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Undocumented Youth Express Hope for the Future in “DREAMers”

[Jens Schott Knudsen]



By Gina Chung


Directed by Adam Odsess-Rubin

Written by: Alton Alburo, Krystal Ballard, Rachel Lin, Adam Odsess-Rubin, Reka Polonyi, Luis Restrepo, Aamira Welthy

On Monday evening, the cast of DREAMers, a work of investigative theater presented by Theater for the New City’s NEW CITY, NEW BLOOD Reading Series in association with The Civilians Education Program, presented monologues collected from interviews with undocumented youth in NYC.

The performance took the form of a scripted reading, with the actors portraying various anonymous interviewees and their monologues gradually overlapping to form an increasingly synchronized chorus of voices. The actors, who conducted the interviews themselves before editing and compiling them to create a final script, presented the stories with sensitivity and nuance, touching on themes such as family, home, and what it means to be “American.” Despite the anger, sadness, and fear felt by many of the undocumented youth whose stories were featured in the performance, an overarching theme of the night was hope, as many of the interviewees discussed their ambitions for the future and expressed the hope that their stories would make other undocumented immigrants feel less alone.

Luis Restrepo gave a particularly spirited reading of a DREAMer who, despite having his illusions about life in the U.S. shattered upon his arrival to the States, remained undaunted and hoped to pursue his love of dance and theater: “I told myself, I’m here, I have to keep on going.” Rachel Lin portrayed an interviewee who, faced with the threat of deportation, consulted lawyers who told her to be on the lookout for the DREAM Act: “The DREAM Act didn’t come through, but DACA did.” Others, such as the interviewee played by Reka Polonyi, were skeptical about DACA, which was instituted under President Obama in August of 2012. The interviewee recalled seeing friends crying at the news: “Why are you crying? It’s nothing. It’s giving you only one piece of the cake.”

The performance also addressed the term “undocumented,” which is considered to be less offensive and dehumanizing than “illegal.” “I’d rather be called undocumented than illegal,” said an interviewee played by Aamira Welthy, adding that being considered “illegal” is burdensome, “like a shadow on our face.”

Recently, activists like journalist Jose Antonio Vargas have also urged media outlets to refrain from using the term due to its marginalizing effects and its inaccuracy.

“‘Ironically, describing an immigrant as ‘illegal’ is legally inaccurate,’ he said. ‘Being in a country without proper documents is a civil offense, not a criminal one.'”

—Ted Hesson, via ABC Univision

The aspirations of the young DREAMers were also a focal point of the piece, with many wanting their own achievements to lead to gains for their community or family members. “I dream of opening a clinic. Not here. In my own country,” said one interviewee. “If one day I could get citizenship that would be – wow. I would feel like nothing could stop me,” said another.

Lin’s interpretation of one interviewee’s experience provided a powerful and poignant look at the psychological effects of being undocumented. The interviewee spoke of the isolation and bitterness she often felt about her status: “People don’t realize how much this status separates you from others.” As a child, she felt that she couldn’t discuss her dreams with others: “I hated talking about other people’s dreams because I couldn’t have it. I couldn’t have those dreams. . . . But you can’t say that to people.” When the interviewee heard anti-immigrant jokes and slurs, she felt she didn’t have the right to speak out: “I felt wrong. I felt like I was lying to this country.” She added that she would never want anyone else to experience what she did, and hoped that her story, through the DREAMers project, would inspire others: “You have a community. You have a voice. There’s this hope you have.”

That same hope was epitomized in the words of another interviewee, played by Krystal Ballard, who declared, “I love this country. I love New York. Something really great awaits me in the future.”

In a talkback after the performance, audience members had the opportunity to talk to and ask questions of the cast and two interviewees. In response to a question from the audience regarding whether people were on the whole willing to discuss their stories with the actors, director Adam Odsess-Rubin spoke of one interviewee who thanked him for taking the time to record his story, as otherwise no one would ever have heard it.

“You get so much about an institutional issue if you only get five to ten minutes of someone’s personal experience,” said Steve Cosson, founding artistic director of The Civilians, at the conclusion of the talkback.

Gina Chung is a contributing writer at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Continue the conversation by posting a comment here, on OurChinatown’s Facebook page, or on Twitter at @ourchinatown.

Short URL: http://www.ourchinatown.org/?p=14056

Posted by on Dec 13 2012. Filed under NEWS, News Left, PEOPLE, SLIDER. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Undocumented Youth Express Hope for the Future in “DREAMers””

  1. Hearing the personal experiences is what makes it real. Immigrants face many hardships. Young immigrants that were brought here through no fault of their own identify themselves as American, even though they technically aren’t.

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