In and Out of Shadows: A Play About Undocumented Youth Hits Home

Felix and his momHomero Rosas plays Juan Two

by Romanalyn Inocencio

Watching In and Out of Shadows at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco was like sitting in my living room listening to my Mom. The Filipina mother in the story threatened like my mother, giving you a choice of what household instrument you can get hit with.

It hit home because I’m Filipina and these life stories — focused on fears about the police, stress over grades and college — reflect the anxieties of my undocumented cousins and friends.

Some significant details are different of course. The stories of crossing the border into the United States from Mexico, when one kid had to be drugged because he could not learn his fake name,and another had to crawl through the sewers, are harrowing.

The musical builds on a familiar theme: college application.  In it, the undocumented teens are preparing their personal statements for an AB 540 conference at UC Berkeley (AB 540 allows DREAMers to attend California colleges at in-state rates).

 We meet Angel, who arrived in the US alone via a sewer when he was 13. And Juan who, as a determined six-year-old, had to be drugged with cough syrup during the crossing because he adamantly refused to take his cousin’s name as his own. We watch a newly urbanized “vato loco” (crazy dude in Spanish) teaching an undocumented Chinese friend how to speak street Spanish.

Running through the entire musical is the fear of deportation. Many families in the  play  have deceptive status – undocumented parents who lie to their children about their papers (often telling their children they have papers, when they don’t)  and who live in constant fear of separation.

Even under AB 540 or President Obama’s recent two-year deportation deferral program for certain undocumented youth, students who get to stay may suddenly be left alone with nobody to take care of them. The diverse group of young actors, many whom are directly affected by the issue, mix English, Spanish, Tagalog and other languages as they examine the unwieldy human effects of this messy political issue.

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