With the midterm elections less than two weeks away, a number of issues vie to dominate the headlines, not the least of which is immigration. The theater department at Cal State Bakersfield is taking it head-on with its presentation of "Dreamers: Aquí y Allá," a new play about young undocumented immigrants affected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The show is fresh from its debut in February at Cal State Long Beach, where it was conceived by Andrea Caban, based on the experience of 30 DACA recipients who participated in CSULB professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos’ California-Mexico Studies Center’s Dreamers Study Abroad program. Those students were able to visit Mexico and then return through the program that no longer exists.
Based on the enthusiastic response — OC Weekly theater critic Joel Beers declared that it's "the most important play you will ever see" — Caban sent the play on to some colleagues, including Mandy Rees, chair of Department of Music & Theatre at CSUB.
"You can't get more relevant of a topic right now," Rees said. "This is the topic of the day. We have hundreds of 'Dreamers' on our campus. I got a number, but they're not required to identify themselves, for fear of deportation."
With a cast of 13 students, the show takes you through the life of "Dreamers" and their struggles.
Rees said, "You hear stories of how they came to the United States, what they're facing now in order to stay here — the paperwork, the obstacles, the changing laws."
The need to be seen as upstanding citizens factors in heavily in the stories, Rees said.
"You can't have any mark on your record. They always have to be on their best behavior — at school, in the careers, making contributions. Day to day, they're not quite sure what their future is."
The show is mostly as it was presented at CSULB, with one new scene and few changes. One that had to replaced was a town hall scene with Long Beach Congressman Alan Lowenthal. Since people here wouldn't know Lowenthal and it wouldn't make sense to just swap in one of our own legislators, the scene is now a classroom debate where students are arguing both sides.
"We wanted to acknowledge there are people with differing opinions," Rees said. "We wanted to give voice to arguments on both sides."
The two CSUB student playwrights who crafted the new scene, with its changes, talked to immigrants on campus facing these struggles.
Rees said, "We interviewed a couple of 'Dreamers' on our campus to help connect them to the story. Many of them have roots in Mexico or Central America, roots in India as well.
"We spent a lot of time really trying to connect with what it feels like to live without knowing what your future holds."
Rees hopes the show's reach extends from the campus out into the community.
"What's important is empathy, empathy for people who have migrated here on temporary status and what they have to go through.
"It is very easy to judge someone without living in their shoes. A play allows you to live in their shoes for a little bit, be able to understand what they are facing on a deeper level."