Interviews and Photo Luckie Lovette
By Anthony Beron
“I don’t trust the police and we don’t need them on our streets,” said McClymonds High School senior Garland Rabon after watching the screening of Fruitvale Station.
His mood — distrust, disappointment, anger — also reflected his reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin, 17, a young black man in a hoodie just “walking while Black” like so many students at McClymonds.
The movie also hit home because much of it takes place along several BART stations, just a few miles from school, where so many students of color hop on a train across the Bay Area.
Fruitvale Station, a dramatic film focused on Oscar Grant’s last days before his 2009 shooting death, premiered last week, coinciding with the Zimmerman verdict: it struck the audience so hard that men and women alike cried in the Grand Lake Theater’s lobby.
At the screening I attended, there were violent shouting and people weeping in the audience, followed by sudden laughter at the tender scene in which Grant kisses his daughter goodbye as she trots off to daycare, then another wave of extreme disgust when Grant was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital.
Between the syncopation of the music, real-life video recorded at the scene, and Michael Jordan’s fine performance, showing the vulnerability, warmth and brashness of Oscar Grant, the film got the message through clearly: his death was a consequence not of his own flaws, but of racial profiling.
It could have been any African-American young man. With that awareness, “Am I Next?” became the slogan that replaced “We Are All Trayvon.”
The audience remained focused even as the film alternated between urging irony and beating vacillation.
Many felt it accurately portrayed Oscar Grant, African-American youth, American racism, and especially police brutality in Oakland, as there was a strong emphasis on the crudeness of BART police in Fruitvale Station during the shooting of Oscar Grant.
“People will be more aware of racism,” said Jeremy Namkung, a McClymonds High School PE teacher. He continued, “Small changes will be made in a long period of time.”
Johannes Mehserle, Oscar Grant’s killer, appeared sinewy and lorded over the entire Fruitvale BART station, where he repeatedly Jiu Jitsu-flipped bystanders and friends of Oscar Grant who were merely in his way, emulating the gestures of an almost a spazzed-out, reckless Robocop vigilante.
That power felt palpable to the audience.
“I have mixed feelings on cops: they are necessary but they have too much power and abuse it,” said Namkung, who also said he feels safe on BART.
In the movie, Mehserle was one of several first-responders who were alerted of a fight on a BART train.
Grant and several of his companions were a part of the fight between him and a white supremacist, ex-con he knew from prison. At that point, the clarity of the film’s audio and screen resolution began fading in and out, effectively illustrating the chaotic milieu that ensconced Grant, who only wanted to enjoy time with his friends and family.
Him and his friends were later removed from their train car, where they were called racial slurs and handcuffed by BART personnel. Grant, who was apparently trying to calm his friends, was kicked down and shot by Mehserle on BART grounds. His train was directed to continue towards Pittsburg, without having any witnesses taken off.
In the theater lobby, the Zimmerman verdict strained the atmosphere as people in the Grand Lake Theater’s foyer reacted with rage and tears. “I can’t believe this,” one woman sobbed. The reaction — emotional, angry but not surprised — echoed the same acrimony that people felt after the Mehserle verdict.
Shortly after the premier of Fruitvale Station, West Oakland students joined a bicycle ride for peace. At Lake Merritt, they held a silent vigil for Trayvon Martin. And this weekend, they marched with signs that expressed everyone’s fear: “Am I Next?“
“It needs to be peace,” replied Christopher Lockett, a Mack freshman. “People need to stop killing each other for gun play.”
When Young Actors Tell Their Real Stories On Stage
photographs by Breannie Robinson
by Breannie Robinson
“This is my real life,” said actress Deanne Palaganas, a 25-year-old who plays a Filipino mother who is arrested by police and jailed for not having her papers.
The actress talks about the prejudice she encounters, the judgments of people not accepting her because she has no papers even though she pays taxes.
Palaganas portrays an immigrant and single mother from the Phillipines in Gary Soto’s newest play, Living In and Out of Shadows, which played last month at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.
To write his play, Soto read through the harrowing experiences of immigrant teenagers, gathered through interviews conducted by the Marsh Youth Theatre actors, living in Richmond and Pinole, and wove them together in an intricate compilation of stories and songs.
Palaganas herself was an undocumented teen, forced to live in secrecy even while attending college.
Like Palaganas, many of the actors were telling their own stories on stage. Others were portraying people they had interviewed.
The play refrains from stereotyping the immigrant look and experience. Soto said his biggest fear was not including enough ethnicities, which is why he added a Chinese teen and added the stories of several of the Marsh Youth Theater’s undocumented actors from Canada, the Phillipines, and Mexico.
This is most noticeable when a young Chinese girl addresses the point, saying “they think only Mexicans and Latinos know the way [across the border] but we Chinese know the route, too. ” In the play, her Chinese family takes a plane ride to Peru, travels from Peru to Mexico and then crosses the Mexican-US border illegally.
Several of the interviews with Marsh Youth Theatre actors made it into the play, including a story from a young man who migrated to the U.S. illegally but told Soto, “because I’m white, they don’t bother me.” An Indonesian girl found it frustrating to have people refer to her as Chinese or Mexican.
Besides adding cultural diversity, Soto made sure to include real details: for instance, a young boy had to re-cross the Mexican-American border through an underground sewer pipeline after he was caught by ICE the first time when trying to cross through the desert with his uncle.
Palaganas said her character reminded her much of her own mother, loud and passionate, outspoken and prone to alternating between rapid or soft Tagalog but never a mixture. “For many of us, this is our story,” she said.
“I’m allowed to stay here because Obama let me,” said Palaganas.”Not many Filipinos are open. They train their kids to maintain their reputation, to say they have papers,” said Palaganas.
“To them [American-born] we are aliens,” said Palaganas. She criticized the U.S. government for accepting taxes from undocumented immigrants, but refusing to acknowledge their contribution or pay any benefits. As for undocumented parents, “They tell us we have to act normal, act American,” said Palaganas, who was accepted to UC Irvine and San Francisco State but could not get a scholarship because she was undocumented.
“You just try to live your life normally and don’t tell nobody your status,” says Louel Senores, who plays Felix, the articulate, dancing, rapping Filipino high school student and activist in In and Out of Shadows.
Senores’ story is a bit different: he received his papers in 8th grade. He was able to attend UC Berkeley from which he graduated with a degree in engineering For him, the challenge was professional: how to portray a jock when he was trained as a ballet dancer.
Although not in the script, he added his own line about being gay because he wanted to include LGBT in the production, as they are among undocumented youth.
“Filipinos from the islands are more conservative, they are not very open to homosexuality,” said Senores.
After spending time with undocumented cast members, Senores feels fortunate. “I am an immigrant but I got my papers. I didn’t think of it. I didn’t realize they had it that hard. That’s some f***ed up shit,” he added
“It was just a role but it makes you care,” said Senores. “As soon as you know someone who is going through that, you care.”
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Tagged Filipino, Gary Soto, Immigration, In and Out of Shadows, Marsh Theater, undocumented, youth theater