UPDATE: This segment originally aired last fall to coincide with a performance of "Dreaming Sin Fronteras." Now, the music from the production has been released as an album titled, "Los Dreamers."
An undocumented youth turns himself in to immigration services, a recent high school graduate gets shot in a movie theater and a college student struggles to stay in school. Those stories come to life in a hybrid experience of spoken testimonials and live-music performances in a stage production titled “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (Dreaming Without Borders).
The show exhibits the real life of undocumented immigrants. But “it’s not quite a play, it’s not quite a musical,” says Antonio Mercado, creator and director of “Dreaming.”
The idea came to Mercado about 10 years ago when he was working with high school drama students in Denver. When graduation time came along, some of his students couldn’t enroll in college because of their undocumented status. That’s when he began collecting their stories — and later on he would use them in “Dreaming.”
Mercado tapped Shawn King of the band DeVotchka for the project’s musical portion, and he also brought in Raul Pacheco of Ozomatli and Ceci Bastida, formerly of Tijuana NO! The talented group collaborated and wrote original music for the bilingual performance, which was first presented earlier this year in Denver.
For the production, student actors share the stage with big-name musicians. “It’s this great fusion between community and professional, world class musicians,” Mercado says.
One of the stories Mercado highlights in “Dreaming” is from Alejandra Cardona, who was a victim of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting in July, 2012. Cardona was hit by four pellets of shotgun bullets.
“An individual threw a canister of tear gas into the crowd," Cardona says. "The group of people that it landed on screamed. After that, that’s when the shooter started shooting."
She remembers the fear — not only for her safety, but also for the exposure of her undocumented status.
“Even though I was in pain, I didn’t want the IV put in my arm," Cardona says. "The first thing I told the paramedic [was], ‘You can’t take me, I don’t have insurance.' And he kind of looked at me in shock."
That was her way of saying she was undocumented.
“Me being undocumented means going to a hospital. I have to expose that I’m undocumented and that puts me in fear of myself and my family,” she says.
All of the youths' stories are different, exposing hidden truths, living in fear of deportation or trying to fit in as an American without legal papers.
“We plan to tour the show to Arizona and Texas," Mercado says. "And with each stop I’ll continue to adapt the script to include local stories. It’s going to be malleable and ongoing… It will be this living script.”
Mercado says the show is not an attempt at immigration activism, but more of a way to spark discussion.
“I want the audience to have a great time, but to continue the conversation and to really think about what it means to be an American,” he says.