Backstage at The REP: Into the Beautiful North

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, April 19


The Mexican government has been accused of hypocrisy in terms of illegal immigration, criticizing the United States government for its treatment of illegal immigrants whilst their laws are considerably harsher by comparison.
Illegal immigration in Mexico has been a big problem since the 1970s. The largest source of illegal immigrants in Mexico is the impoverished Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, bordering Mexico to the southeast. Mexico deported 92,889 Central American individuals between October 2014 and April 2015. The majority of people make the northern journey for various reasons, all stemming from the intense poverty strangling the region’s development.
The process for anyone caught crossing the border into Mexico is rather speedy and with no lengthy red tape. People are held long enough to confirm their identity, and then they are promptly sent back to their country of origin. Mexico considers entering the country illegally a felony, punishable by two years’ imprisonment. Document fraud is subject to fine and imprisonment; so is alien marriage fraud. Evading deportation is also a serious crime. Plus, illegal re-entry after deportation is punishable by ten years’ imprisonment. The fact is, however, most Central American people trying to flee their homeland are not looking to stay in Mexico. They are just trying to pass through to the United States.
Pictured here is El tren de la muerte or "The Death Train," which refers to a network of Mexican freight trains that are utilized by U.S.-bound migrants to more quickly traverse the length of Mexico, also known as La Bestia ("The Beast") and El tren de los desconocidos ("The train of the unknowns"). This mode of travel is extremely dangerous and illegal. It is estimated that yearly between 400,000 and 500,000 migrants, the majority of who are of Central American origin, continue to ride atop these trains in the effort to reach the United States. But a of May 9, 2014, train operators have banned the passengers from traveling by the train.
The Mexican government is also notorious for its abuse of Central American illegal aliens who attempt to violate Mexico’s southern border. The Red Cross has protested rampant Mexican police corruption, intimidation, and bribery schemes targeting illegal aliens there for years. In response, it clamped down on its borders even further.
Law-enforcement officials at all levels — by national mandate — must cooperate to enforce immigration laws, including illegal-alien arrests and deportations. The Mexican military is also required to assist in immigration-enforcement operations. Native-born Mexicans are empowered to make citizens’ arrests of illegal aliens and turn them in to authorities. At least that used to be the case.
An article on NPR by Maritn Kaste shows that in more recent years, police have had to adapt to a different reality, resulting from a 2008 rewrite of its immigration law which decriminalized migration. “So in theory it's no longer a crime to be an illegal immigrant in Mexico," says Jaime Arredondo Sanchez Lira, a former government official and currently resident fellow, at the Center for US- Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego.
"That was a consequences of violence ... tied to human trafficking," Arredondo says. By making illegal immigration punishable only by a civil fine, the hope was that migrants moving through Mexico would be less vulnerable to abuse and extortion. Unfortunately, Arredondo says migrants are still often targeted by corrupt police and military.
"Many of the police forces are associated with drug dealers or smugglers, and in many cases they will hand you over [to smugglers] or extort money, or in some sad cases, kill you if you refuse to take part in their activities."
Officially, local police in Mexico aren't supposed to go around asking people about their immigration status, says Alejandro Lares, former chief of municipal police in Tijuana. But things change once they have probable cause of an immigration violation, or the person commits another crime.
"We are able to detain them, and once they're detained, we can actually call Mexican immigration, and they can find out if they're legal or illegal in our country," Lares says.
And even if you do end up staying as an illegal immigrant in Mexico, life doesn’t look much brighter. In 2006, Joseph Contreras profiled the issue of Guatemalan immigrants illegally entering Mexico for Newsweek magazine that revealed coffee farms in the Mexican state Chiapas were using "40,000 Guatemalan field hands who endure backbreaking jobs and squalid living conditions to earn roughly $3.50 U.S. dollars a day" and that so me farmers "even deduct the cost of room and board from that amount."


Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, April 12


Turn on the radio, check the TV listings, go to the local cinema, pull out a computer game, or just go online – you will be unableto avoid American cultural influence. American culture celebrates the commonplace, the average, the universal and as a result it has gained a universal audience. America is the world’s dominant superpower, but not only does the USA have “hard power” – the ability to get people to do what it wants, it also has enormous “soft power” – the ability to get people to want what it does.
It was not always so. During the 20th century, the “American Dream” was the USA’s greatest cultural export to the world: an open-ended inspiration into which millions poured their own dreams and hopes for a better life. It was around the time of WWI that things began to change, that America first began to export some of its homegrown culture abroad through films and music. Charlie Chaplin and “Westerns,” ragtime and jazz became familiar to millions outside the country. It was not until after WWII, however, that the floodgates really burst. The rise of the consumer economy and the “American lifestyle” in the 1950s had a terrific impact on the world when American popular culture went global.

Motion pictures may not have been invented in the US, but modern movies were perfected there. The figures are imposing. For example, in 2006, 64 % of all movies shown in the European Union were American. In comparison, only 3% of the movies shown in the USA were from Europe. US film and television exports earned $16.2 billion in 2012. By comparison, British film and television exports, riding a wave of popularity, were $1.2 billion. The secret of Hollywood’s success has a lot to do with it having been founded by immigrants – Goldwyn, Mayer, Warner were all just off the boat. Their cultural frame of reference was a synthesis of new world optimism and old world culture. The stories their studios told and the way they told them meant the films appealed well beyond America’s shores.
One interesting effect of the dominance of American culture in films and other media is that many people who have never been to the country nonetheless feel they have a good idea of what it is like to live there. Also, the stereotypes that American film and TV sell to their domestic public become the stuff of international opinion.

In terms of music, it is no exaggeration to say that American popular music conquered the world in the 20th century. The list is impressive: ragtime, blues, jazz, big band “Swing”, country western, rhythm & blues, rock & roll, hip-hop & rap. All these forms have swept across the globe; most recently through international systems of music distribution by MTV stations and Internet downloads.

But what is interesting about this phenomenon is that it long ago grew beyond it roots and became international in scope. Starting with the Beatles in the 1960s, many of the greatest talents in rock-n-roll haven’t even been American. American music has been re-imported into America with new sounds and impulses, creating a creative dialogue with the world.
So why does America have such reach in these media? One answer is market. The United States has a domestic market of over 300 million people in addition to a potential global market of more than two billion English speakers. That means Americans can profitably produce a great many TV programs, films, songs, computer games and other products for use at home and then export the same programs abroad at very low prices. No other country has this advantage in both numbers and language.
Another reason is innovation. It is often in the United States that new forms of communication have either been invented or perfected. TV broadcasting is a good example of this. In the 1950s American TV networks created a zoo of new program types including game shows, soap operas, mystery shows, westerns and, of course, situation comedies (sit-coms) that were later exported internationally. Later, cable TV expanded the variety and quality of American shows creating such international best sellers as The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Heroes. And it also set the foundation for the first international news network, CNN (Cable New Network). Perhaps the easiest example to recognize is the phenomenal rise in the use of personal computers and the World Wide Web over the last decades. Both were pioneered in the US and eventually spread world wide, carrying American cultural influences with them.
Plus we can’t discount that the US remains a nation of immigrants. More than 40 million people living in America were born outside the US. Each immigrant represents a connection back to a different country. In a world of globalized communications, those connections, for the most part, aren’t severed when a person leaves for America. Through immigration, the American experience is shared globally.


Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, April 6


El Rosario (translated as “The Rosary”) is a city and its surrounding municipality in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. This is the town referred to as “Tres Camarones”—which translates to three shrimp—in Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North. The city reported 16,001 inhabitants in the 2010 census. This small town, about 35 miles south of Mazatlán, is famous for the altar in the town church. El Rosario was once the richest towns in Northwest Mexico because of the local gold and silver mining operations. However, the area is now known for growing amapola and marijuana in the hillsides, considered now the new gold mines for the area. This small town was also the home of the famous Mexican singer, Lola Beltrán. They have built a small museum in her honor, although the museum is open only sporadically. The local economy produces pottery, furniture, and leather goods.

Sinaloa is one of the 31 states of Mexico. Divided into 18 municipalities, its capital city is Culiacán Rosales. To the west, Sinaloa has a significant share of coastline on the Gulf of California. In addition to the capital city, the state's important cities include Mazatlán and Los Mochis. The countryside is traversed by many rivers, which carve broad valleys into the foothills. The largest of these rivers are the Culiacán, Fuerte, and Sinaloa.

Culturally, it is known for a style of music known as banda and norteno. It is also the only place in the continent where the ancient Mesoamerican ballgame is played, in a handful of small, rural communities not far from Mazatlán. The ritual ballgame was central in the society, religion and cosmology of all the great Mesoamerican cultures including the Mixtecs, Aztecs, and Maya dating back to 1400 BCE. The rules are not known, but it is thought to be similar to racquetball.

According to the 2010 census, Sinaloa is home to 2,767,761 inhabitants, 61% of whom reside in the capital city of Culiacán and the municipalities of Mazatlán and Ahome. It is a young state in terms of population, 56% of which is younger than 30 years of age. Also, 87% of the state practices the Catholic faith. In ethnic composition, Sinaloa has received large historic waves of immigration from Europe (mainly Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Russia) and Asia (mainly China, Japan and the Philippines).

Sinaloa is the most prominent state in Mexico in terms of agriculture and is known as "Mexico's breadbasket." The main economic activities of Sinaloa are agriculture, fishing, livestock breeding, commerce, and industry. The products obtained from these activities are used for both local and national consumption. Agriculture produces tomatoes, cotton, beans, corn, wheat, sorghum, potatoes, soybeans, sugarcane, peanuts and squash. Additionally, Sinaloa has the second largest fishing fleet in the country. Livestock produces meat, sausages, cheese, milk as well as sour cream.

The Sinaloa Cartel (Cártel de Sinaloa or CDS) has significantly influenced the culture of Sinaloa. The cartel is reportedly the largest drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime syndicate in the Western hemisphere; it is based in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa.

Mazatlan, the closest landmark city to our “tres camarones” town, served as the capital of Sinaloa from 1859 to 1873. The city was founded in 1531 by an army of Spaniards and indigenous settlers. By the mid-19th century, a large group of immigrants arrived from Germany. These new citizens developed Mazatlán into a thriving commercial seaport, importing equipment for the nearby gold and silver mines. The German settlers also influenced the local music, banda, which is an alteration of Bavarian folk music.

Tourism and fishing are the main industries in Mazatlán. The city houses the main beach resorts, and has the second largest fishing fleet in Mexico. The most processed seafood products in the city are shrimp and tuna. Mazatlán was well regarded by film stars such as John Wayne, Gary Cooper, John Huston, and others of their generation as a sport-fishing mecca. The hotels along Olas Altas flourished during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, supporting this vibrant trade.

Curious Clips: Excerpts from the Curious Report

Wednesday, March 15


Witnessing the characters from Luis Alberto Urrea’s best-selling novel, Into the Beautiful North, as they take the stage to tell us the story of nineteen-year-old Nayeli, a strong young Latina heroine! 

Right now spotlighting a new generation of leaders who are passionate about protecting what is important to them is critical. And, while this tale is set in 2008, it has incredible relevance given our current climate surrounding immigrants and “others.”

After watching The Magnificent Seven, Nayeli decides to go on a bold quest: head north and recruit seven men—her own "Siete Magníficos"—to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over. This tale of an irresistible young woman's quest to find herself on both sides of the fence is both a funny and heartwarming and takes place in our own back yard. 

This new play is by award-winning playwright Karen Zacarías, one of the most produced Latina playwrights in the nation. She is very well-versed in doing adaptations such as: Julia Alvarez’s How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, and the soon to be produced musical, Oliverio: A Brazilian Twist on Dickens. We are thrilled that this play sparked a collaborative relationship with Karen and look forward to working much more with this prolific playwright in the future.

This play is a National New Play Network (NNPN) Rolling World Premiere, which means four separate productions occurred over this past year to help develop it and launch it into the consciousness of the national theatre community. The partners will us on this Rolling World Premiere are Milagro Theatre Portland in Oregon, Central Works Theatre Company in northern California, and 16th Street Theater in Illinois.

We are a core member of NNPN, an alliance of non-profit theatres that champion the development and continued life of new plays, revolutionizing the way theatres collaborate to support playwrights and their work. Since its founding in 1998, NNPN has supported nearly 150 productions nationwide and provided hundreds of playwrights and other theater-makers with developmental workshops, commissions, and paid residencies.
Into the Beautiful North is based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize finalist Luis Alberto Urrea. He was inspired by the classic Hollywood western The Magnificent Seven, which was adapted from Kurosawa's masterpiece, Seven Samurai. And this production embraces those cinematic origins with lighting by Lonnie Alcaraz, plus a spectacular set that includes some exciting projections by Ian Wallace and beautifully composed music by Michael Roth, both of whom also worked together on our production of In the Time of the Butterflies. Jennifer Brawn Gittings, who helped create the world of El Henry and Manifest Destinitis through her costume design will help turn our cast of 8 into 45 colorful characters.

Speaking of our cast, we are thrilled to have a stage FULL of Latinx actors. This talented group includes Catalina Maynard, Herbert Siguenza, Jen Paredes, Jorge Rodriguez, Bryant Hernandez, Javier Guerrero, and Xavi Moreno. Plus, we are excited to work for the first time with Kenia Ramirez as Nayeli. Sam Woodhouse, (along with Maria Patrice Amon as Assistant Director,) is bringing this story to life in a BIG way. The theatre will be transformed again and again as we journey through two different countries by bus, by border crossing, by BMW, and by broken down old van. Through all of this, you will fall in love with a band of unlikely heroes.
Part of why this story is so vibrant, so alive, and soreal is that it is told through the perspective of two writers who understand the cultural duality at play here. Both Urrea and Zacarías were born in Mexico and moved to America when they were children. Urrea, who went to school in San Diego, actually volunteered at the dump in Tijuana where people have made their homes and befriended folks there. And Karen has noted her passion about showcasing so many different types of Mexicans, many who deny the traditional stereotypes. This story is personal for both of them.
As Urrea said, “Part of what I was trying to do, believe it or not, was write a love poem about America. At the time that I wrote Into the Beautiful North, I had done so much hard work on hard books. Honestly, my writing rule was, ‘I want to laugh every day.’ Laughter is a virus that infects everyone with humanity. I thought if I made the story really entertaining, if I made it an adventure, then it would make the general American reader not only want to read it, but make them maybe root for people they either don’t think about or actually look at with some disdain.”

For those of you who come to this play having already read Into the Beautiful North, we hope you feel how much Zacarías has embodied Urrea’s celebration of the human spirit with both compassion and humor. For those of you who are coming with fresh eyes, we hope you enjoy the ride.
As we look towards many more discussions about walls what makes us safe, I will leave you with a quote from the novel: “Words are the only bread we can really share.” We invite you to come break bread with us as we reach across the borders that divide.
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