Baltimost: Maria Gabriela Aldana, founder of Neighborhood Voices and Queer Stories

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Credit: Scarlett Aldana

Baltimost is a Baltimore Fishbowl feature series that asks locals what they love about their city. The idea is to celebrate Baltimore and the people who make it so unique.

So what makes Baltimore the Baltimost to you? It could be a favorite place, a great meal, a memorable interaction or something else entirely. Email suggestions to Karen at [email protected]

Maria Gabriela Aldana, 39, founder of Neighborhood Voices and Queer Stories

In her words: “I haven’t really been officially out of the closet as a bisexual woman. I have multiple identities and it’s a lot to juggle. That’s why I focus on intersections of race and sexual orientation.

I started Neighborhood Voices in 2012 with a group of community organizers, residents and teens. We create workshops, exhibits and performances confronting race and racism, including an annual storytelling event. I was recently sharing drawings and poems with a Neighborhood Voices friend, and I thought, ‘We’re all queer here; we should do queer stories!’

This Sunday is the first one. Queer Stories is a free event six times a year at The Crown. There will be six speakers, including me, and open mic. We’re all queer, but different ages and racial backgrounds. That’s important. We’re telling stories about accepting and loving ourselves.

I think performance is so therapeutic. We all need a little healing. Why not do that in front of an audience?  That’s when self-acceptance and creativity merge.

I’m originally from Nicaragua. My family moved to Miami when I was 5 to escape the Contra War and fight for a better life.

By the time I was in middle school, I was depressed, like a lot of young people struggling between two cultures. Art became an outlet for me. As a teen, I relied on drawing, painting, stained glass, wood sculptures, papier-mâché, clay, a little bit of everything.

I went to a public magnet school for design and architecture, and then to the Maryland Institute College of Art. I loved Baltimore from my first visit. I graduated in 2003, then got a masters in arts in community arts from MICA in 2006.

Now, I work with new nonprofits that support Latinx artists and folklore in Baltimore and throughout Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. One is Vive! Todo Esta En Ti (Live! Everything is in You) and the other is Nuestres Raices (Our Roots). There’s such a demand for bilingual administrative support for artists.

I’m also teaching with the Ceasefire program. I work with elementary and high school students. We make inspirational posters and talk about how to prevent gun violence. I love working with and listening to young people so much.

Another thing I love about Baltimore is the No Class Podcast, a black millennial podcast with the most charming, informed and inspirational duo you’ll ever meet. I always follow their interviews and insights when I need a pick-me-up, and I’m excited that they will be recording Queer Stories.”



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