Mar 12th, 2015 by Pavan Goduguluru
High school students received encouragement at The University of Texas-Pan American March 4 from two Rio Grande Valley natives who found success pursuing their love of the arts.
Hundreds of students enrolled in the federal Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), administered by Region One Education Service Center, came to the UTPA campus as part of the University’s Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA), which runs through March 8.
Throughout the day, the teenagers heard from artists who stressed the importance of literacy and of not giving up on one’s dreams.
“I can honestly say that I always feel inspired when I come to these events, I just think that with the speakers that they bring, the messages they have, the certain lessons that they teach, it’s always a learning experience,” said Joshua Betancourt, a sophomore at La Feria High School.
Author, playwright and filmmaker David Rice and actor and playwright Raul Castillo, both natives of the Rio Grande Valley, shared their life stories and urged the students to never stop pursuing what they love.
The GEAR UP students were all laughs during Rice’s presentation. The Edcouch native is the author of “Give the Pig a Chance & Other Stories” and “Crazy Loco” which was awarded the “Best Books for Young Readers Award” from the American Library Association in 2001.
Rice shared a piece from his 2011 book “Heart-Shaped Cookies and Other Stories.” Rice narrated a story called “The Death of a Writer” about the time his fourth-grade teacher assigned the students to write a short story pretending to be shipwrecked on a deserted island. Rice’s classmate Ramiro read a one-sentence story about being eaten by a monster aloud to the class only for the teacher to send Ramiro to the principal’s office.
“That is the death of a writer,” Rice said. “She didn’t kill him literally but figuratively yes, she crushed that writer. What she should’ve said is ‘okay Ramiro, what kind of monster was it?’ I don’t want to kill any writers, I don’t want to kill any artists. The sad thing is that a lot of the times you kill yourself. I want you to succeed, I really do, I want you to write monster stories.”
Diana Quintanilla, a 10th grade GEAR UP student from Port Isabel High School, said Rice’s presentation motivated her to continue her hobby of writing.
“He actually gave me more inspiration to keep on writing, to fix my grammar…to write more from the heart than what people actually want to hear,” Quintanilla said.
Dalton Swink, a 10th grade GEAR UP student from Port Isabel High School, said Rice’s presentation was very insightful.
“I try so hard to write many different stories and stuff and I don’t think they’re coming out right but he helped me learn that I can just fix them later,” Swink said. “If you like to write and if your ideas are good then you can make something out of it and that’s really inspiring to me.”
Castillo, who delivered the afternoon keynote address, encouraged students and shared with them how his journey as an actor began at his alma mater, McAllen High School.
After taking a theatre class in high school and participating in various plays, he discovered his passion in the arts. He later attended Boston University’s School of Fine Arts and graduated with a degree in theatre.
To continue pursuing acting, he moved to New York City where his opportunities soon began to unfold.
He is currently best known for his portrayal as Ricardo “Richie” Donado Ventura in the HBO series “Looking.” Castillo made his feature film debut in “Amexican,” which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2007. He also has several film and television credits such as, “Bless Me Ultima,” “Cold Weather,” “My Best Day,” “Blue Bloods,” and “Law and Order.”
As a young Hispanic man, he felt that he would not be given many opportunities as an aspiring actor. After overcoming several challenges, such as rejection and living away from his family, he eventually appeared in many projects and earned an honorable mention at the AFI Fest in 2012 in the Student Academy Award winning short film “Narcocorrido.”
“I think we are very lucky that we come from this incredibly traditional environment and community.” Castillo said. “I feel fortunate enough and I am very thankful for FESTIBA that I can come and speak to you guys. I hope that my story can encourage you all to further your education.”
The students also attended breakout sessions, where they saw UTPA theater students perform scenes from the play “Evita,” learned about animation from Graham Toms, an animator at Newtek, and received tips on writing from the University Writing Center.
FESTIBA continues Thursday, March 5, with the Texas Book Festival’s Reading Rock Stars Program, in which children’s book authors visit elementary schools throughout the Valley to read their work and pass out books to children. There also will be a celebration of the UTPA Mariachi’s 25th anniversary and release of its newest CD.
For more information on FESTIBA, visit www.utpa.edu/festiba.
Original Post by Office of Public Affairs on March 4th, 2015.