When it comes to an issue as nuanced as immigration, there’s much to be said that an academic paper or political debate simply can’t cover. Immigration policy regularly makes the news and becomes the subject of classroom discussions and media coverage; the real stories of undocumented immigrants do not.
Motus Theater is changing that.
The Boulder-based company’s “Do You Know Who I Am?” project weaves together monologues written and performed by members of the undocumented community. Its aim is to help people understand the obstacles facing undocumented youth in the Boulder community and to get people talking about immigration in a new way.
And from the reception the project has received thus far, it seems to be working. “Do You Know Who I Am?” has been performed for more than 3,000 people across Colorado since its debut in November 2013. This week, the company is releasing a DVD version of the piece, the first of many steps that will propel Motus’s message even further.
Borrowing the phrase from journalist Jose Antonio Vargas—an undocumented immigrant and founder of Define American, a nonprofit that seeks to shift the conversation around immigration and citizenship—artistic director Kirsten Wilson says, “Immigration is the most controversial subject that people know the least about.”
Hugo Juarez, Juan Juarez, Ana Cristina Temu, Oscar Juarez, and Victor Galvan make up the cast of “Do You Know Who I Am?,” and none of them are professional actors. Through a series of autobiographical performance classes, Wilson taught the cast how to effectively tell their stories, and in performing them on stage—a task they complete ably, given their lack of formal acting training—they teach their audiences to look at the personal side of the immigration issue.
“We’re still just dumbfounded and amazed that we’ve been able to reach so many people and touch so many hearts,” says Temu. “It was very hard and emotional to go through all of those experiences again by writing them out.” But the hard work has paid off, for the Motus team, for the audiences, and, they hope, for a new generation of undocumented youth advocates.
“People can look at this and say, ‘That’s just like me. I’ve felt those stereotypes like Hugo. I have dreams of going into the army like Oscar,'” says Galvan.
With the DVD release, “Do You Know Who I Am?” will get the chance to inspire countless audiences. The company’s Motus Meals program provides a supplementary discussion guide for adults looking to explore questions raised by the project, and a new collaboration with the Boulder Valley School District will soon bring “Do You Know Who I Am?”, along with a middle school and high school curriculum on immigration, into Boulder County schools.
Wilson and the team aren’t slowing down any time soon. Motus is currently working on an ongoing partnership with the One Action initiative, and new pieces on immigration history and the female immigrant experience are in the works for 2016. “Motus” in Latin means movement—and that’s exactly what this organization is starting.