Rudine Sims Bishop, Professor Emerita of Education at Ohio State University and influential scholar on multicultural children’s literature, commonly notes the power of theatre for young audiences as a mirror of experiences very similar to their own as well as a window into experiences that may be completely opposite from what they know. Any experience you have, despite where and when and how it happens, is going to have an effect on your personal perspective of the world. Our experiences are what gives us knowledge, insight, and memories to draw upon. The experience of watching a play serves this same purpose. We walk away from a theatrical experience with a different perspective than what we had before. By experiencing Luna on tour, elementary and middle school-aged students across Austin are being treated to an experience unlike anything many of them have had before.
“She comes and goes from place to place, school to school. Others see her but don’t notice her. She’s there for a few months, or a few weeks, or maybe a few days. To the others, she is a face that vanishes into the air. But she has a name. She has feelings. She has dreams.” -Luna, Luna
Luna by Ramón Esquivel tells the story of a young girl, Soledad whose parents are migrant farm-workers in California. Because her family moves from place to place, Soledad finds it hard to make friends and keep them. The one friend Soledad can rely on is Luna, the moon, because Luna is always present in the night sky for Soledad to talk to and confide in. This story of friendship is one that resonates across cultures and into the deeper humanity which unites us all.
“And saying goodbye to friends is harder than anything.” -Soledad, Luna
According to Austin ISD’s latest demographic report, approximately 59 percent of their students identify as Latinx. Soledad’s story is a Latinx narrative that is not commonly heard, explored, or celebrated in the way that this play does. Many of the students and teachers that have experienced this play in Austin ISD have been visibly impacted by watching it. From brief interactions after the show we have heard that these Latinx students are reveling in the fact that they directly relate to the experience of migrant-work or learning English and of course making friends. Watching a play with characters that look like you, words that sound like what you hear at home, and struggles that you know all too well immediately legitimizes those aspects of your life. This production features twelve Latinx actors, a colorful set that brings the culture alive and a common colloquial language that teeters between Spanish and English. For the young people who are watching Luna, these parts of their life that may be under attack in our current political climate are being celebrated and validated. By the same token, non-Latinx students seem to be empathizing and viewing the world of this play as an important aspect of our American culture and society.
“Soledad goes where her parents go, where the crops will grow. Their work puts food in the mouths of others. The workers move here, they move there, they move everywhere… so that others may stay in one place.” -Luna, Luna
As a Latino, I had never played a Latino on stage before coming to The University of Texas at Austin. I had never owned this part of myself on stage and therefore thought it did not belong. The actors in Luna are having a similar experience in being able to portray their full selves on stage. James Sifuentes in particular, one of the ensemble members, was excited to share how his family and their lives directly relate to the play. James’ mother is very similar to Soledad in that she was a child of migrant workers and also found it very hard to make friends in the uncertain nature of how life operates for migrant workers’ families. In a conversation with James he spoke of the gift that this play brings to performers and audience alike. “It’s like going outside of your house and seeing all the people… and you get to see that on stage,” James explains. By performing in this play, “[it’s] being a part of your own storytelling.”
“It sounds like you were really mean to Luna… We’re not choosing sides, just telling you the truth.” – Frida, Luna
With instances of ICE raids, beginnings of the construction of a wall along our southern border and people targeted for the Latinx culture they were born into, being brown in this country is becoming increasingly frightening and difficult. As some in our country are pushing narratives such as Soledad’s away from the spotlight, the students in Austin are seemingly embracing the story. The magnitude of this play for young people is immeasurable as we see them so invested in the story. These students are being equipped with an experience that expectantly normalizes and rejoices the diversity of culture, work and language in this country. Luna is not just a play about friendship, but an act of solidarity and proclamation for immigrants, for Latinx people and for the education of young citizens.
Written by Matthew Hernandez, Dramaturg
April 20-23, 2017
Oscar G. Brockett Theatre