University of Northern Colorado students performed a stage reading of the play “Just Like Us” at the Lindou Auditorium on Thursday and Friday. A staged reading is when the performers are not dressed in character, have limited movement on stage and carry their scripts with them throughout the play. The reading was presented as a part of National Hispanic Heritage Month by “Operation: Cheesecake” in collaboration with the César Chávez Cultural Center. “Operation: Cheesecake” is a UNC theater group focusing on social action.
The production centers on the unfair treatment of DREAMers in the United States. DREAMers are children who are brought over to the United States, often through Mexico, with their parents who illegally crossed the border. As they grow older, these children rarely obtain citizenship and risk being deported from their home to a place they know very little, if anything, about. The main argument for DREAMers staying in the U.S. is that they had no choice in coming here because of how young they were when they came to the U.S.
“Just Like Us” is based on the real-life experiences of the book’s author, Helen Thorpe, and the source material was adapted by playwright Karen Zacarías. The story follows Thorpe, a freelance journalist and a former first lady of Colorado, as she interviews and studies four young Mexican women growing up in America. The play mostly focuses on the two young women who are DREAMers, Marisela and Yadira. Marisela is very personable and outgoing, while Yadira is more determined and reserved.
Not only do these young women have to work many hours to provide for their families, they also cannot receive most college scholarships despite being some of the best students in their class. The first act of the play is about these characters applying for colleges and searching for financial aid to help pay for college. Even though the two young women accept some help with finding grant scholarships through Thorpe, it is still a very difficult process for the DREAMers.
As the play progresses to the second act, the characters develop into strong, independent women during their college years. This act does not have a straightforward, easy narrative, as the plot becomes further complicated. The second half is unpredictable with a wider variety of conflicts going on relating to their DREAMer status, which makes it feel more real.
Toward the end of the play, there are many calls to action for the audience. In reality, as deportations increase, these DREAMers will have less and less of a voice in America.
Even though there is clearly a bias towards the DREAMers, this play also presents the anti-immigration side of the argument. There’s a sheltered young woman named Lucy, who is a U.S. citizen and gets her opinions from her conservative father, which results in a very heated discussion. Additionally, a political figure in the play uses fear-mongering with regards to terrorism and jobs.
In the post-play Q&A, the actors discussed identity, a major element of the story. A lot of conflict occurs between the identities of these characters throughout the play as it seems like their home is disowning them. This sentiment is best shown through the Mexican flag on the left side of the stage and the U.S. flag on the right side, which stayed in place throughout the entire production.
“I loved it,” said Allison Ramirez, a UNC freshman. “It’s just so relevant, too.”
“Just Like Us” also thanks Caminando Unidos, a student-run club at the university, specifically to offer a sense of community for DREAMers and allies. The finished production is set for Jan. 25 and 26 at Hensel Phelps Theatre in the Union Colony Civic Center. According to Director Hanna Gollan, the finished product will be further embellished, as it will include costumes, blocking, choreography and a set.
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