Multi-American

How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

The border in Boyle Heights

Seeing the new play "Detained in the Desert" this weekend in at the Casa 0101 Theater in Boyle Heights was a bit like being transported back to my recent previous life as a reporter covering the U.S.-Mexico border: The water bottles in the desert, the immigrant detainees in jumpsuits, the immigration officials and the dark desert roads, along which unspoken tragedies have unfolded. There is even a character based on the leader of a San Diego volunteer group that sets up water stations in the desert for migrants.

Overall, I liked it. Written by acclaimed playwright and screenwriter Josefina Lopez, "Detained in the Desert" revolves around two central characters, one of them a young Mexican-American U.S. citizen traveling through Arizona who, upon refusing to show an officer her nonexistent "green card," winds up at an immigrant detention center. The other is an anti-immigrant talk-radio host named Lou.

A kidnapping takes place, a detainee bus bound for Nogales crashes, and both characters wind up together in the middle of the Arizona desert, lost and desperate. I won't spoil the rest.

Some might feel like the play preaches to the choir, and it does. But then it's a play born out of outrage, conceived by Lopez in reaction to Arizona's stringent SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law, parts of which were blocked last July by a federal judge. The state's appeal is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lopez, who arrived here from Mexico when she was five, told the Los Angeles Times in September: "I was undocumented for 13 years, and I allowed myself to be dehumanized by believing for a while that documents made me a real human being and not my soul. It's my time in history to act and speak up."

The play's run at the Casa 0101 Theater has been extended until Nov. 21.

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