There is anger – plenty of it – in Teatro Inmigrante’s new production ‘Who Is Responsible? The Immigrant Crisis at the Southern Border.’
But don’t expect writer/director Agustín Lira nor producer Patricia Wells to apologize.
“Our objective was to get the information out in a way that the audience could get it, through satire and comedy,” said Lira, a noted singer/songwriter who got his start with Teatro Campesino in the 1960s. “We know that it’s a helluva subject and difficult for people to take.
“If it shows anger, it’s because it’s there. If it comes out strong, then good.”
Wells doesn’t back down either.
“It’s an introduction on the historic reasons on how feds have impoverished Central América time after time,” said Wells, who performs several songs, as does Lira, during the 1-hour, 20-minute play. “It gives people a basic understanding of what happened in the past.”
The production – which will have its second and final presentation at 3 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 10) at the Sal Mosqueda Center, 4670 E. Butler Ave. – is broken into four scenes: Vietnam, Guatemala, Central América/Paris, and ‘The Dead Begin to Rise.’
There is a connection on how specific events and actions from the past have created the “so-called immigrant crisis today,” said Lira.
“Since the 19th century, the U.S. has involved itself in detaining affairs Latin América through interventions, the removing of popular and democratic leaders, installing dictatorships, economic warfare, corporate plundering, the sopping of resources (thus) creating poverty, instability and violence,” said Lira at the end of the Aug. 3 presentation attended by about 70 people.
Such actions, he added, undermine democracy and stability.
Among the revelations in the play:
▪ President Dwight Eisenhower, in 1954, authorized the CIA to overthrow Guatemala’s democratically elected President Jacobo Árbenz and install the military dictatorship of Carlos Castillo Armas. Hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled the country, while Armas “tortured, killed and impoverished” thousands.
▪ Following the American Civil War, some southern farmers “wanted to keep slavery” and moved to Honduras. Instead, they found swamps that were not conducive to growing crops, said Wells.
▪ The U.S. backed El Salvador’s military junta led by Gen. Carlos Humberto Romero in that nation’s civil war (1989-92). The strategy the U.S. used in Vietnam by weakening the rebel’s support by eradicating the civilian population was employed in El Salvador. That left more than 1 million people displaced. The United Nations estimated that more than 75,000 Salvadorans died, including Archbishop Óscar Romero who was gunned down as he gave mass in San Salvador in March 1980.
“Studying it hurt. It was painful and very emotional for me to get to work,” said Lira. “Different times of history are shocking.”
Wells recalls listening to a radio interview in which a woman described walking up a to a farm on a hillside and seeing that military squads had massacred the animals.
“The man who owned the farm was beheaded,” said Wells. “I had to pull over to hear the words. How could this be?”
The farmer’s body had to put back together from various body parts.
“I can’t wrap my head around how they could do this,” said Wells.x
Lira, who spent more than a year researching for the play along with Wells, throws out some numbers for thought.
▪ 250 million people worldwide are immigrants.
▪ $304 billion are contributed by immigrants in the United States.
▪ 737 U.S. military bases in more than 130 countries. “What the hell do you need so many bases for? To keep people away from us?” asks Lira.
▪ The U.S. provides military aid to more than 73 percent of the world’s dictators.
He calls for the immediate reunification of children, investments that will lead to economic development and jobs in countries “the U.S. has harmed;” and, closure of all for-profit prisons holding immigrant families.
Primary funding came from The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities, the California Arts Council, and, the California Alliance for Traditional Arts.
Review: Expect an emotional roller coaster
The goal of the play is to provoke thought among the audience: Mission accomplished.
Although the stage is badly lit, and the backdrop is the same throughout, you must realize it’s the audio message that is most important as veteran performers and first-time actors set the base for what has eventually led to thousands and thousands of Central Americans to flee their homeland in search of asylum – and a better life – in the United States.
You experience the killings, the beatings, the fear ... although you physically can’t see them.
There’s a lot of years and countries to cover in a compressed play that had no breaks except for song performances. In the end, you don’t feel like you’ve missed much.
As Patricia Wells notes, the play relies on veterans and newcomers to the teatro scene. No problem. There is no weak link here, as children and adults commit to their lines and deliver effectively.
Nayamín Martínez and Wells carry the brunt of the acting, and stand out by weaving comedy with drama.
Agustín Lira, Merlinda Espinosa and Wells are veteran musicians, whose music and voice add a perfect interlude to the play.
The first-time performance on Aug. 3 did not exactly go like clockwork. There were brief stretches of nothing as crew and cast tried to hurry from one scene to the next, or pick up a guitar for a musical number.
However, those were minor inconveniences in which the body of work conveyed the horror of how U.S.-led backing of dictatorships/corporations/death squads decimated innocent civilians.
At our southern border today, we are feeling those repercussions.