Chatted recently with a reporter writing for the Arizona Republic about a new play I’ve co-authored with the brilliant poet Alberto Rios. It’s called “Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World” (see newcarpa.org for details). Space limits will make it impossible for her to quote me too extensively, so I’ve posted the answers to two of her questions here.
1. What was the impetus for your creating and writing Amexica?
I’ve worked and lived along the border on and off for most of my life. My father grew up just south of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, I have family in Laredo, Brownsville, Matamoros. So I know the area well. The most significant influence, however, was the knowledge I gained as a journalist and playwright who’s paid close attention to how the people of the region are perceived. I’ve found is that most people, particularly Americans — and I’m not excluding Latinos from that mix — tend to have a very two-dimensional view of the border. It’s a view based largely on the mass media images of people climbing fence or more recently the disturbing reports of the horrific killing spree that’s occurring in Mexico as a result of the raging drug war. But the truth about the border is that it’s home to 14 million people; families, shopkeepers, cops, artists, teachers, families, normal people doing normal things. It’s also a place where tens of million every year cross legally. So, part of the motivation for telling this story is that I think it’s important that we understand the region for what it is, as opposed to the stereotype that’s been created. Beyond that, I’m incredibly fascinated with the idea that what we are watching along the border is the real-time transformation of culture and society. In many ways, the region is not quite American and not quite Mexican. It is, as the title to my play’s suggests, Amexica, an evolution, a melding, a mixing up of cultures where language, music, art, religion and economies overlap. Five hundred years ago, the border was not the border we know today. Then, it was distinctly Native American and colonialist. Today, it’s a blend of that and much, much more. And five hundred years from now, it will be something altogether new again. And it will not be, despite what the nativist in the United States believe, because of a reconquest, but because of the irrevocable march of history. As an ethnic studies professor at ASU, I’ve often told my students that if they want to know what the world along the north shores of the Mediterranean looked like in the centuries following the slow collapse of the Roman Empire, then go to the border. Just as modern-day Italy and Spain and so much of what would become modern Europe evolved from the mix that define Roman society, centuries from now the U.S.-Mexico border might well be called Amexica.
2. What do you hope audiences leave with after seeing the production?
First, as a playwright who understands that you want people not to fidget in their seats, I want audiences to enjoy the drama, the poetry, the language, the choreography and music that I’m blending in this piece. And because I consciously sought to meld poetry into the play, I also want people to experience what my co-author, Alberto Rios, describes as the lyric moments of the piece. There is a story being told here that’s about a 2,000-mile journey that my lead character, Javier, embarks upon, but there a moments in the play where time and action get suspended by a Alberto’s poetry or Michele’s choreography or the powerful and haunting original music that Quetzal’s created for the work. That’s the emotional experience I’m trying to achieve, while intellectually I hope that audiences who may know little about the border walk away with at least a little more understanding that it is a three-dimensional place with its own history and art and food and culture and force of life. As one of my character’s says in the play, “La Frontera (the border) is unlike anything to the north or south. Welcome to the Fourth World.”