The ending of DACA, and the lack of response to Puerto Rico, made me want to dig deeper into stories of the immigrant community. I recently met a woman, a beautiful Mexican woman who is a jazz singer, who shared with me heartbreaking stories of how she had been treated as a Mexican in America. How her humanity was questioned because she worked minimum wage or under the table jobs. I had another friend who recently saw her daughters fiancé off to basic training. He assumed that of course he would be naturalized, because he was willing to die for his adopted country. He had been singled out by recruiters because he was a poor undocumented Latino. I put the stories together, and it became a short story of a mother saying goodbye to her child.
The tragedy in Charlottesville served to open a scar in America. The white supremacist movement has come out of their hidden corners and darkened basements, helped along by their leader in Washington. This in and of itself is frightening, but I hold out hope. There is also a strong and vocal resistance movement who have put their bodies on the line to defy those who would take this country into the dark ages. There has been loss, and likely will be more, but their defiance will serve as a beacon for others to come and stand against the darkness.
We MUST continue to be decent, and outspoken, and to protect each other, in spite of the evil that is trying to overwhelm our compassion.
This piece was inspired by conversations and news articles that have been circulating in the immigrant community where I teach.
It’s also a little bit of a conversation with Robert Schenkkan’s play “Building the Wall”.
I’ve got to be honest – When I reached out to Diana to see if she would be interested in writing for this project, I wasn’t even sure where she was located. I knew she was from the Los Angeles area, but that’s a huge swath of land with a lot of political ground to cover. However, I knew that Diana would be perfect for this project, no matter her geography because she had already shared a few plays with me both through the PPP catalogue and this year’s ONSTAGE Festival. Her work is intriguing, exciting, and intimate – and she’s a passionate artist activist.
Basically, inviting Diana to participate was a no-brainer, and I was super excited when she said “Yes!”
Diana lives in Long Beach and work as a teaching artist in Boyle Heights (east LA) and Santa Ana (Orange County). For those of you who are unfamiliar with LA, this essentially means she spends half her life commuting – but I haven’t heard any complaints out of her about that. As a dedicated teaching artist, Diana works with her students to write the stories that haven’t been told – and by working and living in several zipcodes, her artist and student network is expansive.
I know her work is going to genuinely engage our readers over the coming months, and I can’t wait to see what she shares with us!
What about our Heal the Divide project captured your interest/why did you decide to participate in this initiative?
A need to understand and be understood and to heal my own heart. I also feel compelled to give voice to the members of my community who feel panicked and frightened. I won’t lie, I am angry, I am so very angry, but I am also an artist, and as an artist I need to seek the light.
What areas of concern in your community do you find yourself curious about or interested in considering for this project?
I am most interested in giving voice to immigrant rights issues. As well as trying to figure out how to broach the other side of the equation, the people who don’t want immigrants legal or otherwise, here.
There have been a lot of discussions lately about what artists can do to “make a difference” in light of our current political spectrum. What do you think we can (or should) do? Or are there pitfalls we need to avoid?
I believe that engagement needs to be entertaining as well. A screed or a diatribe won’t get anyone to listen, a comedy perhaps will. I’ve been working with the community as they confront how to deal with ICE . A terrifying topic, but if it can be done with lightness you can get people to listen and remember. No one wants to be frightened more when they are already frightened, but a laugh might allow them to open up and to learn how to defend themselves. Also, it’s important to reach and educate the very young, and anyone who’s ever worked with kids know that scolding and haranguing turns them right off.
This is a moment for all artists to rise. It’s imperative that we come out of our grief-holes and put new, questioning art into the world. I’m very lucky to be able to offer free playwriting classes in Santa Ana CA. I teach everyone who wants to learn. I encourage everyone to write their stories. All stories are needed.
What questions, as a playwright, are you most drawn to explore in your work?
My work is very feminist/female centric. I write about complicated women, whose main problems don’t revolve around men. My most recent full length deals with violence, sex trafficking, child soldiers and rape. Like I said I have a lot of anger, but I do try to transcend that anger for clarity, humor and empathy.
Are you engaged in any other organizations fighting for change or progress that you want to give a shout out to?
Witness the milagro of the award winning Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble. Thirteen years in, we are still the only Latina theater 501(c)3 non-profit organization behind the ‘Orange Curtain.’ Based in Downtown Santa Ana – the corazón of the county – Breath of Fire was founded to support the work and enrich the lives of Latinas in the visual and performing arts by creating opportunities and leadership roles in traditional arts communities. OC Weekly calls the ensemble “a theater that cares [about] its surrounding community…producing vitally relevant and topical work.”
Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble creates opportunities and leadership roles for Latinas in the performing arts. We aim to produce work that reflects impacts and empowers the Latina/o community. We believe in the transformative power of theater and aim to raise awareness of critical issues in the community, entertain and challenge, foster cross-cultural understanding and be a catalyst for personal healing and social justice.
* A Platform for Untold/Undertold Stories
* Creating and Fostering Leadership Opportunities for Latinas in the Performing Arts
* Commitment to Community Outreach in Our Community
* Personal Healing and Social Justice
Do you have any other additional thoughts/ideas you want to riff on that pertain to this project?
I want to encourage active involved resistance. Embrace feminism, it’s not a bad word. Embrace working for what you want, what you believe in. Finish the first draft, you can always edit it.
More about Diana:
Diana Burbano, a Colombian immigrant, is an Equity actor, playwright and teaching artist at South Coast Repertory and Breath of Fire Latina Theatre Ensemble. Full length plays: Fabulous Monsters about women in punk rock, Silueta (With Tom and Chris Shelton) about feminist artist Ana Mendieta. Policarpa which will have a Rough Draft Residency at the Drama League in May. Picture me Rollin’ was featured at the Hollywood InkFest, 2017, Other plays: Enemy|Flint, Caliban’s Island, (published by YouthPLAYS). Libertadoras, Vamping and Linda were written for the 365 Women a Year project and have been performed around the world. Rounds Per Second is featured in Smith and Kraus’s 5-minute play anthology.