Amalia’s work addresses issues of women’s rights, class, race, etc. with insight, humor, and a keen eye for characterization. She has written and starred in several multi-media plays including: Otra Esa on the Public Transit, Women of Ill Repute: Refute!, and co-authored Fear of a Brown Planet. Each of these plays represented a different way of addressing Chicana (& Tejana) existence – Otra Esa was a one woman play where Amalia embodied multiple characters whose lives intertwine on a bus ride. It highlighted issues of race, class, and gender, and the dailiness of oppression, passion, and living. Women of Ill Repute was an all-female cast questioning the images and treatment of women and celebrating their lives in San Antonio. Fear of a Brown Planet in which 3 Chican@ archetypes wake up to find themselves interned for unknown reasons and work through fear and displacement in order to find enlightenment. The play once again delves into the meaning of culture, gender and raced oppression, and the place of Latinas in the N. American imaginary as well as their own.
She has also starred in plays by accomplished Chicana feminists like Maria Ibarra and activist theater plays throughout the American Southwest and West Coast. Her humorous turn in the independent film Speeder Kills always reminds me of the celebrations of colonialism turned “Hispanic pride festivals” in my area of the world. It has become an important teachable film for discussing how colonialism gets rewritten through elitism, the female body, and the erasure of accountability.
Amalia is also an accomplished poet. She has toured the country with Def Poetry Jam and the Slam American National Bus Tour. She was the first Latina to make it to the slam finals and took second place in the national poetry slam. She co-formed the all female, multi-cultural, poetry group Diva Diction with fellow poets Bassey and Ishle Park. Their hope was to bring a new feminist vision and voice to college campuses and poetry venues alike. She has been featured on multiple poetry CDs including her own. She also performed her poems at NAACP Image Awards and for the First Lady. Her moving poem on the Women of Juarez also reminds us of the connections between women who by nature of gender, as well as race, class, status, etc. live in the borderlands where physical and sexual violence are always options to control or erase us.
Her work is not only part of a growing movement to address Xicanisma in both new and tried ways but also represents her commitment to social justice. Amalia’s performances have often been tied to women’s funding raising against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Rape Awareness, and Women’s Health. She has consistently done workshops and performances for Women’s and Cultural Centers around the country. And she centers women’s experiences and empowerment in her written/spoken work as well as the mentorship of others. She currently works as part of an artist mentorship collective that not only produces plays and poetry in collaboration with Chican@ youth but encourages them to find their own voices. The very human way in which she interacts with her audience and invites them to be participants is part of her appeal and her contribution to feminist and cultural consciousness raising in a world where it is still sorely needed.
Her poem about the women of Juarez is one that I often start my classes on femicide with. I turn the recording on and do not have to ask my students to draw still, they do it on their own. After we listen, I pass out the words and ask them to read it in small groups, thinking back to the recent somatic experience of hearing it. While they talk, I write the definition of femicide on the board. It is one of the most powerful exercises we do in class. And I love turning to my students and telling them, Amelia Ortiz is a young feminist like them. You should see their minds explode with the recognition of the potential of their own voices.