The Human Face Of Border Crossers
By Barbara Zaragoza
On Friday, May 8th The Front Art and Culture Center in San Ysidro presented a first reading of Raul Castillo’s Border Crossing, a play that explores the nuances of the migrant experience.
Micah Parzen, CEO of the San Diego Museum of Man, commissioned the piece as a way to launch a deeper conversation about immigration. He asked the La Jolla Playhouse to find a playwright and also contacted the National Conflict Resolution Center to collaborate. He then worked with The Front—located less than a mile from the largest land port of entry in the world—to host a trial reading with six actors sitting in a circle surrounded by an intimate audience.
Jaime Castaneda, Associate Artistic Director at La Jolla Playhouse and director of this play, described what the production will look like when it officially opens this July. “It’s a site specific piece that will start across the street from the Museum of Man in the chapel… The first couple of scenes happen indoors and then the whole audience will move outside into the canyons of Balboa Park.”
After each performance section, the National Conflict Resolution Center will facilitate a 25 minute debrief, asking audience members what resonated with them.
“It won’t be sitting down looking at a theater piece. You’ll be walking around, you’ll be handed stuff, you’ll be talking to people, you’ll be talking to actors. In that sense, it will be quite interactive.”
Described as a playwright whose style is both gritty and poetic, Raul Castillo currently stars in the HBO comedic-drama series Looking. He explained that he wanted people to have a human portrait of the border crossing experience.
Born in McAllen, Texas, a small border town, his parents lived most of their lives just across the boundary line in Reynosa, Mexico. His mother gave birth to him in the United States and his family continued to live in Mexico until Castillo was three years old. His parents then moved to the U.S. and worked as customs brokers.
He remembers going back and forth between the border for family barbeques and for shopping. Castillo admits that as a young child, he would rather have sat in front of American television than go into Mexico. However, as he grew older, he began to understand the struggles his parents faced as immigrants. He used his art as a way to paint human portraits of the many stories he grew up hearing.
Castillo left home to attend Boston University, where he majored in independent theater studies with a focus on playwriting. Since then he has written many plays, including Between You, Me and the Lampshade, currently enjoying a four week run in Chicago.
The reading at The Front began with a migrant saying, “Home is home. That’s what they say, right? Home sweet home. Something like that. What is home anyway? That’s what I kept telling myself. Home is where the heart is, isn’t it? That’s what the gringos say. That’s what’s convenient for them. I’m not so sure.“
The play includes a married couple debating whether they should trek through the desert. The female character says, “I’ve heard it eats people. It consumes them whole.” She goes on to tell her husband that she’s often heard stories of women being taken advantage of during their crossing.
In another vignette, two men wait for a coyote while talking about what they will do once they have crossed. One wants to work, work, work and provide for his family, but the other migrant would like to see the Grand Canyon, perhaps New York City.
The monologues are based on Castillo’s interviews with real people in San Diego and Tijuana. The play is then interspersed with fictional scenes. There is the story of a grandmother proud that her Americanized grandson will become a doctor, and the experience of a border patrol agent. The last monologue is spoken by a woman who came to the U.S. as a child. She explains that since her parents brought her here, she had no choice, she did not choose this country.
A discussion followed and one audience member revealed, “My story is the last one.” She then complimented the playwright for portraying her interview so accurately.
Enrique Morones of Border Angels said, “I think it’s important that we mention… there are 250 million undocumented people in the world. The United States only has 11 million and the Mexican migration has dropped significantly.”
He went on to say that of the 11 million undocumented people that are in the United States, 35% are not from Latin America. Those are people who came from Europe and Asia who got their tourist visas, work visas, student visas and overstayed their visits. Meanwhile, the situation in Mexico has improved and there has actually been a 40% drop in Mexican migration. The largest group of migrants are from Central America. For 95% of those people, there is no “waiting in line”. What you hear a lot is, “Why’d you come here illegally? Get in line? Well, there is no line.” Morones commented that for these migrants, it’s not a long process, there is no process at all. They just can’t come.
In an interview afterwards, Castillo explained, “I feel that the border is at times misrepresented and one dimensional. I’ve always wanted to bring nuance and more color to the stories about the border.”