In the episode, playwright Andrea Thome talks about her own family’s story and speaks to how the themes of immigration, fear and hope are not new. Inspired by interviews with undocumented immigrants from Latin America living in New York, the piece takes the form of a fandango: a community celebration where stories are brought to life through live performance, music, and dance.
The script emerged from -- initially from interviews
that I conducted with folks
that are undocumented immigrants.
I interviewed about 12 people,
and some are folks that I've known
for many, many years, some are people I met recently.
And that's the basis of where the initial script began.
I'm Andrea Thome, and I'm a playwright.
Born in Madison, Wisconsin. When I was about two months old
we went down to Chile where my mom's from.
And we were there for a few years.
And then there was a military coup and we left.
We came back to Wisconsin.
I went to Harvard.
I said I'm going to create my own major, and I did.
Theater in Latin America is basically what I did,
combining history and theater and looking at how theater
emerges out of historical and social contexts and movements.
And then I went off to start a theater in San Francisco
with friends after college called the Red Rocket Theater.
Basically we had a little space that we rented
in the Mission District.
And in order to pay the rent on this space,
we had to write a play like every two months
we had to put up a play. Every month, every two months.
So, it got to be my turn. I was the only one who hadn't.
They said, "You have to write one."
I was like, "Oh, my God, I have to write one."
I didn't think of myself as a writer.
I was sort of a secret writer. I was, like, private.
We created 22 shows in five years, but I was exhausted.
You know, you're hustling, you're hustling,
I was like school will be a break.
And so I applied for playwriting at NYU,
and got in, and they gave me a full ride,
and I said I guess I'll go to New York,
and I never left.
The name of my new work is called
"Fandango for Butterflies and Coyotes."
We started it as if
it was going to be a documentary theater piece,
just interviewing people.
The majority of the people are people
who themselves don't have documents,
or at one point didn't.
And I interviewed folks that I know,
people that I've known for many, many years.
And then other folks I didn't know.
You know, meeting new folks. I didn't want it to be something
that we're like coming from the outside
and appropriating other people's stories.
We weren't quite sure what the piece was going to be about yet,
how we were going to shape it.
We were just interested in knowing these people
and sort of hearing their stories.
I think that we all were.
We needed an event. We needed a theatrical event.
So we decided to make it a fandango.
[ Singing in Spanish ]
A fandango is a community gathering, basically.
It could take place anywhere from three hours to three days.
And our collaborator and composer and brilliant musician,
Sinuhé Padilla, he works a lot in the fandango community.
And so in talking to him about what that is,
it felt like it was the right form to take.
There's a dancing that's called a zapateado.
Singing -- It's a way to share news.
It's a way to share things
that have happened to people that week or --
or basically where they came from.
Thome: So there's all of these elements that come into play.
So you have West African percussive rhythms
but sent out through the feet. Elements of old flamenco.
You're calling to Mother Earth in indigenous cultures, right?
You're mirroring. You always have to listen.
You can't dance too loud when the person is doing a verse
because then you can't hear the verse.
So you have to always be in tune with what's happening.
Now this person is going to come in.
You get softer, they get louder.
You're mirroring what they're doing with their feet.
You're mirroring what they're -- so there's a constant act
of really active listening,
and participating, and collaborating.
And that, to me, is a model for society
for how we should live.
And it's taking on its own new life
because we're creating more of a theatrical event.
So, we started working on that. And I think the first thing
we did was create an hour-long version
where we took six other voices
and just had them tell us their stories, interweave.
We just spent time in the room with them
with little musical accompaniment.
So, it became a radio play almost.
And it was a way to really get to know who these people were.
Characters have come to this gathering,
and they're all immigrants in some ways.
Mostly undocumented. Not all, but they're --
they're coming together, forming community, and sharing stories.
We are there with them on that evening,
on an evening where there is --
potentially there's an ICE raid happening.
And so everybody is nervous about that.
They are in a sanctuary space, so they feel protected.
And it's about what happens sort of
as they people are struggling with these issues.
I see myself with a little red T-shirt that I brought.
Some jeans. A gray sweatshirt that a friend had given me
because, she said, "it's cold. You can't go like that."
You couldn't bring anything. Nothing. Nothing.
I remember that my mother only gave me a thread.
One of those threads with the Virgin.
And a tiny butterfly she drew.
She didn't want me to bring a chain,
so I wouldn't call attention.
And, she says, "It'll protect you."
I remember I felt so much fear. And so deep.
The first time I crossed, to be honest,
well, when I called my family I felt like crying.
See, I had never left Honduras before,
and I said, "What did I come here for?
Like, what did I come here for?"
It would have been better to stay there even if I was poor.
And that was just in Guatemala. Imagine.
In Guatemala, I felt like a stranger
for having left my country.
There have always been immigrant stories and characters
in my writing and in my life. In my people.
In the people I love. In - In my families.
Mariposa is -- She's a woman who's about 35.
She manages a deli.
And she's like the anchor person.
And she has convened this fandango
and his hosting it in this space
in this community center in a church.
And she's kind of organized the whole thing.
This is an image that comes from
the woman I interviewed who's inspired her,
this character. And she told me once, you know,
"I think about, when I'm feeling desperate,
she said, I think about the spider.
And I think about the spider, what catches a spider
when she falls, right?
How does she know where -- how does she land?"
And she said she sends out this thread,
this silk thread, and -- and it goes into the air,
and the air picks it up, and it kind of carries her,
because of that thread, it carries her along.
And she just hopes that that thread will somehow anchor
on something and it will catch her.
And we're all doing this.
We're sending this thread into the air.
We don't know if it's going to catch anywhere.
If we don't even reach out, if we don't, like,
send that out, we'll just fall to the ground.
But when you're dealing with fear,
when you're dealing with a system that's trying
to dehumanize you, or doesn't even see you,
how do we create that hope?
It's like three days walking. In the desert.
So everything you see, in the movies, on TV, it's true.
And you walk in the desert in the dark.
You don't know if you're on the hill,
if you're on the mountain.
There's not a single light.
And you don't know if you'll get to your destination or not.
The moon is really bright. It isn't that dark.
What if I get left behind in the desert?
I don't know if I can walk like that.
Will I be able to?
Mariposa: Two days in, they rob us. They take our money.
The rateros who, they call them the cholos,
they know that people pass through there.
They wait for them there to take their money.
I'm looking at the moon when suddenly we hear people coming.
In my town we heard stories.
I'm like, what's going to happen?
What will they do to us?
I close my eyes and I can see how they seated us.
There was a lot of sand, dirt.
The men robbing us holding weapons.
Kicking us in the back.
But they didn't do anything to me.
They get closer. And they say, "No, no, no, no.
We haven't come to hurt you." They're, I think,
soldiers or something, just looking for drugs.
They don't go around arresting people who are just crossing.
In Mexico, there's a lot of military. Lots of police.
More than anything, they want money. Money.
One lady takes off her wedding ring.
She puts it in her mouth. But the man sees her.
And he makes her spit out the ring
she didn't want to lose. I'll never forget that.
He kicked her in the back so that he could get it out.
What's happening now with immigration
in this country is not new.
You know, back in the '90s when I was in San Francisco,
Proposition 187 was passed in California.
That was a proposition to basically deny many services
to folks that are undocumented.
This has been around -- this has been happening,
and under Obama there was a huge amount of deportations as well.
That's not new.
This I'll never forget.
I lay down on the ground. I close my eyes.
And all I wanted was to get to this country to meet my nephew.
Because there was a baby in the family.
I think I've never talked about it,
but he was my motivation.
I mean, I knew I wanted a better future for myself.
Stability for my mother so that she wouldn't suffer.
But, when I was there, in that moment,
the only thing that went through my mind was my nephew.
When I get there, I will see my baby.
They put a ladder up on our side of the wall.
And then we had to jump to the other side.
And it was like 15 or 14 feet high.
So my sister got on quickly and jumped,
and then my brother, well he let go, too.
And I was last. I was -- I was hanging there.
[ Laughs ] I remember the feeling exactly.
I was lying there on that ground,
and it was so cold.
And the sound of the crickets. And I remember I said, "But,
well, I'm going to get there.
I have a lot of faith." I had a lot of faith.
And finally I had to let go because my hands got tired.
And I fell to the bottom.
And we started to crawl. Just us.
We didn't have a coyote, nothing.
We didn't see police.
Together: We jumped. We crawled.
We saw a rabbit that crossed in front of us.
So many rabbits.
We kept crawling, and kept crawling.
Till we weren't in the grass any more.
And then we stood up like normal people.
And some people were looking at us from inside their house.
And we threw off our jackets, and the dog started to bark,
but we kept walking like...
Together: ...normal people.
And they had told us to get to 14th Street
and there would be a white car. And there was the car.
And we said the code, and they stuck us inside.
And from there they took us to Tucson, Arizona.
Until there were enough people to bring us here.
When your family sends the rest of the money,
they send you to whatever state you say you're going to.
Riding under people's feet.
On the passenger side in a tight space,
all scrunched up.
However you end up, that's how you'll stay.
When they step on you, you can't move.
The thing is that everyone has to fit.
Nine hours. 10. 12. 16.
I tell myself, "I know I'm going to get there."
I'm going to get there. I'm going to see that baby.
And I'm going to hug my nephew.
And I'll get to go to school again.
I'll get my first paycheck.
And I'll build my parents a house.
And I'll finally be safe.
Together: Very soon, I will get there.
I hope that people hear those stories.
I hope people take them in.
There's also a lot of things you can do.
Accompany immigrants on their check-ins with ICE.
And just being there and being a witness to what it --
like a judge seeing you there as a witness for someone,
that's really powerful. You don't have to be an expert.
You don't even have to speak Spanish or whatever language.
People from all over the world are in this situation.
But, just I think that I want people to see that they can --
there is a lot they can do. And one of those things is
understanding, and listening, and building together.
And I think when you make a fandango together, you do.
You know, it's like art as a -- art is a rehearsal for life.
It's like a model of life, of society.
Maybe we can all practice doing that a little.
[ Cheering ]
[ Singing in Spanish ]
[ Singing continues ]