The Ground Floor Theatre recently tapped Austin playwright Raul Garza to bring his play, “There and Back,” to life for the world premier. In this work, Garza brings to life the the emotional turmoil many Mexican immigrants face, through the story of Gloria, who travels from her native Mexico to join her husband, Victor, on a migrant farmworkers’ camp. Her arrival on the day of President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration reveals stark contrasts between the American dream and her reality.
Garza, a creative writer with roughly 15 years behind his pen, often writes about pop culture and cultural identity, with a focus on people of color who are experiencing the mainstream culture in a different context, and includes things and situations that aren’t common to everyone to tell the other side of the story.
“What inspired me was people in my life going through the different stages of immigration and assimilation, or ‘making it,’ whatever that means,” he explained. “Whether it’s struggling with blue collar jobs or putting yourself through school, whatever that was, it’s a struggle. What motivated me to write it is the current situation that we’re in, and the shift in what we as a culture perceive as injustice or as a way to treat other human beings. That motivated me to stop complaining about it and start making art about it.”
The story of Gloria and her struggle to choose between two worlds is on full display in Garza’s work, and while he holds true to the reality of the situation, there are special elements added to give depth to the emotional experience unfolding on the stage.
“It’s based on life, but it takes you a little bit beyond,” Garza said. “We use some cultural or religious icons such as The Virgin of Guadalupe. We use some magical realism to transport what Mexican immigrants might be feeling in their hearts and putting it out there on the stage for people to see.” The context they’re in is based on history and based on the past, so you’re hear the actual voices of President Trump, Reagan and Kennedy through recordings of their inaugurations. I wanted it to be as true to life as it could be.”
In Garza’s opinion, the struggles that come with the current immigration are all too common. While each experience is unique unto itself, there are some consistent themes for many immigrants, and “There and Back” illustrates these challenges.
“Nobody goes through the same experience,” he elaborated. “It’s this marginalization; it’s this creation of a second class citizenship. This play is about a guest worker program called The Bracero Program, it’s shocking when you learning about this program.”
The Bracero Program took place through the 1940s and up to 1964, and involved the US bringing in hundreds of thousands of Mexican laborers to maintain the workload during World War II, only to attempt to kick the workers out after decades of working and establishing families and roots. “That’s the dynamic we’re seeing in the story,” Garza added. “But the experience for Latinos is very much one of being torn between two places: being torn between the home where you were born and raised and the home you’re trying to make here. So it’s that internal struggle of ‘where do I fit in and how do I survive?’.
You can still get tickets for the final week of the show at the Ground Floor Theatre website. Performances are Thursday through Saturday nights at 8:00PM and Sundays at 5:00PM and the final show is August 25.
Nick Bailey is a forward thinking journalist with a well-rounded skill set including writing, design, and photography. Nick now resides in Austin, TX after earning a degree in Mass Communication with an emphasis on journalism from Texas A&M University—Commerce.