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Actors Take Issues of Immigrant Identity to Mexico

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At the front of a generic conference room, there's a simple set: so simple that a back pack stands in for a television.

A white piece of paper that reads TV is stuck to the backpack, to make sure the audience gets it.

PERFORMANCE: Henry! Henry! Henry! Huh, que ma?

On stage, a Mexican mother and father argue with each other and their American son.

PERFORMANCE

The performers are all volunteers.

One served in Iraq, another works in sales at a computer hardware company.

There are some high school and college students who couldn't make the trip here to Mexico.

It's part of a Pilsen-based community group called Latinos Progresando.

Luis Gutierrez-not the Congressman-founded and runs the place.

He says he got the idea one day on his way home from work.

GUTIERREZ: : I arrived at this stoplight at Archer and California, there's a school on the corner, Kelly High School. I was at the stop light, I turned around, and the Kelly marching band was practicing. They're practicing in the parking lot, and there's a group of maybe 10 Latino families out there with their kinds watching the band go up and down the parking lor rehearsing. And I thought wow, how starved are we for arts and culture in our community that we're taking our kids to see the Kelly marching band practicing.

Teatro Americano doesn't bring the Latino community any kind of play.

Its theater focuses on issues of immigration…issues that resonate with its audiences.

Gutierrez says so many families go through the same problems, but they feel isolated because they don't talk about them:

The cultural clashes, the language issues.

Children resenting their parents for having to translate for them all the time.

Parents resenting their children for disrespecting their sacrifices and rejecting their culture.

GUTIERREZ: And what we want to do is put something on stage where you can see yourself and say wow, that's how I act? Or wow, that's not just something that happened to me.

26-year old cast member Daniel Avila says children of immigrants often feel like they don't belong anywhere-for example, a Mexican American is considered Mexican in the US and American in Mexico.

AVILA: The young people, they don't know where to go, they don't know who they are. So they creat their own identity, that's how gangs get created.

APPLAUSE

By the end of the excerpt, the son has called his father a wetback and the father has stopped just short of hitting his son.

PERFORMANCE: Entonces lo que queremos preguntarles a ustedes…

Then the group asks audience members if they've lived through similar situations.

A Mexican mother who raised her children in California stands up and talks about how her children constantly correct her English.

A young woman born in Indiana says in accented Spanish that as a girl, she felt embarrassed by her Mexican parents because they were so different from all her friends' families.

It's not just the audience that's moved.

22-year old Erik Marquez is a new cast member.

MARQUEZ: I relate like a lot to the son, like him and his dad. (Starts to cry.) Sorry. Well obviously it made me reflect a lot more because I've never cried like this, I've never talked to anyone about me and my dad. There's a lot of things about my dad, I guess I didn't notice when I was younger. He stopped going to school when he was in third grade because he couldn't afford shoes and they made fun of him, so he quit and he was selling oranges. And you know when he tells me, cause I was a bad student in school, and I'm like I don't like school, why do you get on my case? Now I know, he never got to do that.

As well as performing for small groups like this one in Mexico, Teatro Americano puts on one major play a year.

This year's production is the full length version of the excerpts they performed here.

They're planning to open the show in Chicago this fall.

I'm Catrin Einhorn…Chicago Public Radio…Morelia, Mexico.

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