Guest Blog by: Beth Orchard
Albany Park, Chicago is approximately 15 miles north of the Chicago Loop. Germans and Swedes were among the first immigrants to the area followed by Jews and Asian and Latin American immigrants predominantly from Korea, the Philippines and Guatemala. Seated at the heart of this diverse community is Albany Park Theatre Project.
Albany Park Theatre Project (APTP) began in 1997 with an ensemble of youth from the community helping to create, choreograph, compose and perform the shows. In 2010, they decided to tackle head on the issue of immigration with the creating of Home/Land.
The small theatre seats about 100 in a very intimate setting with the stage in the middle flanked on both sides by suitcases and seated across from one another are the audience members. Twenty three young people took part in the performance featuring multiethnic and diverse stories from people across Chicago the ensemble interviewed followed by a year of preparation and rehearsal.
Seated with my husband and I was a large group from Christ Evangelical Lutheran church of Chicago. I was excited to witness a faith community exploring new opportunities to learn and grow in their understanding of, what I think is, one of the most important and pressing issues facing us today: our broken immigration system.
As the music begins, a song is sung in Spanish and English describing a tree that grows in a distant land but spreads its seeds across borders. This theme played out amongst several of the stories. Little seedlings, focused narratives, seeking to grow and plant roots that will one day affect positive change.
Featured among the stories was of a Palestinian girl who came with her family from Jordan. They fled oppression in Kuwait but she did not have papers to get a job in the United States. Another story told of men who fled with their families to come in search of a better life, only to find the harsh brutality of America’s “welcome mat” pulled out from under them; suffering through deportation proceedings and fearful for their families they were separated, with no idea when they might be reunited.
A satirical take on the US Immigration system was a game titled “Who Wants to Be an American?” emceed by a man in a golden jacket, decked out in red, white and blue and supported by men in ICE uniforms.
“Do you pay taxes?” he asked. Marco tried to play the game, but lost a point when he said ‘yes.’ “Where did you go to school?” the man probed again. Marco, dumbfounded, lost another point when he said he had a baby in high school. “I’m sorry,” the emcee responded. “you lose a point for teen pregnancy.” And on this went until the end of the game when Marco was so frustrated he launched into a rant about the ridiculous absurdity of such question and answer silliness which served as a reminder that, to some, immigration is a game: for Marco and many others like him, their lives are at stake.
Two nuns who fought the deportation system won the right to bring pastoral care and prayer to detainees at Broadview and beyond. I participated a few summers ago in a prayer vigil at Broadview. I was not, however, on the bus and, as depicted during the performance, the detainees are shackled and kept in the dark, unable to be touched as they yell out to the nuns in their language to tell their families they love them. They don’t know where they are going or if they will ever see them again. The inhumanity of it brought tears to my eyes.
The suitcases packed so neatly around the stage reminded me of the unpacking and packing of not only immigrant’s physical baggage but the unpacking of their stories. Stories we don’t hear on the 6 o’clock news. We hear ‘illegal’ or ‘undocumented’ but we don’t hear Marco, Elaina, Julia or see the family’s heartbreak.
This isn’t fair. The fear, the terror, the uncertainty and inhumane way we treat our fellow brothers and sisters. It isn’t fair and it isn’t God’s love. Though I believe in a fair and robust system of laws that function to serve all, I also believe in fair treatment of those who go through our system. The laws coming out of Alabama and Arizona and the long, unnecessary detentions of immigrants, many of whom pay their taxes, own businesses and contribute to our society are unjust and fail to honor God’s desire to give the lonely, the least and the lost hope.
The play ended with this: a celebration. A quinceañera with a mix of music, family, dancing and joy. To me, it was a vision of Heaven on Earth, a coming together of various people of all colors who, no matter their immigration status, live under God as his beloved community. At that moment, I saw what it would look like to be one family, a unity personified when we were created for his glory, where nobody is stopped to check their papers, rather they are welcomed to join the celebration as one body, under God.
If you are interested to learn more or to order tickets, click here.
Beth Orchard is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago with a Master’s in Social Justice. She is the editor of the g92.org blog, a writer and passion advocate for the oppressed, marginalized, immigrant and other voices that so often go unheard.
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