- May 20, 2009
For three years, Axel Soto woke up at 4 a.m. to cross the U.S.-Mexico border to get to school in Texas. Born in America, Soto moved back to Mexico with his family when he was 12 years old. He learned how to speak Spanish by talking with the bus drivers and fellow passengers along the way.
Soto shared his story as part of a play he helped produced with 15 other Hispanic high school students from UnidosNow, an organization dedicated to empowering Latinos in the community.
Five of those students, all first-generation immigrants, worked together to transform their personal stories into a play, “El Camino! Our Great Journey,” which they performed at Florida Studio Theatre in May.
Their stories exposed a rich array of the immigrant experience, the duality of living between two cultures and the common issues they face as Hispanic teenagers in this country.
The play, which the students have been working on since August, was part of community service project in collaboration with FST.
“We took students who wanted to share their narratives about what it’s like to be a Hispanic student living in the area, having parents that are undocumented immigrants, having the dream of going to college and what the political climate did to them at this time, and put all those stories in a reading,” said Catherine Randazzo, FST’s associate artist who worked with the students to produce the play.
Learning what it was like to put together a theatrical production was a new experience for all five writers and actors of the play.
“I learned that it's difficult to stay in character,” said Flor Zamora, who played three different roles. “You can get emotionally attached to the characters and live through them. It really caught my eye that a lot of people have stories to tell, but not everyone gets the opportunity to share those stories.”
During the process of sharing those stories, the students said they learned a lot about one another.
“It's easy to relate to it when you've had similar experiences in your life,” said Andres Monroy. “My character, for example, mowed lawns with his father. When I was growing up, I worked construction with my father. You put yourself in similar mindsets where you relate. I think that helped us connect a lot.”
While writing the play, Monroy added, “I wanted to touch on topics that seem a bit taboo to touch on like teenage depression or being scared of your parents getting deported. That's what storytelling is all about.”
Jonathan Bruzun, another one of the play’s writers and actors, said the experience also showed him what he was capable of on his own.
“I didn't have the courage in the past to really share my story, but I wanted to incorporate it in the play,” he said. Bruzun said he wanted to use the opportunity to step outside his introvertness. “It kind of transformed me outside of theater because now I feel like I can speak up with much more confidence than I have in the past.”
The students all agreed that they hope their project continues an important dialogue about today’s political and social issues. “ What I hope people understand is that we have to take a stand against these issues like teenage mental health, seclusion and discrimination,” Bruzun said. “If we just view this as the norm in society, then things are only going to go downhill from here.”
Alec Lemus added, “The world has many different perspectives and many paths people have taken and that shouldn't be something to seperate us, but we should use our differences to connect.”