Immigration debates demand solutions. Some say, "Build an electric fence." Others yell, "Deportations--more!" Some shout, "Nonsense!" Others cheer, "Reform!"
Missing from many of these solutions, however, is something that may give us better answers: questions. Teatro Luna's latest play--Crossed--is built around an inquiry into the immigration debate. With a cast of five women, one man, and lots of suitcases, the play unpacks the complexity of North American immigrant experiences. "Why the hell," one character announces, "is everyone so mad at us?"
"This is not about race," another one declares as the play begins to merge monologues that transition into one another through airport terminal scenes.
But we know race matters. So does gender and geography. And fear. "Who's gonna be next?" a character wonders.
Each character in the play somehow crossed a geographical or cultural border. "Crossed," we hear in the beginning. "You make it sound voluntary."
Teatro Luna challenged me to recognize that border crossings happen every day. Besides international crossings, we cross into professions or experiences by chance, by force, by fate. Like so many of the characters in Crossed, we may feel confused or misplaced but we decide to stay. Or we find we can't cross back. "As much as I hate it here," a character admits, "I have to stay."
I struggled at first to connect the voices in every scene. Monologues responded to one another with little time to figure out how each experience connected to the next. But as I listened, the questions--not the lights or music--helped me transition from one scene to the next.
Why do you like red cherry Popsicles? One of the most applauded scenes at Monday night's opening performance was about the Mexican man who likes to buy his son red cherry Popsicles--despite his South American wife's disapproval (and Dr. Oz's warning about too much sugar). He buys red cherry Popsicles from the freezer section because it reminds him of the five cents his immigrant father put in his hand once upon a time. It was a fortune. The Popsicle is this successful father's way to save the treasured memory of being poor.
Another memorable segment is the tango number that challenges our generalizations about a black woman. Her boldness gives us the answers. We, as the audience, must figure out the questions: Who do you think I am? What do you think I know?
There were, however, a couple of segments that left me confused. One segment vaguely presented a Texas Puerto Rican who made it clear that she was not Mexican. I wanted to know more. Who made her feel this way? A Mexican? A white man? A brown one? A woman? Her mother? Herself?
Still, other segments challenged me to contemplate tough questions that should be part of immigration debates--no matter what side we're on. How do we explain deportation to a six year old? What if the shooter had been white?
At the end, I understood, thanks to my good friend Sergio Hernandez, that this play is supposed to help us cross into deeper conversations.
Teatro Luna remains, in its 11th season, a forceful voice that must engage us--through humor, through tragedy--with everything immigrants, residents, citizens, and migrants think but may not have the courage to say.
Teatro Luna, gracias--without the "S."
Crossed runs nightly through December 18 at the Viaduct Theater. For tickets or more information, go to www.teatroluna.org.