Editor’s note: Part of a continuing series of stories in May profiling the award-winners of El Concilio Family Service 2012 Latino Leadership awards — “Excellence in Education.” The awards gala will be held on Friday, June 1, 2012 at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. Click here or call 805-486-9777 for more information.
Amigos805 staff reports
Margaret Cortese, a psychologist in Ventura County for more than 30 years, is one of the founders and current executive director of Teatro de las Américas, which presents a number of bilingual plays in the region.
“Though the work doesn’t happen in a school classroom, it has had a major impact on many young people in our community and has brought out their best by building up their skills, self-confidence and self-discipline, as well as acting and other technical talents,” a nomination letter stated. “I personally have seen how the discipline of Teatro has improved the lives of youth. Given these opportunities to work hard and shine, many go on to become involved in their community as teachers, actors, business entrepreneurs and even technically proficient workers in the entertainment industry … And Margaret has made it all possible, with her leadership, personal sacrifice as well as a complete lack of self-interest or ego — Teatro has survived through very difficult times.”
Another nomination letter reported:
“An article written by John Phillips on the VCS Cultural Gem: “Oxnard is fortunate to be the home of Teatro de las Américas, Ventura County’s resident Spanish-language theater company. For years, this valiant band of volunteer thespians has brought the vibrant culture of the the Latin American stage to various small venues throughout the county.”
In another nomination letter:
“Since here retirement as a psychologist in our community a few years ago, Margaret has dedicated herself tirelessly to benefit Teatro de las Américas and mentor the youth who are recruited to participate in the plays. She is selfless in this work that encompasses all aspects of the theater from recruiting actors and stage hands, technical work in lighting and sound, set design, advertising, fundraising, producing and translating the Spanish into English for the supertitles … Margaret is a person who leads by doing, and she never ceases to come through.”
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, she spent all her vacation time with her grandparents in northern Mexico. She has lived in Ventura County since 1978 and worked with the Ventura County Mental Health Dept., joining as a intern and staying after completing her PhD.
“In 1991, a friend invited me to take on a small role in a Spanish language version of A Doll’s House / Casa de muñeca at the Santa Paula Theater Center,” Cortese wrote in her acceptance letter. “We had such a good time with that play that the cast and crew became the founders of Teatro de las Américas. I continued on stage for several plays. I also learned how to be a producer in the early years under the tutelage of the founding artistic director, Christina Ærenlund (a recipient of the Latino Leadership Award a few years ago). Eventually I took over the job of executive director. I am proud that Teatro is celebrating its 20th anniversary in June and presenting its 50th production this year. ”