Q&A With Cecilia Nadal, Event Coordinator Of St. Louis’s Grand Boulevard Hug-In

There’s something inside each of us longing to connect. Our bodies, minds and spirits call out to one another, hoping to find safety, acceptance and love. These are truths that Cecilia Nadal, executive director and founder of Gitana Productions, believes. Most recently, she has organized an event that takes this Saturday Feb. 4 on South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis, where volunteers and participants can give and receive hugs starting at 2pm. Nadal says the event was created in response to the strife that grew during the recent presidential campaign and election.

It comes not a moment too soon; we are weary and in need of rejuvenation. Nadal, a long-time champion of developing authentic cross-cultural relationships, saw a way to give respite and promote healing after election season. Holding an event of this nature in St. Louis’s South City—a neighborhood that boasts large immigrant and refugee populations—is an opportunity and a starting point. Read our Q&A with Nadal below to learn more about her approach to activism and how the event came together. The event will be held at the following locations from 2-5 pm on Feb. 4.

Carpenter Library – 3309 S. Grand
Jays International Food – 3172 S. Grand
Aldi’s – 3721. S. Grand
Rooster South Grand – 3150 S. Grand

Cecilla Portrait

Cecilia Nadal, executive director and founder of Gitana Productions

Why and how did you come up with this event idea?
We were all thinking about the election and the negative accumulation of feelings that have developed in us since then. It occurred to us, since we are very involved in community engagement, that this might be a great way to say to immigrants, to refugees, to those who come from the LGBT community, to blacks, to whites—to everyone—that they are welcome.

I thought that given everything that happened with the election and given the complexity of the diversity on the South Side, that maybe this hugging thing would be something that would give people a reprieve from all the negativity. And that’s right up our alley, because the position of Gitana is to use the arts as a way to bring people together. We often do community-engagement activities just to stir them up, as it were, to bring some understanding—that cross-cultural engagement is far more important than diversity.

How can hugs create cross-cultural engagement?
Cross-cultural engagement means you spend time together, but you need first steps, and hugs are first steps. It’s a start. It’s not meant to be an end-all, but it is setting an example that goes beyond diversity.

Why hold the event in South City?
I would say the demographics of South City and its potential to go deeper than just diversity on the street is there. The idea of people seeing diversity as the hugs occur make it more palatable in some ways, because they see that they are not afraid of hugging someone who is different than they are. And I think that modeling is important.

Do people tell you they need hugs?
I’ve had a number of people email and say, “I need a hug right now.” I’m glad we’re doing something where people can feel like they can say it. We need to get that off our chest. All of it is what we need as human beings: to feel free, to speak the truth about where we are and what we’re feeling. Also to receive, and to give.

Have the volunteers been coached on hugging?
We are going to have a meeting at 1:30 at Carpenter Library to talk about that. We will talk about some cultural things that we need to be aware of, and there are guidelines we need to follow.

Why are hugs good for St. Louis?
We are in the Show-Me State, and that description is really true for people in general. The only way we get to understanding ourselves and others is to take leaps and steps that are safe. And hugs would be good for St. Louis because it gives us an opportunity to not just say “show me,” but to show others, and to learn a little bit more about ourselves.

What about the future? Do you have other events planned?
Maybe this will be contagious. And to those of us who feel fearful of what’s going on in our country, Gitana is going to say, ‘Keep putting love out there,’ because that’s what’s going to prevail. It’s also going to allow us to go the long haul. If you’re not loving, then you can’t go the distance, because you become incapacitated by the weight of the vitriol of everything that’s going on. Love is also a self-sustaining strategy that allows us to go the long haul.

What about the non-hugger?
Everybody feels good when they get a hug, and if they don’t like hugs, then this is not something for them to come to. But I guarantee you, if you come on Grand these are going to be hugs that you like.

To learn more about Gitana Productions and the work it does to bridge cross-cultural gaps, visit their website.

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