Here in urban and rural California, we, all of us, cross paths with people who are “undocumented,” those who entered the country through the back door avoiding the immigration service. Sometimes we know it, but mostly we don’t. My father-in-law learned of a young woman, the teenaged sister of a man that did some work on his property. She had entered through the auspices of a coyote. He was appalled to discover that she was staying with her brother in an apartment with thirteen other men, clearly not a good situation. He was able to provide a place for her to live and became her legal sponsor, assuring the government that he would be responsible. The arrangement was supported by his wife and most of the family. The girl secured employment and graduated high school and went on to college. She is on her own now, a legal citizen and has been for some time. Others are not so fortunate, overwhelmingly so.
In Alex Alpharaoh’s powerful, moving and highly entertaining one-man show, WET: A DACAmented Journey, the perplexing story of the character Anner Cividanis, based on the playwright’s own experiences, reveals the bureaucratic hell that the lack of appropriate documents, such as birth certificates, social security cards, and driver’s licenses, visits upon the undocumented. It is a harrowing story. After an arduous trek across the desert carried by his teenaged mother, the three-month-old Anner was dehydrated and sick, close to death. The coyote couldn’t risk the baby crying in a truck crossing and endangering all the others, so he convinced Alex’s mother to let him take the baby across the border in his own car, a desperate leap of faith for the young woman. Mother and son were reunited a short time later. The child grew up as a bi-lingual American, knowing no other place and utterly without any documents.
Thinking he was finally going to get his documentation through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Anner, because of too many factors to list here, finds he must return to the country of his birth and then re-enter the United States legally through the tenuous method of the refugee travel document or advance parole, and this at just the time of our 45th president’s inauguration and subsequent immigration restrictions. The play ratchets up the tension as it rockets to climax and a satisfying dénouement.
With boundless energy, the playwright-poet-actor tells his story in high style, frequently and instantaneous shifting into the character of a rapper poet, then smoothly slipping back into the narrative. He lovingly creates other characters—his mother, grandfather and cousin; immigration authorities in both the United States and in Guatemala; embassy officials, policemen and more—that are sympathetic, neutral or hostile.
WET: A DACAmented Journey shines a beacon light on the current immigration situation through the story of one individual, those who love him and those who hinder him. The show has a rare timeliness that is extraordinarily pertinent to the present moment
WET: A DACAmented Journey, an EST/LA presentation, produced by Liz Ross, directed by Kevin Comartin, with scenic design by Amanda Knehans, continues through September 10. See it while you can, at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue in Los Angeles.