“It’s a very real story of very real people.”

Latinx students add to the greater conversation about what it means to be an American with their performance of “Augusta and Noble.”

Shelby Anne Taylor, Editor in Chief

 

The painful realities of immigration and the subsequent struggle for identity faced by Latinx Americans were put on display by the cast of “Augusta and Noble during their virtual reading last week on Sept. 30 as Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) came to a close.

“Augusta and Noble”, written by Carlos Murillo, was the fifth annual LHM play performed at Elgin Community College and directed by Associate Professor of Theatre Susan Robinson.

“It’s a very real story of very real people,” Robinson said. “It’s a story of immigration, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about a young girl discovering her parents’ story. She’s discovering who she is.”

The story centers on 12-year-old Gabi Castillo, who spends the majority of the play seeking the truth about her Mexican heritage.

Throughout the show, the audience watched Gabi come to terms with having undocumented parents and accompanied her on her journey to find what it means to be both an American and a member of the Latinx community— a journey the cast of “Augusta and Nobleis not unfamiliar with themselves.

“[This play] takes on all of these struggles that I have been trying to run away from,” said Taina Caraballo, who played Gabi. “I’ve tried to run away from thoughts like, ‘Who am I? What am I? Do I belong? Do I fit in?’ And being confronted with that by my character is thought-provoking. It’s not just a learning experience for the audience, it’s a learning experience for us [actors] as well.”

This question of belonging is one nearly every cast member has struggled with at some point in their lives. Near the end of the play, Gabi admits that she feels as though her “feet are in two different worlds.” Caraballo found this to be one of the most relatable parts of her character.

“My father is darker [skinned], but he likes to take on the whole, ‘I am an American, I don’t speak Spanish’ type of thing, but he’s very obviously Puerto Rican,” Caraballo said with a laugh. “But my mom is light [skinned] like me but she’s speaking Spanish all the time. So there’s that constant thing of like, ‘Who am I? Where do I fit?’ And that’s also kind of like what Gabi is experiencing, like, ‘I was born here, am I Mexican or American? Where exactly do I fit? There’s this ambiguous middle ground and she’s trying to find her label.”

Ernie Valle, a first-time actor who played Gabi’s father Reymundo, was scared of the script at first because many of his lines were in Spanish. Valle, who is of Mexican heritage, has struggled with his identity as a member of the Latinx community because he does not feel confident with the language.

“A lot of my relatives like my brother, they were already speaking fluent Spanish at a young age and when I would try speaking Spanish, I already had a little bit of an [American] accent,” Valle said. “And even at a really young age, I already felt ashamed of it to the point where I was just thinking it was too late for me. If I wasn’t speaking Spanish at, you know, four years old with perfect inflections and all that, then I’m better off just speaking purely in English.”

Valle said that participating in “Augusta and Noble” has helped him feel more comfortable speaking Spanish at home and that as a result, he is starting to feel less insecure about that aspect of his identity.

While Gabi’s struggle for identity was relatable to the cast, the incredible dangers of immigration and the challenges of not being documented also hit close to home.

“Unfortunately, because all my students are Latinx, they already know this stuff,” Robinson said. “This is not new. The stuff that they’re saying, the stuff that they’re doing, the stuff that they’re going through. This is stuff that parents, friends, family have already been through. I hate to say that they’re kind of used to it, but they’re kind of used to it.”

Valle is just one cast member who is used to the heavy realities reflected in Gabi’s story.

“My parents were actually undocumented for a while,” Valle said. “So I understood that anxiety because my parents didn’t go back to Mexico for 22 years. During that time, if anything happened it was like, can they go back? To go back means you might not be able to come back. … The weight of that situation, especially growing up as a kid, you’re like, ‘Oh! At any moment my own parents could be out of here over the smallest thing. At any moment, the smallest slip-up, I could lose my family.’ I definitely relate to that part of the play.”

In the talk-back discussion that followed the virtual reading, many audience members expressed gratitude to the cast for helping them feel seen. As the actors answered questions about their personal experiences, other attendees sent messages of compassion to the Latinx community for the difficulties they so often face.

“That’s a huge part of why we do what we do,” Robinson said. “It’s not just to do a show but then to have discussion, to have [the] community respond and for us to have real discussions about some of the issues that we are presenting.”

The audience, feeling represented and more aware of their fellow humans’ hardship, is not the only group who took something away from this performance. At the end of the talk-back, each member of the cast shared that they are walking away from “Augusta and Noble” with a new perspective of both themselves and those they love.

“I definitely learned that just being me is enough,” Caraballo said. “I don’t have to explain myself to anybody. I am Hispanic. I am Puerto Rican. There’s nothing I can do to change that, and I wouldn’t want to change that. And that’s kind of the realization that Gabi also has at the end of the play, like, ‘I know I belong here. All of these things are what make me American.’”

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