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American dreamers: Play about childhood arrivals makes tour stop in Denton

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Lucinda Breeding

David Lozano thinks the time is ripe for theater companies to take on social issues — especially those with regional and national implications. 

"I feel that there is a burgeoning community, a hunger for confronting social issues, and a community that is hungering for creativity around social issues," Lozano said.

Lozano is co-creator of Deferred Action. He penned the second part of Cara Mia Theatre's trilogy on immigration with collaborator Lee Trull, the director of new play development at Dallas Theatre Center. The play is headed to Denton, on its way to Encuentro de las Americas Festival in Los Angeles. Deferred Action runs Sept. 21-23 at the University of North Texas University Theatre. 

Deferred Action centers on Javier Mejia, who was brought into the country illegally as a child, and whose fate is uncertain without the DREAM Act  — the failed 2010 proposed law that aimed to set out a path to legal citizenship for childhood arrivals. Javier's fiancee is an employee of a Democratic presidential candidate who blanches at taking a bold position on immigration. 

"We meet a tea party Republican who wants  reform," Lozano said. "The tea party Republican  has a dream, and sets down a plan for comprehensive immigration reform. The dreamers are caught between the candidates."

For the uninitiated, comprehensive immigration reform tends to draw ire from Republican corners because it implies legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

Lozano said the genesis of the play came in 2012, when Lozano and his wife, Frida Espinosa-Muller, also a Cara Mia company member, saw the documentary Una Ruta Nada Santa, de San Salvador a San Fernando (The Unholy Route). The film chronicles the journey of a 15-year-old girl and a 30-year-old father of four from San Salvador heading to the U.S. The two rode atop la Bestia, a train that travels toward the border, to emigrate. But in San Fernando, Mexico, just shy of their destination, they and 70 other immigrants were massacred by Los Zetas drug cartel members.

"They were murdered en masse at the hands of the narcos," Lozano said. "We were just so choked up. … At that time we were planning our future season [at Cara Mia Theatre]. We were looking at fiction, but we realized there was no way to produce a work of fiction when something like this was staring us in the face."

Cara Mia Theatre is a Dallas company that devotes its stage to the stories and experiences of Latinos in the United States.   

Before Lozano and Espinosa-Muller saw the film, Lozano said Kevin Moriarty, the executive director of Dallas Theatre Center, had approached him.

"Kevin asked me if there was a chance to collaborate," Lozano said. "I thought a trilogy might be appropriate for the kind of story that had moved us so much from the documentary."

The collaboration led to The Dreamers: A Bloodline, devised by the company and staged in 2013. 

"The story centered on a mother carrying a baby from San Salvador, traveling through Mexico and being caught by the narcos," Lozano said. "But one of the older women is able to save the baby and take him across the border."

In Deferred Action, which premiered last year, that infant has grown up into Javier Mejia — the dreamer caught between America's two major political parties. Javier lives in Texas, where immigration from Mexico and Central America has reshaped the Lone Star State's racial and cultural landscape. 

Lozano interviewed young immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally to prepare to co-write Deferred Action — some of those immigrants, known popularly as "dreamers," were attending UNT at the time. 

In the end, Lozano and Trull crafted a story about a young man whose dreams and American identity aren't acknowledged or served by partisan politics — from either side of the aisle. Lozano didn't anticipate the rise of Donald Trump or his promise of a border wall financed by Mexico. But Trump's ascent to the presidency didn't come out of the blue, either. 

From left, Liz Magallanes, Ivan Jasso and David Zaldivar in a scene from Cara Mia Theatre's 'Deferred Action.' 

The play will come to Denton on tour with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 21-23 at the University Theatre in the Radio, Television, Film and Performing Arts Building, 1179 Union Circle.

$15 for adults, $10 for students, senior citizens, UNT faculty and staff. Courtesy photo
From left, Liz Magallanes, Ivan Jasso and David Zaldivar in a scene from Cara Mia Theatre's 'Deferred Action.' The play will come to Denton on tour with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 21-23 at the University Theatre in the Radio, Television, Film and Performing Arts Building, 1179 Union Circle. $15 for adults, $10 for students, senior citizens, UNT faculty and staff. 
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"The immigration debate has been going on for 20 years and Texas was primary ground," Lozano said. "And then it went national.  I think what makes this story [in Deferred Action] so timely is that this story doesn't take sides. We can take this story to a broad audience, and regardless of where you come down on the question of immigration, the play will give you something to think about. The play is at an entry point, I think."

While Cara Mia was preparing to bring the play to Denton, Trump announced he was ending the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals Act — the Obama administration policy that prevented the deportation of people brought to the country as children — and directed Congress to come up with a solution for the roughly 800,000 immigrants protected by the program. 

Lozano said the decision to rescind DACA throws the stories of the dreamers he interviewed into sharp relief. Many immigrants shielded by DACA had started families, gotten into college and begun careers. 

"I think what it does is it adds urgency," Lozano said of the recent White House development. "It becomes even more important to tell the story, and engage people around it. The story line seems to madden people and makes them want to pull their hair out."

The play travels to Southern Methodist University this weekend before coming to Denton next weekend. Afterward, Deferred Action goes to the Latino Cultural Center in Dallas, Talento Bilingue de Houston and ends in Los Angeles, at the Encuentros festival. 

Local performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 21-23, at the University Theatre, on the first floor of UNT's Radio, TV, Film and Performing Arts Building, 1179 Union Circle. After each performance, Spanish professor Teresa Marrero will lead a Q&A for audiences. A panel discussion precedes will precede the Sept. 21 performance at 6 p.m. in Room 127.

Tickets cost $15 for adults, or $10 for students, senior citizens, UNT faculty and staff. Group rates are available. For reservations and more information, call 940-565-2428 or email dat-boxoffice@unt.edu.  For all tour dates, visit the Cara Mia Theatre website.

FEATURED IMAGE: From left: Maya Malan-Gonzalez, Ivan Jasso, Liz Magallanes and David Zaldivar in Deferred Action. The play, a story about undocumented "dreamers" in Texas, was created in a collaboration between Cara Mia Theatre and Dallas Theatre Center. The play will come to Denton on tour with performances at 8 p.m. Sept. 21-23 at UNT's University Theatre.