If you do not believe in miracles, but wish you did, read my story. All I ever wanted was to tell my story, my honest and simple story. But at a very young age, I learned I was part of a culture of silence; my story was no one’s business because the minute it became anyone’s business I was going to be put on a one-way flight back to the Philippines.
I was brought to the US legally when I was 8-years-old. It was in my teens when I began to learn what it meant to be undocumented. As the years went by, the more Americanized I became, the heavier my secret grew. Because the adults in my life for one reason or another were not able to legalize my status and chose to keep me in the US, I was going to have to spend the rest of my life living in the shadows. In translation: no matter how hard I worked and how much I prayed, I could only ever work off-the-books as a nanny, a cleaner, or runner in a restaurant. So when my teachers would tell the class that if we worked hard, we could become anything we wanted, I knew they were lying.
The more real life became, the more desperate I became to tell my story. As a kid, I drew pictures of clowns, all with happy grins and tearing eyes. As a teen, I wrote angsty poetry and autobiographical obituaries. As an adult, I began painting; I could physically tell my story without having to let anyone know my secret. What I wanted to tell the world was not just about how I was undocumented and how different I felt; I wanted to tell the world that I was not that different and that I was lonely.
Like some lonely, voiceless, energetic and lucky young people, I discovered theatre. I played characters that lived in places beyond the five boroughs of New York. I met people from all walks of life. I gave life to every emotion that stayed locked up in the real world. With theatre and art at my side, I felt like I mattered. But it was not enough. My story was still silent.
I began writing short monologues, voices of undocumented youth and their families. These inspired me to pursue the subject further while attending NYU for under grad. In my late twenties, the world had changed. The Internet opened up doors to knowledge and communities. I used my university studies as a reason to learn the subject, because I was afraid of typing the words “illegal immigrant” on my home computer. To my amazement, I discovered people like me and, more importantly, I discovered people fighting for the rights of people like me. I learned about the DREAM Act, standing for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors, a proposed bill that would grant opportunities for young people who were brought to the US as minors and who had lived in the US for over 5 years. The bill was introduced to Congress in 2001, and was recently reintroduced in 2011. I was not alone.
As part of my undergraduate senior project, I became acquainted with New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC), a youth led group in advocacy for the DREAM Act. I met with their members and sat with them on a bus to Washington D.C. for the 2009 National DREAM Act Graduation, where thousands of undocumented youth and their allies walked in full graduation regalia on Capitol Hill. The moment that made the earth shift beneath me was when a young man named Walter Lara came to the microphone, introduced himself by his full name, his age of arrival to the US, his major in college and his deportation date. The crowd roared with pride and hope. I began to cry. I was standing amidst bravery I had only ever dreamt about.
In April 2011, having spent two years joining in on marches and rallies and using Facebook to strengthen awareness and advocacy for the undocumented youth, an unexpected idea was planted in my mind. I met a young woman while working as an actress on a play. From the moment I met her at the auditions, I felt as though I had met her before, and after a few rehearsals, I realized who she was; she was the main character in my play. A play I had not yet written. I saw her on a Thursday; I locked myself in my room Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, gathered all the monologues and all the interviews and wrote my story titled, Undocumented.
I submitted the play to festivals, but upon the encouragement of a director I had worked with, Kate Marks, I ended up producing it myself. Through the power of Kickstarter, Facebook, and an amazing cast and creative team Undocumented was produced in August 2011 at Stage Left Studio in midtown Manhattan, as well as at The Shell Theatre at the Times Square Arts Building on 43rd Street in the Theatre District in October of 2011. My co-star and new friend Sahar Muradi accepted to play the lead that she inspired. My long-time friend David Mitnowsky directed the play. My beloved partner Nick van der Grinten designed the multimedia. My dearest and long-time friend Jonathan Spencer designed the lights. My childhood friend Madelene DeLeon, joined the cast. Additionally, Roberto C. Chavez, Dorcas Evelene Davis, Priscilla Flores, Ryan Johnson, and Temesgen Tocruray, fellow actors I met through Creative Arts Team, my place of employment for the last 12 years, starred in play as well. My friends Richard MacDougall and his wife Anne Dorr allowed their 6-year-old daughter Charlotte MacDougall to join our cast. Other fellow creative friends, Liz O’Callahan, Lexy Nistico, Kevin Anthony, and Elly Richards helped to make the show happened. Through the generosity of their hearts, they dedicated their lives to telling the story of eleven undocumented youth.
In the multimedia play ”Undocumented” I highlight the inner turmoil of a girl called Frida, who has been found out by the authorities as being in the country illegally. Although she has been living in the U.S. since the age of 8 and is now 25, she will be taken from all she’s ever known and deported “home” to her native country. The only light is the possibility of having the DREAM Act bill get passed by legislation. But before Frida can find solace and trust in this bill being past she must find solace, trust and forgiveness in those around her and most importantly herself.
The opening of the play is a video montage of my life in the Philippines, a time long forgotten and romanticized. Every performance of the show I have watched that montage with both feelings of fear and freedom. Fear from the truth the audience will receive and freedom from the fact that I am finally able to tell my story, simply and honestly.
Katherine Chua (Playwright) is a multidiscipline storyteller. She uses the mediums of writing, art, and theatre to capture moments and make them live forever. The foundation of her humor and curiosity is founded in the teachings and tales of her grandparents, Lolo Robert, Lola Ester, and Tita Chit. She has been a part of the Creative Arts Team (CAT) family, from the youth theater to the artistic staff for 16 years. She received her B.A. in Anthropology from Paul McGhee at New York University and is a candidate for a Masters in Childhood Education from Hunter College. She is currently writing a play from the perspective of those who interact with undocumented youth, with a specific focus on healthcare. Katherine is eternally grateful for all the support and enthusiasm of those around her. “I stand on the shoulders of giants.”