In response to recent rhetoric surrounding immigration, professor Linda Britt wrote the play American Dreams: Immigration Stories, a collection of stories from the perspective of immigrants currently living in the United States. Britt took inspiration from such incidents as the immigration ban and the jeopardization of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to represent people from multiple countries across several generations.
“This play was sparked by the news that we see everyday about immigrants and where they’re from and the rhetoric that’s coming out about there being ‘bad’ immigrants,” Britt said.
The characters in Britt’s stories had mixed viewpoints on living in America. Some did not actually want to be here, such as a 53-year-old homesick Bosnian woman whose daughter lived in the States and a 22-year-old Iranian student who was trapped in the U.S. after her student visa expired. Others worked hard to make a living here and wished to pursue “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” such as a gay man from Egypt escaping persecution and a young woman from South America whose parents were deported after living in the U.S. legally for over 20 years.
“I wanted people to think about that question, ‘what would you do if you were me?’” Britt said.
English professor Misty Krueger portrayed 42-year-old Emily, an immigrant from England. In an email interview, she expressed her interest in Emily’s character comes from the fact that even though she is considered charming, she is still viewed at as a “porcelain doll” and “pretty actress” because of her accent.
“I liked Emily’s story because I could imagine someone like her really enjoying her life in the States and feeling somewhat guilty about being that ‘good immigrant’ type–the one that people forget is actually an immigrant,” Krueger said. “I could imagine Emily’s empathy, and her questioning of what makes her any different than anyone else.”
Junior English major Aurora Bartley played a French immigrant named Celeste, whose character also managed to find success in the U.S. When preparing for the role, Bartley expressed difficulties in putting herself in the shoes of a new mother getting her green card.
“When we had our first small group rehearsal, I got to hear a bunch of other monologues and other immigrant experiences. After hearing the connection other people had with their stories, I was able to feel mine more,” Bartley said. “I was able to put more emotion into mine. I was able to put myself there emotionally because other people in the room were doing that too.”
Britt described the first meetings when she was first conceptualizing the play. After an initial meeting with Anthropology professor Nicole Kellett, Director of International and Global Studies (IGS) Linda Beck, and various IGS students, they determined that the usual lecture style was too academic for the message they wanted to convey.
“One of the students who was in this meeting said, ‘it’s always the same people who come to the roundtable discussions. The people that need to hear about these aren’t going to come to a roundtable, where people are talking at you.’ So I offered to write a play,” Britt said. “It would be different because it’s entertainment, but at the same time it deals with the issues, and maybe people who don’t normally come would come to this.”
Bartley and Krueger both agreed that their backgrounds in English helped them prepare for the play.
“Being an English major helped me with performing the monologue, and having an understanding of the words and the sentence structure,” Bartley said. “Linda wrote it as though a French person was trying to translate it from French to English so some of the sentences were flip flopped and it was a different structure, but it was interesting.”
For Krueger, her additional background in theatre was an important factor in her preparation for the play, including a dissertation on drama, directing plays of her own, and studying literature in England, the homeland of her character.
“I feel really comfortable in a theater. My background in English literature helped too because I have spent a lot time in England, as well, studying drama and fiction,” Krueger said. “But my background in linguistics also helped because linguistics asks you to think about every sound you make and to differentiate between sounds.”
Bartley and Krueger also agreed that participating in this play gave them a new perspective on immigration issues in the United States. For Bartley, the play made her think about why people choose to leave their homes and how they came to America.
“[The play] got me thinking about why people are so discriminative; maybe it’s because they’re different, maybe it’s because ‘they’re taking our jobs,’ but those are just silly reasons,” Bartley said. “This play felt a bit sad but they’re stories that need to be heard and I’m thankful I heard them.”
Krueger noted that the stories made the issue feel more personal. The cast spent time reflecting on the stories and the fact that there are real people experiencing these situations.
“When we read the news or only the headlines, we just see another sad story and then tend to move on with our days,” Krueger said. “These characters are based on actual people who are living in the US here and now. This is America now. We have to respond to the unethical treatment of people who have lived in this country and who have made it their homes. Telling these stories is only a small part of what we need to do, but it is a start.”
For Linda Britt, her aim was to get the audience to look at immigrants with empathy and to put themselves in the shoes of others.
“I had several people come up to me; this one fellow, elderly gentleman from Yugoslavia just wanted to thank me for telling the stories,” Britt said. “He wasn’t the only one; it meant something to the whole community. I hope people could just see these immigrants as humans.”