The Armory Youth Corps
Biviana Sanchez: We're struggling. Our generation is trying to cope. Life is crazy.
Helga Davis: James Baldwin wrote, "For these are all our children. And we shall all profit buy or pay for what they become."
I'm Helga Davis.
On this final episode of Helga Davis: The Armory Conversations, I look to this next generation of artists. Playwright, Wilson Castro, visual artist, Raven Garcia, and photographer Biviana Sanchez sat down with me as we made a space together. We experienced what it means to be vulnerable with oneself and with eachother.
This is my conversation with playwright Wilson, Castro, visual artists, Raven Garcia, and photographer, Biviana Sanchez of Park Avenue Armory's Youth Corps.
Biviana Sanchez: You make me nervous.
Helga Davis: Oh, take that back.
Biviana Sanchez: Ok. Sorry. Sorry. I'm just being honest.
Helga Davis: What do you mean? I make you nervous?
Biviana Sanchez: know. I think I'm not used to somebody looking so long.
Helga Davis: Let's talk about that because I don't know how else I would communicate with you if I don't look at you.
And my looking at you in this way. First of all is to let you know that I'm here so that maybe too, we can build some kind of trust.
And so what do you see in my eyes when I look at you?
Biviana Sanchez: My mom. I do see my mom in you.
Helga Davis: And when she looks at you like this, how do you feel?
Biviana Sanchez: I feel loved.
Helga Davis: And so when I look at you like this, how else could you feel?
Biviana Sanchez: I guess I could feel seen. You know, I think it's because I don't know you. I'm thinking to myself, “I know her. She doesn't know me at all.I see my mom and her. But she does not know who I am at all.”
And then when you look at me, it's like, does she know that? Like, does she know that I'm thinking these things? But the more time we're looking at each other and we're talking to each other, then those things go away.
Helga Davis: Is it normally intimidating or not wanted for people to look at you directly like this?
Biviana Sanchez: No, I think it's because when it comes to people that are known by many, many people, it's, it's that interaction. It feels awkward for me. It's unbalanced. I would say, I think that’s the reason.
Helga Davis: It feels unbalanced. And then when I look at you, what happens?
Helga Garcia: Hmm. I feel nervous. But more in a sense of, I've never had a microphone put in my face before. I'm not someone who's very like, put like on a stage with a spotlight. So it's a little nerve wracking.
Helga Davis: Okay. We’ll just keep breathing and we'll keep looking at each other. And if you need something, just say so. What’s happening with you?
Wilson Castro:I'm excited and I'm nervous. But I think you have to be nervous to care about it. So, I think I'm the right amount of nervous.
Helga Davis: And when I look at you in your eyes, what does that bring up for you?
Wilson Castro:I was trained to have eye contact through like high school theater program. So, I feel like I'm like using a skill.
Helga Davis: Uh huh. Oh cool. There's a singer whose name is Tony Bennett. And someone asked him, he was in his eighties already, whether or not he still got nervous. And he said, yeah, I still can.
Wilson Castro:Hi ya’ll.
Helga Davis: Just say your names.
Biviana Sanchez: Okay. My name is Biviana, but I go by Biv, mostly.
Helga Garcia: My name is Raven.
Wilson Castro:I'm Wilson. Wilson Castro.
Helga Davis: Tell me a little bit about how you've been.
Wilson Castro:It's exciting for me just to like be outside because I'm an introverted person. It's like I kind of store energy. And then when I go outside, I'm very expressive. Like, I express myself like an extrovert.
So, when they told everyone to stay home, I said, “no problem”. And I kind of like a hid in a cave for like a year. So now it's like my…my energy release time
Helga Garcia: For me, after being at home for so long, I have to go back up to school. And I dorm. So, I feel like it's a lot for me because now I'm seeing like everybody and we're all stuck together on campus. I feel like it's a little too much for someone who hasn't seen anyone in like so long.
And going back to classes, it's kind of hard. But I'm also happy to like see faces. It has its good and bad. I feel like I have to train myself to co-pack and so public
Biviana Sanchez: Like Wilson, I'm also introverted, but I express myself like as if I'm extroverted. And I've been going through some things. It's kinda heavy, but like my dad passed on Thursday and I actually don't have a good relationship with him.
Helga Davis: Hang on.Hang on.
Biviana Sanchez: Yeah. I kinda just wanted to say that I've been doing something different. Which is relying on people. My friends. And it feels good to be supported because I usually don't…
Helga Davis: Ask anyone for anything. Well, I really thank you for coming here today anyway.
Biviana Sanchez: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
I think, I believe in like things happening for a reason. Like I am very spiritual and I felt like whether or not I felt ready to talk to people that I don't know well, I'm okay with being vulnerable and like, I know that's going to help me.
Helga Davis: Is there something you want to say about your relationship with your dad and what was hard about it for you?
Biviana Sanchez: I grew up raised by my mother and my dad wasn't really around that much. When he wanted to be. Because he has drug problems. He had drug problems and alcoholism. And I've held onto like a lot of anger for most of my life. But like now I feel like I can think about good things too.
Helga Davis: The part that I want to ask you about is, do you feel guilty that you didn't have a good relationship with him? Do you feel-
Biviana Sanchez: No. Cause it's not my fault. I don't carry that.
I haven't spoken to him in a year and I made that decision.
Helga Davis: And so you made that decision based on what?
Biviana Sanchez: To protect myself from him because he's a difficult person to be around.
He affects me a lot. So I felt like I've already mourned him when I made that decision. But now it's like I’m mourning him in public. Because I was mourning him just within myself. Now I have to express that.
Helga Davis: Do you feel that you're the only one who holds the position you hold? So, you made a choice not to be in touch with him and around him for the last year to protect yourself.
Were there people in your family who judged you for that?
Biviana Sanchez: Well, my mom. She didn't judge me, but she was raised with both her parents. So, I know it's hard for her to understand. Her version of forgiveness is to still stay in touch. She has her version and I have my own.
So I decided I can forgive him and not have him in my life.
Also, I have half-brothers and they also did not talk to him for years. So, because they understand me, I feel supported in that way. I don't feel judged anymore. Because, yeah. Like society tells you that when someone dies, you're supposed to feel a specific way and you're supposed to talk about all these good things.
And I don't really have many good things to say.
Helga Davis: Yeah. But it’s with you in this moment. And so, because we're all making a space to that safe for all of us, we have to talk about what's here right now. And not hold that in.
And I think it takes a lot of courage to do that because we're a lot of times encouraged to do the opposite.
Don't tell anybody. Don't ask for help and numb out.
Hmm. Are there things that you feel like your morning?
Wilson Castro:Oh yeah.
Mine is regarding artistry or like self artistry.
I kind of feel like I'm somebody who was kind of given when I was a senior in college. My senior project which is kind of unique. Especially where I went to. You don't really get to do anything until you're a junior senior, unless you're like really favored or something like that. Well, I was not.
So, I was a playwright in college. And so, I was what's putting up this big show. You know, self-produced. Kind of like asking people for money. Crowdfunding to put on this show. Begging my friends to be in the show. Writing this mediocre script that I was trying to sell.
But then the pandemic ended the school year. And then I was too prideful to do with zoom show. And so, I feel like I never graduated college.
And also, because at my school, I told you I wasn't favored or anything like that. I was actually like disliked by the other playw right community.
Helga Davis: Well wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. And what does that mean? You were “disliked by a lot of the playwriting community”?
Wilson Castro:I transferred from- I did one year in a certain college and then I went to a different college. And in the first college, I was like a big fish in a small pond. So I was like, oh, I'm going to go to a New York school.
And then there, you know, obviously you have to make a little bit more noise. But, I was very cocky because I had been such a whatever before. But a friend had shared a secret with me and I had not blurted out the secret, but I wrote a play about it. And the play had gotten into a festival.
I wasn't trying to hide it. Like I didn't think it was a bad thing to do, which now, looking back, it was a bad thing to do. But there was a lot of noise made about it. There was the word plagiarism thrown around. Because it was kind of their life experience that I took.
And at the time I didn't really have a backbone. So it's like, I understand removing the piece for like sensitiveness. Or like, you know, for somebody's feelings. But I accepted the plagiarism charge. And so that word was kind of labeled with me.
And as someone who was trained to be an artist to have kind of unoriginality tacked to you.
So I made a list of every reference in my show. And then the show never went up. So, I graduated being the plagiarist.
Biviana Sanchez: Can I ask you a question?
Wilson Castro:Of course.
Biviana Sanchez: Do you believe that you're a plagiarist?
Wilson Castro:No. Now I don't mind it because I think I'm much more creative than taking inspiration from somebodies story. But I do think it was inspiration.
Helga Davis: But isn’t that every play?
Wilson Castro:That's what I'm thinking. But a lot of noise made and not a lot of people on your side can make you think a lot of things.
Helga Davis: Right. But that's, and that's also part of your culture now, right? That instead of just having a conversation with someone, you go online and you call people names and that becomes real.
Helga Garcia: For me, I'm mourning it, but it's more something I look down on myself a lot. I haven't got a diagnosis yet, but I plan to. But it runs in my family. Depression runs in my family. And I think that I'm better than I give myself credit for. I do visual art. I practiced so much. I didn't give up. But, with the depression tacked on, I get tired easily.
Going to school, working. I'm exhausted. But then I feel like if art is something I'm really passionate about it, I need to make time for it. But my body doesn't- what your mind wants. Your body does the opposite.
So, I didn't do anything and during the pandemic, sometimes I couldn't even leave my bed and that was hard. And I beat myself up like all the time before bed. Cause I'm just like I had the whole day. I wasn't doing anything. Why couldn't I have just gotten up and practice done a little bit, but I couldn't.
And I did one piece of art and it came out much better than I had expected it to. It's like where I been dreaming of like to be at this moment.
And I was just like, after like, almost like a year of like taking a break and I was like much better than where I had left off. And I was sitting there like, huh. I think I just need the break.
Helga Davis: Wait a minute.
Helga Garcia: And it's like, I'm not confident in my art at all. Like at times I do stuff and I'm just like, I should be better in this aspect. Why am I not good in this aspect?
Helga Davis: But who are these everybody people?
Biviana Sanchez: Yea, her inner critic.
Helga Davis: Saying that you should be this or do who are the everybodies?
Helga Garcia: Everybody's like something inside. I refer to everybody, but there is nobody at all saying these things.
I'm not good at anatomy, but I feel like I should have been after the subjects I've been drawing for so long. Why am I not good at this thing already?
Helga Davis: Because you're not. I love what you just said, Raven. Everybody is something inside.
Helga Garcia: Uh, I've got a mean critic and that was this big label of everybody.
Wilson Castro:I have a similar issues so, I really relate to you with that. Sometimes you feel like you have to prove to yourself that you're an artist. Cause it's like, you read the stories and the correlation between everyone who's had success. Especially if you work hard and you don't see the improvements. Especially cause there's no hours of an artist, right. Nine to five, whatever.
I had a friend say this to me, “part of being an artist is living.” You know what I mean? Getting experience.
I mean, maybe that's something that we all say so that we can relax.
Biviana Sanchez: So we don't feel guilty for rest.
Wilson Castro:-about not doing it. But yeah, I feel like often I also feel like I have to prove if you agree with that wording, I have to prove that I'm an artist to myself. And if I don't do anything about it, then it's like you're fake. You know what I mean? Like you don't have new work coming out and you see all your friends coming out with work.
Helga Davis: One of the first conversations I had for the first season of the podcast was with a composer whose name is Henry Threadgill.
And one of the things that he said during his conversation with me was I need a lot of time to do nothing, to do absolutely nothing.
Biviana Sanchez: And nothing is something.
Helga Davis: It is absolutely something. And that it- what it does or what he explained was that that's the time when his brain can process the things that he seeing. The things that he's thinking. The music he wants to write. The music that he hears in his head.
And he can't actually write the music that he needs to write until he takes that time to do that. And that it's actually a restorative moment and process for him. So, you're right. It's, it's not doing nothing.
It seems like nothing perhaps from the outside, but inside you, there is a definite movement and place that it is leading you to and that it's asking you to trust. So that in that moment, that next moment, when you, when you put your pen to paper or you write your next thing, or you have to tell me what you do-
Biviana Sanchez: I'm a photographer and an educator, all these things that I believe about myself? That I shouldn't be resting, or I'm not good enough, or I should be improving at a faster rate than I am. What is the evidence behind that? Like, why do I actually have to do that?
And then my critic has nothing to say because there is no evidence. It's probably information that I got from other people or from TV. We do live in a capitalist society where we are supposed to be productive all the time.
That's not even true. I do not live. Like, I don't know more. I don't do that anymore. So like spend time talking to yourself and like listening to your critic, questioning your critic too, you know?
Helga Davis: How are your parents in relationship to those days when you can't get out of bed or you don't want to get out of bed or you can't get things done, and your critic is out there, where are your parents in all of that?
Helga Garcia: I think my mom is more understanding as in, I feel like she has those days too. But I feel like in some aspects, I guess, I think it's also, she's stuck like in her generation where that just simply did not exist.
So, every time I'm like not feeling as good, she's just like, yeah, well you just got to power through it. And I'm sometimes I'm just sitting there. Like I know my body and I know I can't at this moment.
In my dad's case, I think he thinks I'm a little lazy. But it's also because I never really sat down to talk to them about how I felt. So, I kind of give them that impression without explaining myself. And so, I can't really be like, I'm upset at you for thinking this way.
Helga Davis: Is there a reason you haven’t spoken with him. Do you feel that he'd be open to that kind of conversation with you?
Helga Garcia: I feel like you'd be good at listening, but in my case, I don't like showing any signs of weakness.
Helga Davis: Because?
Helga Garcia: I'm not sure.
Helga Davis: What is it about him or about the way he is?
Helga Garcia: I think he doesn't show weakness and he's rough around the edges. I feel like I can't convey what I want to say if I'm emotional around him. I feel like I have to be calm and collected when I talk to him.
I feel like it's easier to call to my mom and be like crying and rambling. Cause I feel like somehow she'll pick it up and be like, “yea.”
Uh, I said basically nothing, but she understood everything. But I feel like with him, I'd have a list of things. like here is everything so that you will understand.
Helga Davis: Your evidence.
Helga Garcia: Yes. But I just feel like they have two different ways of comprehending things. And I feel like me being emotional isn't what's going to make him understand.
Helga Davis: And he's not modeled that for you before either. So, it doesn't quite feel so safe for you to bring that to him. How does it feel to say that?
Helga Garcia: Part of me is a little nervous to say it because I feel like they're going to listen back and be like, “Well, why!”
Helga Davis: And what's your answer to that?
Helga Garcia: My answer is, maybe this is the easiest way to be a little more honest before I go to them face to face and be honest. Maybe it's nice to hear that they'll hear it from afar and get the vibe first before I lay all my feelings on the table. So, this method is very good.
Biviana Sanchez: Everyone should go to therapy. And this is not therapy, but it feels very close to it.
Helga Garcia: It feels very therapeutic.
Biviana Sanchez: Yea, it does.
Helga Davis: Ok. At seven o'clock this morning, when I went for my walk, there was a person who I think is your age ish, who asked me if I wanted to buy some weed.
It was 7-
Biviana Sanchez: What did you say?
Helga Davis: It was seven o'clock in the morning, y'all. 7:00am.
And then I saw some young girls a couple of weeks ago who were buying some kind of cough syrup. And I asked them what they were going to do with that. And they were going to put it in something and drink it so they could be drunk.
What are y'all doing?
Biviana Sanchez: We’re trying to cope. Life is crazy.
Helga Davis: Is that a true thing?
Biviana Sanchez: I think so. I do consume marijuana. That's all I do.
We're struggling. Our generation is struggling. For me, consuming drugs has a lot to do with poverty and mental illness.
I just got a full-time job offer, but this whole time I've been struggling to find a good job that can pay and get an apartment in New York city. And I have a college education.
I know a lot of people who don't have a college education and do. And have a graduate degree and they're still struggling.
So, what can you do to cope with those things with failure, quote, unquote, to make it and to succeed. And to do the things that your parents once did that if you follow these rules, this is the key to success and it's actually not true.
So, you get there and you're like, what am I supposed to do? Let me smoke some weed to calm down and like, get my anxiety back to normal levels so that I can continue the next day.
Wilson Castro:It's funny that you mentioned poverty, because I never developed any kind of addictive substance or whatever, because I couldn't afford it. So it's like, I don't know. I don't have a choice in the matter.
Helga Garcia: I've no, never tried anything. Will refuse to drink alcohol as well. Also, I'm not of age to buy it myself yet. But I know when I am, you know. When you hit 21 everyone’s like, “What are you going to do for your party? Where are you going to go?” And I'm just like, I don't know. Because the main thing that everybody talks about when they hit 21 is that they're going to drink.
And, I don't plan too. It's not against anyone else. It's more of how I see myself. And I feel that I don't like the idea that anything can alter how I think or feel. I think that ideal to me is terrifying.
It's not something I want to depend on cause I feel like if I depend on anything, then it becomes habits that I can't shake off.
If I'm not feeling good that day, I don't want to have to take something to feel better. Like I definitely understand why other people, but the-
Helga Davis: Yeah. It's okay. And you could not understand why other people do it too. And it would still be okay.
Is there anything else you want to ask each other?
Helga Garcia: I was going to ask this since we came is like, I think we all do some form of art.
Normally, you know, you get asked this all the time and don't even think about the process you're going to take to get there or anything. What's your dream? What do you want to do? Especially with your art?
Biviana Sanchez: Yeah, to be quite honest, I just want to be comfortable guys. Like-
Helga Davis: What does that mean?
Biviana Sanchez: I don't want to be paycheck to paycheck. I want to be in nature. I actually don't even want to be in New York City.
So, my dream would be to be a photographer and still be able to live a comfortable serene life, closer to nature. Raise my family. Very chill.
I've been doing this my whole life. I mean, I'm raised in New York. The hustle is ingrained in me, but I want to retire the hustle. I don't want to hustle anymore.
So, I was sharing that I've had the opportunity to be a photographer for a company full time as a salary, my first salary gig. I freelance my whole life and I'm so close finally to getting to where I need to be. And that feels so good. And it's crazy timing because my dad just passed.
But in some ways, I feel like he's here with me because he knew I wanted this.
I found out that I was even thought about for the position the day that I found out that he passed. So, I know there's a connection there. And I'm just going to let God just like create the pathways for me.
Wilson Castro:I love that dream. And I love that connection as well. Mine it's- it's hard because you mentioned capitalistic society. So, it's hard for me to set up a dream cause I feel like I'm open to different kinds of stuff.
But I'm a big fan of storytelling, you know what I mean? Like I love video games and I love to critique bad TV shows and I played Dungeons and dragons with my friends. And we group story tell.
And I just want to tell stories because I feel like so many stories are so boring these days. Like so much stuff that we see is recycled and not original because it's the same people who are hiring the same people. You know what I mean?
So it's like, there's no room for new perspective. And it doesn’t have to be my perspective, but I think that it should be.
Helga Davis: But it does right?
Wilson Castro: Yeah.
Biviana Sanchez: yeah. I want to hear your perspective and I want to hear your- I want to see your play.
Helga Garcia: Me too!
Wilson Castro:Thank you. Um, I'm a huge fan of fantasy in general. So, I just want to change the perception of fantasy being some kind of like white man's game.
Like fantasy is very, very queer. Very, very queer, indeed.
Helga Davis: If you didn't know
Wilson Castro:Yeah. Now you know.
Helga Davis: Got you. What about for you, Raven?
Helga Garcia: Me? Okay. So, I feel like every time I say it shocks people. I want to be a psychological horror comic book writer. So, I've been really into psychological horror for a really long time.
I was really afraid of things when I was younger, but I hit like 10 and I wasn't afraid of much of anything anymore. And I feel like the concept of something being able to scare me. I feel like is impressive.
And I feel like it's a weird concept of a favorite emotion. When my favorite emotion is media induced fear. Like, I don't want to be scared in my actual home, but like when a show is able to give me the worried knots in my stomach, I don't know. I like it. I'm like, yes, this is it. You're, you're invoking a really unique but intense feeling out of me. And I want to be able to do that for other people.
So, I've been obsessed with this concept. I really want to write comic books and draw. I want a story to tell. Yes.
Helga Davis: It's so nice to spend the morning with you.
Biviana Sanchez: Likewise.
Helga Davis: Thank you.
Biviana Sanchez: This is my breakfast.
Helga Davis: And that was my conversation with playwright Wilson, Castro, visual artist, Raven Garcia and photographer, Biviana Santez of Park Avenue Armory’s Youth Corps. I'm Helga Davis.
If you want more of these conversations, subscribe for free wherever you get your podcasts. Give us a rating and share with a friend.
And don't forget to follow me at H-E-L dot G-A-D-A-V-I-S on Instagram.
Helga Davis: The Armory Conversations is a co-production of WNYS Studios and Park Avenue Armory.
The show is produced by Krystal Hawes-Dressler with help from Darien Suggs and myself. Our technical producer is Sapir Rosenblatt. Original music by Meshell Ndegeocello and Jason Moran.
Special thanks to Alex Ambrose. Avery Willis Hoffman is our Executive Producer. Citi and Bloomberg Philanthropies are the Armory’s 2021 season sponsors.
And now The Coda.
Helga Davis: What's your relationship with the Park Avenue Armory.
Biviana Sanchez: I can start cause I've been there the longest. So, when I was in high school in Brooklyn, my school was an architecture school. They had a partnership with The Armory due to the architecture of The Armory. It’s just very impressive. This massive scale building.
So, I applied. I believe I was 17 years old. And I haven't left.
I mean, here's what it is. You began as a youth corps, which means that you are learning certain skills to work in an art institution. Because you're doing ushering, you're learning about the arts, speaking about the arts. you creating art projects, your-
Helga Davis: And you're a liaison between the institution and the people who come.
Biviana Sanchez: Exactly. But you're also learning, you're meeting other kids from other schools. That was the coolest part, I think. And you're getting paid to do all these things.
So, I continued, it actually gave me the interest to pursue this art education in college. I went to school for that. Graduated in that. Started teaching for The Armory part-time.
It's like a really cool partnership because I like to spread my wings and do different things, but I can always have like a home at The Armory. So now I'm 26 and I'm still around.
Helga Garcia: Well, I'm 20. I think I did it around the same age. Seventeen. It's a little bit of a flex, but you have to write an essay before you get your audition. And me and one of my friends were the first people to be auditioned in our group. And then we were the two to get it.
So, I was like, “You didn't have to look at anyone else. I was right here all along. The first one!”
But I loved The Armory so much. When the pandemic hit, I feel like The Armory really was like a backbone because it kept me engaged with others. So, that way there wasn't losing complete contact with people. I was still being engaged and talking to others. But I was still having some sort of like support. I don't know.
I treasure The Armory.
Biviana Sanchez: They are like- they become a second family to a lot of us.
What about you Wilson?
Wilson Castro:I started it when I was 16. But I feel like I didn't really take it a hundred percent seriously when I was in high school. I feel like I took it like an afterschool program.
And then I went to college and I kind of went ghost for like four years or like two and a half to three years. But then I kept getting the email. Of like this and that and whatever.
And then I got the email about a certain program. The teaching apprentice program. And I was like, oh, let me apply for that. And I had this strategy that I was like, I know they would want to see me again. So, they have to accept me into this program to see me again.
So, it's like, cause I knew it was kind of like a program that a lot of people would apply for. So I got in and then as I was exiting college, I kind of learned that that was privileged thing to have. So I felt like my ACE or felt like my tool that I wasn't utilizing.
So, then when I came back from college or during the summer break, I really went hard with The Armory. I kept saying yes to everything, trying to really show who I was.
And then during the pandemic, they really helped because they had programs to do art and need never judged you in the art. No matter how, how much you stretch the concept.
And then with the zoom calls, that's actually when started, um, experimenting with my appearance because they would compliment me on how I looked in the little Zoom box.
So, I feel like it allowed me to be more of myself. And ,so I felt really appreciated. And then that's where I am now.