By Jackie Velez
Immigration issues were brought to life as a University of the Incarnate Word alum helped stage “The Line in the Sand: Stories from the US/Mexico Border” Oct. 24 at UIW.
José Rubén De León, an award-winning director and minister of literature at St. Mary’s University, brought the production to UIW’s Concert Hall in Luella Bennack Music Center that he was first introduced to years ago while working at Our Lady of the Lake University.
“I read about this presentation and I had actually seen it at a religious conference,” said De León, 59, adding a priest had presented the piece as part of the conference opening. From there, De León did some research, which led to his discovery of the script, which was commissioned by Catholic Relief Services.
“I got ahold of [the script], and I got students and some professors at Our Lady of the Lake to do a dramatic reading of it in one of their halls,” De León said, before he decided to develop it into a full-fledged production.
“I think what prompted this performance was the fact that I was reading a lot about the [immigrant] children that were being caged, and I wanted to do something to bring attention to that issue of immigration,” De León said. De León had just come off the heels of another play, “Bless Me Ultima,” so he made the call to the actors, who had performed for that play. With 10 actors in agreement to volunteer their time, the presentation of the play was set for production at OLLU and UIW.
The play surrounds a familiar topic played out repeatedly in the news today — immigration. The play is taken from events that occurred years ago when Catholic Relief Services sent a team of five writers and actors to the Arizona-Mexico border to investigate the immigration crisis. These are their stories.
The play opens with a monologue of a woman who died in the desert trying to cross the border.
“The monologue comes from the interview with the son, who actually stayed with her until she passed, and also, the father, who ends up finding her remains,” De León said. “It sets the tone for the rest of the production. There’s nothing light or uplifting about the situation. This is certainly a drama throughout, so there’s no light moment. It sets the audience up for what’s about to unfold.”
Another grim moment plays out when a camp volunteer, played by UIW alum Eraina Porras, describes in detail the conditions some of the immigrants are in when trying to cross over – from
blood-torn feet to blisters on their faces. Porras’ character also touches on the legality of the situation of finding people near death and the decision to evacuate these almost-dead human beings to safety vs. following the law.
“She’s really passionate, tired, frustrated and helps migrants cross safely,” Porras says of her character. “I share her viewpoints. I don’t think that it’s wrong to help humans stay alive.”
Another notable scene involved actress Keli Rosa Cabunoc Romero’s performance.
“I play Monica, a young woman from Guatemala, who came to the U.S. to support her sick father and siblings,” Cabunoc Romero said. “She is detained crossing back into the U.S. after she was hit by a car in Boston walking to work.”
Cabunoc Romero’s character shows just how much sacrifice and suffering an immigrant goes through in order to cross the border just to make money in America to get their family back home out of an impoverished life.
“Monica’s story is heartbreaking, and I hope that through sharing these stories of strength and resilience people will be moved to take action,” said Cabunoc Romero.