Category Archives: Religion

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.”

Mack freshman launches her Twitter novel

With a blue-ink pen in her left hand, she glides it across the page leaving behind strange squiggles as her dozen metal bracelets scrape against the worn, wooden table.

The sound is amplified when students drift out of the room like a stream flowing downhill after the first rainstorm.  She is left alone.  Hunched over the desk, Janaya Andrews, 14, freshmen, composes the first 140 characters of her first twitter novel.

“I’m an observer.  Anything that pops into my head I’ll write a story about it,” says Andrews.

Andrews carries a black handbag on her right shoulder.  From there, she pulls out out an old purple composition notebook with pages hanging loose.  She opens it up to the next blank paper and begins to write.

“While I’m in my room listening to Escape The Faith, I’ll write about celebrities, but mix it with fiction.”

And so the twitter novel begins at McClymonds High School:

“As I walked into Mack, MC Hammer was demonstrating the Hammer Time but Destiny dragged me up the littered stairs, away from the joy & chaos”

Mack students learn about resistance, struggle and dance

By Pamela Tapia

Askari York swayed to the beat of African drums. At the emotional intelligence workshop, Taylor Murray learned that the love you receive as a baby can affect your entire life.  ‘It gave me new ways to help my friends,” said Murray.

Focusing mostly on activism, immigration, leadership and hip hop, twenty students from McClymonds joined several hundred students from around the Bay Area to participate in the tenth annual Ethnic Studies Conference on the UC Berkeley campus Wednesday.

The conference included workshops on the history of walk outs, the Aztec calendar, mass exodus of black people from the bay to suburbs, and creation of social groups like the Black Panthers and Brown Berets.

It opened with a bang. To the beat of drums, UC Berkeley students, wearing authentic traditional Aztec ritual costumes, with colorful feathered headdresses bells around their ankles, performed traditional Aztec dances.

Asian students played synchronized instruments like the gong and drums. The ceremony concluded with Northern African drumming., during which York was invited on-stage by one of the African performer to beat the drums and to dance a few steps of traditional African dancing.

“That’s my people,” said York after returning to his seat exhausted.

Following a workshop on the brief history and organization of major walkouts in East Los Angeles during the 60s, a class of UC Berkeley students walked out of their classrooms and poured into the streets with signs, shouting chants and making demands for “education for all.”

Too Far Away to Hear Debate and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor


by Pamela Tapia and Bonita Tindle

We were excited: we would see and hear the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court Justice live at Zellerbach. She was on the panel  judging the finals of the James Patterson McBaine Honors Moot Court Competition.

The place was packed — with many people turned away from the 2,000 seat auditorium. That morning, Sotomayor had paid a surprise visit to an elementary school in Berkeley.

But we were quickly disappointed. From our perch on the last balcony of Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley, we were too far away to actually hear the Moot Court debate or comments by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, whose questioning was superficial and low keyed.

What we saw (but had trouble hearing) was a lively hour-long debate between two Boalt students, Edward Piper and Thomas Frampton. They debated Busch v. Marple Newtown School District, a Pennsylvania case involving a kindergarten kid whose mother was barred from reading from the Bible at a show-and-tell day. The two students had written long briefs on the issue and in front of 2,000 spectators, they were interrupted often and answered questions from the judges, which included Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan and federal appeals Judge William Fletcher.

Although Frampton was declared the winner — by “a thin, thin slice,” Sotomayor said — Sotomayor praised both participants.

Since we were too far away, we had to READ her comments the next day: “I do moot courts because, every once in a while, I need an injection of hope,” she said. “And I see performances like the ones you gave today and I have so much hope. You were magnificent.”