an hour and a half audience with the mayor. We said what are the concerns that we are having right now during COVID recreated these working groups, and we're actually getting things done. And I was working in a working group called truth telling, because we are trying to get to the point of reparations in the in the city of Providence, we can't fix anything until we all recognize the truth of the different people's histories of where we are for the fact that we are sitting on occupied land right now of the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Pokanoket tribes. If you are in an underprivileged community and you don't know there's a better way out, then you might not be as precious about your things. This is where artists come in. And so working with Keith and Sonny, they told me about the legacy project called creative survival. And it just shows all these like beautiful pictures of Black and brown people who have been here since the beginning of slavery and, and so we were like, we've got to highlight these stories because I'm sick of seeing my body on the ground. I'm sick of being a “say my name”. I was like, how do we show images of resilience and joy and celebration of the Black experience? Especially since like, we've been here. And we've been a part of this thing

ANA: So yeah, can you tell us about like, what exactly that piece of art is,

JESS: It's a 30 foot wide banner. So it's like 30 foot by 20 foot, a picture that we're calling the women, but we change it about eight times, because every time we spend time with them, they just look more and more wonderful. And so it's seven women, the one on the end is holding the baby, but just the positions of them. You know, they're all looking forward to the camera, but there's the troublemaker who is like whispering in her friend's ear, and a friend behind her who's like trying to tell her to stop. And you know, she's like, it was just such a beautiful picture, cuz I was like, it's a group of girlfriends, Kiki. And I was like, I don't care who you are, like, you can identify with that picture. So again, kind of think about that includes inclusivity. It's like, how do you humanize people? How do you make connections with people? It's just beautiful. And to see them there and see them that size is just powerful, it's powerful.

ANA: It's really doing what you've been talking about, which is like taking a story from history and presenting it. Yeah, and activating a space making that taking up that space, that space is for those women, right?

JESS: And so it's just been cool, cuz you're talking about activating this space, I love that there have been dragged shows outside of that space. As to 20 they did their graduation behind that space. halfa has used that space. That's why I love public art, because you don't know how something affects it. And people are gonna have different relationships with it. Yeah, and we hope to start putting these banners all over the state. So being able to tell these stories, and maybe pinpointing more so like, what does it look like, for one of these banners to be on the side of a Newport mansion, and you talk about occupying space, and then having programming around that like, that would be really interesting to me.

ANA: And that's it really speaks to the power of what art can do without having again, like, like force feeding someone literature? Yeah, yeah, put something up on a wall, right? People interact with it, how they are going to interact.

JESS: And we added a QR code to it as well. So that's the layers of engagement I like to put in there. Because it's like, I'm not always gonna force you to do something. But I want to, like, put my hand out and invite you to learn something else.

ANA: As somebody who loves to go deeper, I click every link, that’s my dream. Yeah, well, and so I guess what are things that you keep in your mind that excite you about the future, in terms of possibilities for your artwork, or for the community,

JESS: What really excites me is my students, like, I'm an accidental professor, I never expected to be a professor, I'd never thought I was gonna do it. But you know, when I would be sitting in marketing meetings with 45 year old tools, and I was like, I can't change his mind. But I can change a 19 year olds mine, and I can just listen and then I let them teach me. So like that's been giving me life and inspiration. I really feel like change will happen. And I'm just hopeful because I have no other choice. If I lived in pessimism, that'd be sad. So you know, I'm just optimistic that we're all gonna do better.

ANA: Oh, well, that's a great place to end it. Jess Brown, everybody!

JESS: Thank you everyone, you're beautiful. Have a great time. Ana, thank you so much.

ANA: And thank you all for listening to this bonus episode from our community stage at Fringe Fest. Special thanks to the Wilbury Theatre and the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities for all their support. And that’s it. Take care, everybody.

Mosaic is a production of the Public’s Radio. Edited by Sally Eisele. Produced by James Baumgartner and Pearl Marvell. Website support from Jeff Matteis. Our original music is by Bryn Bliska. Torey Malatia is the General manager of the Public’s Radio. I’m Ana Gonzalez. If you want to learn more about Mosaic, visit our website at mosaicpodcast.org.

Support for this program comes from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Supporting innovations in democratic engagement and the advancement of international peace and security at carnegie.org.


Ana and Enrique in conversation | Photo: Pearl Marvell


“I realized that even here in Providence, even here in Rhode Island, and in our own nation, right, we have a lot of poverty… We have systems put in place that keep a lot of marginalized people oppressed and poor.”

“I started getting involved in political campaigns in Mexico, in Puebla. So all of that I picked up, and I brought back here.”


“I don’t know how many times I’ve encountered folks who are undocumented… and are hesitant to go get a vaccine because of the worriedness of having legal status. You know, to this day, there are a lot of people who, who think that if you get vaccinated, you know, you have to present some sort of documentation. And that’s not the case.”

“I’m a person that always has to stick with folks fighting against oppressive systems and against environmental injustices and fighting for justice.”

Ana and Jess Brown from night two of Capture The Block | Photo: Pearl Marvell


“I was like, ‘No, it’s not gonna happen to us. It’s not gonna happen to us.’ And when they closed the airports down, I was at the Hot Club, and my friend was like, ‘I think this thing is real, yo.'”

“I’m on a college campus. So school shut down. That’s when it was real. Because it’s like we had evacuated our building, our students were trying to pack they’re freaking out. I’ve got students who are international, who literally can’t get home. So they’re moving from door to door, we had to go to triage mode, because we still had a job to do.”


“I had to go to therapy. That’s how I got through because my students were struggling really bad. And then with if anyone who works at a school, they’ve not asked us how we’re doing. They, you know, they asked about the students, but they weren’t asking about us.”


“I need to be in a street. I need to be taking action.”


“So all these schools, especially in the South that are like, ‘We’re gonna ban critical race theory!’ Or you could just call it history?”

After the conversations, Big Nazo and Robertico y su Alebreke came out to party | Photo: Erin X Smithers


This project was brought to you through the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities’s Culture is Key initiative and a partnership with the Wilbury Theatre Group, find out more here.

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