Inspiring Joy, Art and Collaboration
Lower School Spanish Classes Learn How a Philly Bus Bridges Hispanic Communities to Their Culture
La guagua, la Catrina, Bomba, el Vejigante— these are just some of the Spanish words the Lower School students learned from a community film and art project that illustrates Latinx and Hispanic culture. Students experienced a vibrant, festive musical film in which a salsa dancer rhythmically travels on a bus connecting her to her roots and ultimately giving her visibility and a sense of belonging.
La Guagua 47 is an eight-minute, magic-realist film showcasing art, song and dance of the community on the SEPTA 47 bus, or la guagua. The SEPTA 47 bus line passes through Philadelphia's iconic Ninth Street Market along a 10-mile route that connects Philadelphia’s vibrant Latinx communities. The upbeat, colorful film inspired Lower School’s Language and Culture Department
to create its own La Guagua PC. Spanish teachers Sonia Duprez and Anabelle Montero- Hricz worked with students in every grade, and after two months of collaboration and creation La Guagua PC was displayed in the Lower School. In March, the film’s producer, two principal dancers and choreographer visited PC to meet with students, watch the short film together, and lead an interactive presentation of salsa dancing.
In this Q&A, both Sonia Duprez and La Guagua 47 producer Alba Martinez share their insights on why educating the Philadelphia and PC communities on Latinx and Hispanic heritage leads to cultural awakenings, connection and inclusivity.
What was the Lower School project you developed?
Sonia Duprez, PC Lower School Spanish teacher
“The Lower School Spanish Department has recently been renamed Language and Culture, and in September we wanted to highlight that cultural component and commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month. We wanted a project that would be new and fresh for students and that could be celebrated in every grade. The idea for the project was that PC students would learn more about the idea of Latinidad, particularly in Philadelphia, through the La Guagua 47 film. We then wanted them to create a hands-on project celebrating not only Latinidad but also the idea that we are all part of a community, similar to how it is portrayed in the film: joyful, artful and collaborative.
“Every grade participated in some way. Pre-K and kindergarten created beautiful paper flowers to represent our individuality. First grade created colorful ribbons that connect us to the greater community. Second grade painted the cardboard bus with a beautiful color mural. Third graders created diverse portraits of the riders—some were even self-portraits, riding into a wonderful future. Fourth graders illustrated the Philadelphia landmarks. And fifth graders researched and then illustrated some lesser-known places in Philly that are cultural hubs for the Latinx community, such as Taller Puertorriqueño and South Philly Barbacoa restaurant.”
How did you learn about the short film La Guagua 47?
“I am new to the department, and one of my interests in this position was to find meaningful connections within our city. I
just began researching Latinx programming, cultural centers and such and came across the film premiere at the Kimmel Center. I watched it and was blown away by the beauty and message of the film. It is a short, musical dream sequence that is perfect for the Lower School. My colleague, Anabelle Montero-Hricz, loved it, and we developed the project to accompany the film. The students responded so positively to the film that I decided to reach out via email to the production company, RitmoLab. Alba Martinez, the company founder, responded immediately. They had not yet partnered with schools but were eager to start a collaboration with PC. After a few months of planning, we were able to bring her to school with two principal dancers from the film and the choreographer, who is an educator and gave a phenomenal presentation.”
How did you come up with the concept for La Guagua 47?
Alba Martinez, Film producer and creative director
“La Guagua 47 is a short musical film showcasing the vibrancy of Philadelphia’s Latino community, which brought together over 50 Latinx artists and 1,000 community members in its production. It tells a story about finding community, inspired by my own journey on a SEPTA 47 bus in 1985. I had just moved to Philadelphia as a young lawyer and felt homesick for my family and culture but could not find the Latinx community, which was literally invisible to the people I asked. One day, I came across a Latinx cultural organization in a phone book, and the young man who answered the phone told me, ‘Hurry and get on the 47 bus!’ The guagua 47 took me to the heart of Latinx Philly, a community that became a central part of my life from that day on. I was able to find the place I was longing for, that radiates a sense of tradition, culture and belonging. The 47 bus is the portal that brings Latinx home.
“In 2020, after 30+ years in leadership roles in Philadelphia nonprofit organizations, I decided to return full-time to community impact work. I was shocked to discover that the Latinx community, despite its growth and contributions, remains quite invisible and overlooked. The motivation for making this film was to ensure Philadelphia’s Latinx are seen, celebrated and not held back by outdated stereotypes.”
Why is this important to the PC community?
“It is important for so many reasons! First, we have teachers, administrators, staff and students who identify as Latinx/Hispanic at PC. Additionally, it was important to give younger students a clearer understanding of Latinidad. Often, that is seen as something foreign, other or exclusive to speaking another language; but many people born in our city or in this country identify strongly with their Latino and Hispanic heritage. We need to celebrate that! Also, in Lower School we often discuss ‘windows and mirrors’ as essential for seeing ourselves reflected in the stories we learn, and looking into other people’s lives and their sometimes marginalized experiences. This project aimed to do both. We also wanted to have fun! The idea of the SEPTA bus gathering people through music and dance is perfect for young learners. It’s visual, multisensory, interactive and cultural.”
Why is this important to the Latinx/Hispanic community?
“The Latinx community in Philadelphia currently makes up 16% of the population and has been a driving force of overall population growth in the city over the past decade.
Latinx are major contributors to Philadelphia’s economy, through their cultural vibrancy to their labor market and their entrepreneurial spirit. Despite these contributions, this community is challenged by a high poverty rate and low high-school graduation rates. Shattering stereotypes with visibility and positive narratives is essential to facilitating a faster path to equity and prosperity for the Latinx community.
La Guagua 47’s goal is to promote positive awareness and was designed to be inviting and inclusive. The project aims to build bridges, counter invisibility, and bring new opportunities for Latinx to be recognized and included within the city’s social and community fabric. This is why sharing the film with the Penn Charter community is so exciting and rewarding. It is our mission in action. I hope we will continue exploring opportunities to bring the Penn Charter and Latinx communities closer together through this joy-filled project!”
See the film at www.laguagua47.com.