“I think it’s important that people are challenged.” Said Samira Mendoza when I spoke to them, “I think there are a lot of important conversations and things taking place at Assemble that a lot of other companies are only talking about.”
Samira Mendoza has been working at Assemble for about two years, and has been a coordinator for various programs, including 21+ Nights. Before that, they did work at the Andy Warhol museum.
“I had lived in Garfield for a bit, and I loved living there, and I wanted to do something that would more directly impact the community.” They said, when asked about their decision to join Assemble. “When I was working at the museum, we were doing a lot of work with the community, but it was very one and done, versus building a relationship with students, making more of a platform for people.”
To Samira, authenticity and collective unity are important principles that guide their journey. On the subject of the upcoming 21+ Night, which is themed around Nightlife, Samira said, “There’s a lot of people who don’t have access to turntables and other DJ equipment but who really want to learn.”
They seek people with a passion and connection to the subject in order to make the experience both enjoyable and educational. “I have my own personal reasons why I think it [Nightlife] is very important, but that’s like, a part of what this thing is about, is educating on why we should have these spaces, and what some of these important roles in nightlife are.”
As a DJ themselves, Samira has a personal connection to the subject matter of the program. In a constant search for new music, new feelings, new knowledge, the coordinator shows a true appreciation for change and curiosity, movement and motion. Never complacent, these principles carry over into their role as an educator as well as an artist. “I’m always digging. I’m part Puerto Rican, and I was listening to Bomba the other day, and I got lost in it. So now I’ve been like, really digging more into that. Bomba is like, resistance music. It came from very early on, when the first slaves came through. A lot of the time it would appear at protests, but it was always centered around community.”
They have trouble choosing a favorite project they’ve worked on, but they point to the Unblurred experience with Darrell Kinsel as a memorable one. “Darrell is just someone who really inspires me. He’s very unapologetically himself working within these often constraining systems, systems where black and brown people don’t really get to say much or have much power.” Working with Kinsel was a very validating experience for Samira. They point to the first time they met as a very unique first impression. “The first day he came in, I was kind of going through this stuff where I was like, ‘How do I speak in the workplace? Like, I know how I would speak normally, but I guess I have to code switch.’” Kinsel walks in, and they greet each other with a “Yo” and Kinsel stops to remark on the quality of Samira’s “Yo”.
Kinsel asked where Samira was from, and they responded saying they were from North Carolina. “And then he was like ‘That’s not a North Carolina yo!’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, my Dad’s from the Bronx,’ and he was like ‘Oh, that’s an OG yo!’ And that was very validating.”
Being a program coordinator is not without its challenges, however. “Every once in a while, there’s some last minute thing that’ll happen. A lot of my job is working with a lot of guest artists that are passing through. I’ve had people drop out 20 minutes into a class, so being able to adapt with that is important. It’s a bummer because students are specifically showing up sometimes for those guests.”
A moment of growth for Samira was an experience with a student from Hack the Future. Samira recognized the talent of a student who had been with Assemble for seven years and invited them to be the Unblurred artist of the month. “They were so thrilled. The whole family came through. We made giant prints of their work, and they had never been able to see their work at that scale before. It was really- I cried.” To Samira, it was an experience that embodied the concept of progress. “It was really cool to see that come full circle, the student becomes the teacher.”
Samira seems to cherish the experiences in Hack the Future. “It’s just a place where everybody’s like, truly themselves. People have come out in that class. It’s very open, and they end up venting a lot of times. ”
Education is a priority for Samira that they do not compromise on. Education and learning are vehicles for change, movement, and authenticity. “I wanted to make this year even more based on bringing in students as collaborators or guest artists. I would like to have a student from one of the after school programs take over the gallery space and give them the day to teach. I feel like teaching is something everyone should at least try because you learn so much from doing it.”
One of the most important things for making an educational experience work is trust. A teacher must put trust in the students, and Samira understands this. “I’ve found that whenever I’ve given anyone that gallery space, like, ‘Do whatever you want, this is your space, this is your zone, just don’t use Sharpies on the walls,’ people just really explore. We’re doing that with Hack the Future right now. They’re on this really deep path right now, talking about taking 3D printers that are purposely making botched jobs and slowly destroying themselves because that’s how they feel.”
Samira’s value as an educator as well as a learner cannot be overstated. “Assemble is a great place, anyone is welcome. If you want to make something or just hang out.”
By Yousuf Lachhab