By Caitlin Shannon Photo Courtesy of: Christina Martínez
Amongst the aroma of arroz con frijoles and the faint beat of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “Almost Like Praying,” students, faculty and family gathered in the theatre suite eagerly waiting to enter the D-Lab. Chatter in English, Spanish and Spanglish relayed everyone’s anticipation to hear the reading of Carmen Rivera’s play, La Gringa, put together by theatre students and DUDS, the Drew University Dramatic Society, to benefit the victims of Hurricanes Irma and María.
Yellow rice, frijoles, yuca frita and platanitos maduros fritos courtesy of Lenny’s Cocina de Abuelita were the perfect appetizers to Rivera’s play about María, played by Rebecca Filetti (’19), a Nuyorican who goes to Puerto Rico to visit family and connect with her roots. When María arrives in Puerto Rico, she struggles to connect with her family, stumbling over her Spanish and getting called a gringa. María’s desire to consecrate her Puerto Rican identity is conveyed through her obsession with la tierra, going as far as helping a family friend, Monchi played by Katelynn Rodriguez (‘20), harvest crops on his farm.
It is through this obsession that Rivera so artfully portrays the way Latin American identity flows from la tierra and lo autóctono, and thus the difficulty of constructing what feels like an authentic identity in the diaspora. Through María, and particularly through her struggles to be accepted by her Tía Nora, played by Cristina Martínez (‘19), and her prima Iris, played by Alizé Martínez (‘18), the play presents an authentic representation of the struggles of diasporic identities. As María expresses towards the end of the play, she’s not American enough in New York but not Puerto Rican enough in Puerto Rico, so what is she? The bond that forms between María and her Tío Manolo, played by Christian Alvarado (‘19), helps her to navigate the intricacies of her struggles and helps her to eventually leave Puerto Rico with a better sense of herself having taught her Puerto Rican family a bit about the struggles of life in the barrio.
“I actually was in London when Hurricane Maria and Irma hit, and I remember feeling so useless. My family is from Honduras and we always talked about Hurricane Mitch,” said Cristina Martínez (‘19). “As you can imagine finding plays by Latinx about the Latinx story is difficult, and I wanted to pick something that was specifically Puerto Rican,” Martínez explained, describing the process of picking the play. “I finally settled on La Gringa because of how much of Puerto Rico it incorporated. I really wanted to showcase PR and that the story of Maria coming to PR for the first time was one that isn’t as common, but is just as valid and deserves to be told.”
The people in Puerto Rico still need our help as they continue to recover from Hurricanes Irma and María. Donating to organizations like Unidos for Puerto Rico, ComPRemetidos and The Hispanic Federation, who are doing important work to support the island, is just one of many ways to assist in ongoing relief efforts. In addition, supporting the Puerto Rican people by patronizing Puerto Rican based and/or owned companies and business or even vacationing in Puerto Rico are important and helpful steps that we can all take. If none of these options are feasible for you, you can always contact your senators and congresspeople and urge them to support and push for U.S. government assistance in Puerto Rico.