Finding Home: Understanding the Narrative of Refugees

From the Anon(ymous) dramaturgy team, Khristián Méndez-Aguirre and Alaina Monts, comes a closer look at the definition of “home” found in Naomi Iizuka’s play and the struggles refugees find in contemporary American society.

The dramatic arc of Anon(ymous) is simple: it is the story of a boy looking for home. But home, in this instance, is a multi-faceted term that serves to both literally represent a tangible place, as well as the notion of feeling welcomed into a certain place within society and oneself. 

Even if the story is named after Anon, the focus is more heavily placed on his environment and the ways in which the world perceives him. He must face harsh conditions and a wide range of characters in order to survive. These challenges allow the audience to better understand the world as he sees it. In this modern myth, loosely based on Homer’s The Odyssey, he is our way to access, as artists and audience members, a perspective about how American society treats immigrants and refugees.

two men sitting together talking in blue light

In an effort to paint a picture of the many ways in which refugee and homeless children must work to make ends meet in contemporary American society, Naomi Iizuka (playwright) presents us with a young West African boy named Pascal. He is also accustomed to fending for himself on the streets and struggling in a world where he often feels like an outcast. Unlike Anon, Pascal, who has been in the United States for some time, tends to perceive goodness as a promise of money and security while Anon remains more skeptical. Their contrasting views allow the audience to explore the differences between American values and the values of those who immigrate here: when money becomes vital to personhood, what do we lose? 

Perhaps one of the most striking examples of the way in which society misunderstands the stories of refugees and immigrants is the interaction between Helen Laius and Nemasani. Helen is interested in Nemasani’s story only as a means to express her own bias. She loves the exotic work of Nemasani’s shroud and uses her devastating story as a means to express her own feelings, rather than an empathetic understanding of the challenges Nemasani has faced.

Anon(ymous) (Oct. 4-15, 2017) stages the all-too-familiar complexities found throughout relationships between white Americans, American citizens of all colors, immigrants and refugees. Delving deeper into these interactions allows us to see a story that is simultaneously both myth and a familiar reality to those who experience similar difficulties. The play highlights the dangers of our unconscious biases and the way they shape how we perceive those who are different from ourselves.