“This country is really nice, but it has a price’: Fruitvale laborers take stage with stories of love, loss, longing
on October 16, 2022
The nine performers on stage Saturday night at Oakland Theater Project weren’t professional actors. They were day laborers from Fruitvale who relinquished the safety of silence to tell their stories.
And they will do it again at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at FLAX art & design, 1501 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in downtown Oakland.
Under a project called Teatro Jornalero, workers from Central America, Mexico and the United States share intimate stories of the turmoil that drove them from their home countries and across barren deserts to reach the U.S. Their hopeful but heart-rending stories formed over years of separation and longing for loved ones.
There were moments in rehearsals when an actor would break down, said Holly Alonso, executive director of Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, a Fruitvale organization out of which Teatro Jornalero formed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everybody else would come around them and put their hands on that person to comfort and support them. It was just really incredible,” she said.
About 40 audience members listened as performers recited their stories in Spanish, Mam and English, with English and Spanish translations woven into the storytelling. They watched as the performers reenacted their journeys, imagining desert sand beneath their feet instead of the hard stage floor.
Peralta Hacienda partnered with Oakland Theater Project to craft the show. Alonso said such performances address misconceptions about migrants. People are not always aware that day laborers have diverse backgrounds, she noted. Some came from middle class professions and were civil servants, while others worked in agriculture or other jobs. Despite the differences, they share a unifying migrant experience.
In an interview, Yolanda Rubi said in Spanish that she decided to share her story because, “In my whole life, no one has ever listened to me. Never.”
From the stage, Yolanda told of hardship and tragedy in Guerrero, Mexico, from being kidnapped by a drug trafficker who sexually assaulted her and got her addicted to cocaine, to living with cancer and the grief of having a son murdered.
“But the moment I talk, that’s something that makes me feel better,” she said. “And I want many people to hear my story.”
Ricardo, who had a government job in Mexico City, told the audience that he could not afford his son’s education and other expenses after the 1994 Mexican peso crisis devastated the economy.
“My son is very smart. And I wanted to buy him books and a computer so that he could go to any university,” Ricardo said in Spanish.
One by one, performers related stories of love and loss and longing — at times singing, at times crying, at times impassioned by their achievements and strength.
There was a resounding theme across the stories. “This country is really nice, but it has a price,” Hermelinda said during her performance.
Performers spoke of missing the graduations that their journeys funded, of never seeing loved ones again, and of losing the opportunity to grow old surrounded by their children and the grandchildren they have never met.
The evening closed with performers chanting in Spanish about the complexities of the migrant experience: “We walk into the future with hope and fear.”
“I’m still pretty emotional,” said Calli Cargo, after watching the performance. “They really made it an environment where their stories felt really sacred. And I hope that they can feel respected like this in other realms as well.”
Alonso is uncertain what the future holds for Teatro Jornalero after this weekend. She hopes she can secure more funding so that people can continue sharing their stories.
Oakland North welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Oakland North assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: firstname.lastname@example.org.