September 25, 2006

Play Address U.S. Immigration Issues

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Spanish speakers and students congregated in Ithaca’s Kitchen Theatre for a performance of Fronteras/Borders, a short play which focused on immigration and relations between the U.S. and Latin America. The play was put on by members of TeatroTallar, a Spanish theater workshop.

Written by TeatroTallar advisor Elvira Sanchez-Blake, romance studies, the story is a synthesis of ideas from members of TeatroTallar, a play written by Guillermo Verdecchia and a previous work by Sanchez-Blake. Sanchez-Blake worked with these three sources to create a piece which shines light on modern social conflict.

“I want the audience to think about the debate over borders and its origin,” said Sanchez-Blake.

The cast included students as well as actors from the Ithaca community. Each cast member took on multiple role; most played more than one person from different sides of the border.
The diverse array of characters includes two border officials, Christopher Columbus and a spunky Spanish-speaker named Wideload, who finds it hard to place himself into a clear social group.

“One of the main elements of the play is to sort of make fun of, and break down barriers,” said Ahley Puig Herz grad, who played Wideload. “My character was sort of the stereotype held by a lot of non-Latino/Hispanics etc. — however you want to label people — even if people wouldn’t admit to it.”

“It’s a playful play,” agreed cast member Malia Spofford grad.

Fronteras/Borders comically points out that pilgrims did not need visas or green cards to come to the US, and that you rarely see Mexicans enjoying a meal at Taco Bell. The work also draws from theater of the absurd. In the final scene, a confused Christopher Columbus is mistaken for a drug dealer and terrorist, and is taken to Guantanamo upon arrival to the New World.
This performance was sponsored by the Latino Civic Association as part of its celebration of Latino Heritage Month, held Sept. 15 through Oct. 15.

“The play is a story of immigrants, about all of the challenges they face here in the US,” said Leonardo Vargas-Méndez, executive director of the Cornell University Public Service Center and president of the Latino Civic Association of Tompkins County.
“It is a way for us to bring the issue to a different level for people to understand the real life for people living in very unstable and unsafe conditions,” he said.

The subject is relevant in light of recent debate over U.S. immigration law. The House of Representatives recently approved plans for a 700-mile fence along the US-Mexico border to help curb illegal immigration.
“This wall is going to be built on the blood of people whose only crime is to seek jobs,” Vargas-Méndez said to the audience, provoking scattered applause.

Spofford added, “The idea is to conflate the kind of words that get tossed around by politicians, that isn’t anything clear. The perspectives on each side of the border are completely different and if that is not taken into account than you can’t really pass a just law.”

The Latino Civic Center will be holding several more cultural events this month, including a music and dance party to honor Latino professionals in Tompkins County, an evening of art, a poetry reading and a Latin-funk concert.

TeatroTallar has several more performances scheduled for this year.
The next play the group will present is The Dog Lady, at the Schwartz Performing Arts Center Sept. 29, 30 and Oct. 1.