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February 01, 2012

Latina Playwright Josefina Lopez Tells Immigrant Stories

by Mike O'Sullivan

Immigrants are often caught between the cultures of their homeland and their adopted country. Mexican American playwright Josefina Lopez is showcasing the struggles of Latino immigrants through film, and through a community theater in Los Angeles. Our correspondent spoke with her about bringing those immigrant stories to the public.

Josefina Lopez speaks with actor Rene Rivera about his one-man play. Called The King of the Desert, it deals with his struggles growing up in a barrio, or ghetto, in Texas near the U.S. border with Mexico.

“My neighborhood is buzzing with conjunto music, a distinctly Tex-Mex sound," said Rivera.

This is the kind of story Lopez wants to put on stage at her community theater, called Casa 0101. Casa is Spanish for “home.” Zero-one-Zero-One refers to the digital bits and bytes of the information age.

She told an earlier immigrant story in Real Women Have Curves, an acclaimed play that became a successful film 10 years ago. Lopez coauthored the screenplay and America Ferrera starred in the film.

Woman in garment factory:
“Are you going to be working here full-time?”
Ferrera: “No. I'm just helping out my sister until I find a better job.”
Woman: “Oh, me too. I'm just working here until I win the lottery.”

Lopez says that story needed to be told.

“I wrote it because I had never seen anything about people like me, women my size," she said. "So to have so many people embrace Real Women Have Curves and to have a buzz and people waiting and the excitement, I was like, wow, it's speaking a truth that goes beyond being Latino or being a woman. It's about people always underestimating you.”

In his play being performed now at the theater, Rene Rivera looks at the difficulty navigating life between two cultures.

“It is the life of a Hispanic family living in the United States and yet not being part of the United States," said Rivera. "And so being sort of locked and stuck in between the two cultures, and trying to be reverent to both of them.”

It's opening night for the new production, and this play has a personal message for one Mexican-born immigrant, medical researcher Alonso Arellano.

“This is wonderful," said Arellano. "I want this to stay and to grow. We should have more theaters like this.”

Josefina Lopez says there are thousands of stories like this from the Latino community and other immigrant groups just waiting to be told.