Martha Ramirez-Oropeza is a practicing artist who teaches both theater and visual arts at Edison Language Academy in Santa Monica. She has been a part of the P.S. ARTS family for over 15 years, and we are always thrilled to see the way she combines art, culture, and language in her classes. We had the chance to ask her about her beginnings as an artist and how her practice influences her teaching style today.
Tell us about your personal work and how it affects your teaching.
Since I can remember, I have been making art. I realize that it was a means of coping as a farmworker child traveling back and forth, from Mexico to the United States. I was born in Delicias, Chihuahua, then moved to Colusa, California, then again back to Delicias, and finally to Los Angeles. In Colusa at age six, I had my mouth washed with soap for speaking in Spanish. Then in Delicias, at age eight kids called me “Pocha” and made fun of me because I was from the United States. I was able to thrive and take ownership of my identity with the support of my wonderful aunt who was both an artist and my teacher. She taught me Spanish and math in summer school and allowed me to draw with her. Back in Los Angeles, I went to high school and then entered college with the first Chicano Studies class at California State University, Northridge. By then, I knew what my passion was. I wanted to become a muralist to make this a better world for all. So I went to Mexico City to study under Siqueiros and the Mascarones theater company. My education and experience living on both sides of the border inform my teaching every day. I want my students to understand that art is not just about making the world beautiful, but also about healing and transforming it.
What are some consistent sources of inspiration for you/your artwork?
All of the wonderful P.S. ARTS teaching artists, my teachers, and master artists of all times.
If your students have one main takeaway from your class, what would you like it to be?
The passion, joy, and amazing tools for life that the arts provide.
I want my students to understand that art is not just about making the world beautiful, but also about healing and transforming it.
Tell us about a memorable class/student/lesson.
I often think about a breakthrough we had in a fourth grade class. All year, a student did not speak during drama class. We didn’t force her to say her lines, we just asked her if she wanted someone else to say them for her and she said yes. All the students supported her. On the performance day, we were all so moved as she said, “Ok, I can say my lines now.” Both the classroom teacher and I cried.
What famous person, either dead or alive, would you choose to take out for coffee?
Maestro David Alfaro Siqueiros, with whom I did have many cups of coffee when I was young. He was an amazing storyteller, an inspired and creative problem-solver, and of course, an extraordinary master muralist.
Thank you, Martha Ramirez-Oropeza, for sharing what has shaped you as an artist and teacher. 💜 Teaching Artists like Martha Ramirez-Oropeza are a vital part of what makes P.S ARTS programs succeed. Support our teaching artists here.