Fernandez Fathoms Her Family’s American Faith
Fernandez Fathoms Her Family’s American Faith
Most of us write because we have something to say. At least, I do. I began writing plays because I was frustrated by the lack of authentic Latina characters being written by both Latinos and non-Latinos. I was raised and inspired by strong, passionate, intelligent women and I wanted to see those women on stage. I guess I wanted to set the record straight.
In a way, in A Mexican Trilogy, I’m trying to set another record straight.
After fleeing the violence of the Mexican revolution of 1910, my grandparents, Nana and Tata, married, moved first to Jerome, Arizona, and had five daughters: Dolores (translates as “pains”), Consuelo (“consolation”), Amparo (“protection”), Esperanza (“hope” — she would become my mother) and Antonia (doesn’t translate as anything else).
During the great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt became the family’s hero because he came to our aid. JFK was loved, obviously, because he was young, handsome and Catholic. And the Pope goes without saying…my family was Catholic, what can I say?
My grandparents came to the United States more than a hundred years ago. Although we hold on to our Mexican roots and culture, our family spans four generations of US-born Americans. I’m second generation Mexican-American, yet many people assume that I was born in another country, that my first language is Spanish, and a whole bunch of other stuff that isn’t true. Yes, I’m Mexican by ancestry and take great pride in that, but I’m mostly American. There are millions of families like mine all over the US.
The anti-immigrant hate speech on the air waves and in social media these days is frightening. When you read comments like “go back to Mexico” or “go back to where you came from,” you realize that some people continue to regard all Latinos and Latinas, regardless of whether we were born here or not, as “the other” or “outsiders” who don’t belong. Even in the theater world, where we are generally more progressive and enlightened, Latinos/as continue to be seen, many times, as “newcomers” who don’t yet fit in — always new and unfamiliar.
A Mexican Trilogy is an American trilogy of plays about a family who came to the US looking for a better life. I’ve written the trilogy out of sequence. Hope: Part II(2012 Ovation playwright nominee), produced in the fall of 2011, takes place in the ’60s and ends with the assassination of President Kennedy.Charity: Part III, produced in the spring of 2012, takes place in 2005 when Pope John Paul II died. Faith: Part I takes place during the FDR administration.
As the trilogy is loosely biographical, many events and characters come from my family history, and they are usually those that are perceived as unbelievable or melodramatic. Putting real stories on stage can be tricky — when it comes to my family, real life is usually stranger than fiction.
My Mom is the most patriotic person I know. She was raised in the ’30s and sold war bonds in the ’40s. She grew up in a Mexican household with a mother who wouldn’t let her daughters out of her sight, wouldn’t let them wear lipstick, wouldn’t let them go to the high school dances or football games — and would threaten to kill herself if they misbehaved. But all Mom and her sisters wanted was to be “American.” They were punished at home for speaking English and hit at school if they spoke Spanish. They loved to jitterbug and listen to the Andrews Sisters, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey Brothers and Harry James. Faith is about that era and three sisters, their dreams and straddling two worlds.
A similar reaction came from some LA theater friends who came to see the play. We had discussed with them that our work, theLatino Theater Company, is primarily about the US Latino/a experience. In other words, Latinos who live here, whether they are born here or not. Before they saw Hope: Part II, I’m not sure that they understood what we meant. But, afterward, they seemed to get it. That spoke volumes and confirms my belief that art and specifically theater, in our case, can help us understand each other. That is the reason I do it.
So what do I want to say with Faith? I guess I want to set the record straight about what being “American” means in the context of my family and many others. We’re as American as anyone else.
Faith: Part I of A Mexican Trilogy. Presented by Latino Theater Company. Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 3, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles 90013. Opens Friday. Thu- Sat 8 pm, Sun 3 pm. Through November 11. Tickets: $10- $34. A dinner-and-show option is available for $50. www.thelatc.org. 866-811-4111 .
***All Faith: Part I of A Mexican Trilogy production photos by Pablo Santiago
Evelina Fernandez is the resident playwright for the Latino Theater Company, the operator of Los Angeles Theatre Center.