This weekend, the Rochester Latino Theatre Company will present a production of "Elvira: The Immigration Play" at MuCCC (142 Atlantic Avenue). The play, written by actress and School of the Arts alumna Jessica Carmona, is based on the true story of Elvira Arellano, a Mexican immigrant and activist whose fight to return to the United States -- and to her son -- has spanned decades.
The one-act drama, produced by Annette Ramos and directed by Marcy Gamzon, shows an imaginary encounter between an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent (played by Peter J. Doyle) and Elvira (Adriana Cabiedes-Ochoa; a younger Elvira is played by Adriana Sophia Ochoa) when she was arrested in Los Angeles in 2007 before being deported to Mexico.
A Mexican citizen, Arellano entered the United States illegally in 1997 and was promptly deported. Returning within days, she lived in Oregon for three years, during which time she gave birth to a son, Saul, who is a US citizen. Her life since then has been fraught with more apprehensions and deportations, seeking asylum with churches that serve as safe havens for illegal immigrants, and fighting the US government for a right of sanctuary not only for herself but for millions of other border-broken families. Arellano returned to the US in 2014, and continues to her fight to help families reunite.
"Elvira" shifts back and forth through time. "It jumps between her conversation with the ICE agent and different parts of her activist life, meetings with undocumented workers, and her memories of her family," says Stephanie Parades, RLTC board president and co-founder.
As the interrogation unfolds, the story sheds light on the plight of disenfranchised immigrants. A press release provided by RLTC teases the production's message of hope amid conflict: "The play presents the possibility of US Citizens and undocumented workers finding common ground, common humanity, and even friendship" by challenging "preconceived notions about who this community is and what they want."
The play is about "how Elvira arrived at this point, as well as how her story impacts the ICE agent -- why he believes what he believes," Parades says. "And there's a piece in there about how sometimes your own life experiences determine the outlook you have on other people."
This is the first time "Elvira" is being fully produced in Rochester. The performance is timely not only because the presidential circus-campaign has spurred a national discussion of wall-building, but on Wednesday, Arellano was reunited with her partner (a Honduran human rights activist and father of her younger son) in Chicago after two years of separation.
The production will be staged Friday, April 29, and Saturday, April 30, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m. The show runs about an hour and 15 minutes, and is bilingual, but not so much that non-Spanish speakers won't understand it, Paredes says.
Coming up in June, RLTC will present "Separate is Never Equal," the story of Sylvia Mendez, an American child of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent who was prevented from attending a white school in the 1940's.