Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers Invades Encuentro Festival
In the Latin American tradition, the poet, performer, and artist bears a social responsibility, an almost mythic duty, to document and articulate the people’s struggle—la lucha de la gente—when they are denied effective means to have their voices heard in their fight against oppression and their many oppressors. I am an interdisciplinary artist, and I explore the underbelly of the “American Dream” mythology and the Latino immigrant experience through writings, performance, and visual art practices.
I was born in Ecuador, and I arrived in the United States with my mother in 1968 at the tender age of seven. I am an immigrant, and I know first-hand the effects of marginalization that immigrants endure in a country like the U.S.—one that applauds itself as the beacon of democracy, but has a dark legacy of demonizing immigrants. I am a naturalized United States citizen, but I self-identify as a bilingual native of the Hemispheric Americas—Immigrants’ Rights drive my thematic concerns. Raised in New York and New Jersey, I have been hearing the stories and challenges of my immigrant community for decades.
I am deeply committed to using performance and experimental theater practices to convey the stories of the voiceless. My great grandmother entrusted me with this duty; she was the one who told me I needed to tell our story. She would say that in the U.S. people think that immigrants come from nothing, especially Latinos, but she would emphasize that we came from something. Our family tree includes one of the early presidents and revolutionary leaders of Ecuador, Eloy Alfaro, a well-known poet and pianist named Colombia Tama, and a Supreme Court Judge, Gustavo Tama. We have family in politics and law, theater, and even telenovelas.
I hold steadfast to a belief that artists can be instrumental in creating work that serves as the conscience of our times while forging a divine marriage between political content and experimental form. ALIENS, IMMIGRANTS & OTHER EVILDOERS is a creative response to the continuous attacks on Latino immigrants by conservative zealots who demonize our people: Fear mongering and divisive politicians who exploit us politically as scapegoats for the economic failures of a country still reeling from the myriad rampant abuses and despotic policies of the previous Bush administration, one that bankrupt the country with a war built on lies by advantageously using the tragedy of 9/11 to push an agenda of blind nationalism. If you dared question that rogue administration, which actually stole the presidency, you were considered unpatriotic, an enemy of the republic, and even a terrorist.
The biggest fallout of the post-9/11 tragedy is the rise of an anti-immigrant hysteria, and we cannot deny that Latino immigrants have been under a state of persecution since then by a hypocritical system that exploits immigrant labor while it dehumanizes the same people for new forms of slavery. The “illegal aliens” scarlet moniker has added to the dehumanization of immigrant mothers and fathers who have fled their native lands because of economical despair—created by U.S. political and corporate intervention in Mexico, Central, and South America.
Those economies are decimated through the support of many brutal dictatorships and the importation of an unfettered capitalism with no respect for workers’ rights. For centuries, the U.S. has supported gringo corporate interests to turn Latin America into another China; where human rights, worker’s rights, and land rights are just antiquated notions blocking exploitation that benefits the imperial mother ship. This is the dark side of what amounts to a sci-fi reality, and I satirize this “alien” vilification moniker by shape-shifting into a variety of bilingual Latino extraterrestrials who expose the hypocrisy of a system that has migrated to the dark side of humanity.
ALIENS, IMMIGRANTS & OTHER EVILDOERS is described as a sci-fi Latino noir performance solo, and it’s informed by film shorts that spoof films such as The Matrix and Star Wars while humanizing the “alien” immigrants; offering the humanity of a people under persecution. The piece is also inspired by the real lives of immigrants I interviewed in the cities of New Orleans, Houston, and Washington, DC, and they shared their dramatic border-crossing stories with me. I honor these harrowing tales giving human efficacy to the performance narrative.
I am interested in creating a human theater that entertains and challenges and where the experimental collides with the political. My work is generally informed by a magical realist approach to stage lighting, and it’s characterized by performance rituals, bilingual texts, documentary research, film shorts, and exaggerated characters. ALIENS exposes the hypocrisies that abound in the so-called land of the free.
I am extremely grateful to share this work at the Los Angles Theater Center’s historic Encuentro Festival and with their audiences, and the ALIENS performances were genuinely embraced by the LATC community. It was truly an honor to participate in such a monumental festival bringing national Latino artists, performers, actors, choreographers, directors, playwrights, and musicians together along with long-lasting companies like Pregones, Su Teatro, INTAR Theatre, El Teatro Campesino, and Borderlands Theater. The two ALIENS shows sold out, and for the final Sunday matinee performance, the audience included José Luis Valenzuela, Evelina Fernández, Sal López, Marissa Chibas, and Roger Guenveur Smith, a cream of the crop performers/actors from the LA area. Also, much kudos for my Encuentro participation is owed to Leo Garcia and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica for establishing a partnership with the LATC to bring this work to Southern California. With the support of a National Performance Network Residency, I performed ALIENS in Santa Monica at the iconic Highways Performance Space as an off-site Encuentro project, and offered free two-day performance workshops there to the performance art curious. But as I tour across the country, I especially invite Tea Party members and other GOP patrons.
I hope to move their hearts and stimulate their minds, and even make them laugh. In the process, I break down the myths that have been created to demonize immigrants today. Most of the folks demonizing immigrants today are themselves the great-great grandsons and great-granddaughters of previous immigrant generations, and if they are the descendants of Pilgrims, then, they need to consider Romney’s “Self-Deportation” platform. The Pilgrims arrived without papers. Why were they not deported?
If we dare to be truthful, the meta-fiction reality of this continent’s colonization is that the real aliens are the Europeans and their descendants. Columbus and his three ships were the first European invaders and illegal aliens, and their Castilian Spanish was the first non-indigenous language spoken in the continents of the Americas. Like the Puritanical English who arrived in the Mayflower, the transformation of land into property was one of the precepts upon which the colonization of indigenous people is based on—not just here but across the globe where European powers have taken turns to subjugate and enslave. Unless you are Native American, you have no real claim to these lands, which were appropriated for Eurocentric power expansion.
I have Quechua Andean blood coursing through my veins as do most Ecuadorian people, who are Mestizos mixed with Spanish and the indigenous people. I am more American than most, having been born in South America and raised in North America. We have to remember our history, but in the United States of Amnesia the company policy is to embrace forgetting because the land of the free is founded on the near genocide of the true stewards of this land, the Native People or the First People, the enslavement of Africans to build an empire, and appropriation of the Northern territories of Mexico from Texas to California to manifest imperial destiny.
My work is best served when the audiences are diverse, but all folks are invited to share in a new discovery of the hidden truths. Latino immigrants should experience this work because they will see themselves in the stories being performed, heroic tales of a people forced to migrate. No human being is illegal, and in my universe, there is NO GUACAMOLE for immigrant haters!
I am deeply committed to telling the untold stories of my Latino people, especially my immigrant brothers and sisters. In New Orleans, the dirtiest little secret in the open air of the reconstruction of the Big Easy is that the city owes a huge debt to the Latino immigrants who helped to rebuild her post-Katrina. In the summer of 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center released its dramatic research data that 80% of the immigrants who reconstructed New Orleans were victims of wage theft. That is an astounding statistic, but the “new” New Orleans owes much to immigrant workers who began rebuilding her when she was in critical condition. But the City that Care Forgot has forgotten to thank the thousands of Latino immigrants who contributed to her rebirth. As I write this, Latino immigrants continue to struggle to remain in a city they have helped to rebuild, and the labeling of undocumented workers as “illegal aliens” subjects them to abuse by a Juan Crow system addicted to slave labor.
It’s real life stories that are the most truthful, and through the research process I engage in, the goal is to take these stories of people living in the shadows and bring them to the bright lights of the stage. My goal is to offer another truth about immigrant communities whose people are being diminished and criminalized, and I do not have the luxury to explore form for the sake of form—indulging in meaningless art processes that abet the power structure. If art does not challenge the power structure with well-crafted meaningful work, then it becomes an accomplice to the banal entertainment the system supports.