The following is a written story, by Zulieka Maldonado, adapted into a short, one-act play, by Joey Safchik, below.
My neighbors would set up a taco stand every day in the evenings for a living. They lived in a one bedroom apartment with 3 children: Emily, age 6; Jorge, age 2; and Christian, a baby of six months. Richard, the father of the of the three children, would wake up early in the morning everyday to get to his day job that paid him minimum wage. He worked 10 hours a day, getting home in the evening just in time to set up the taco stand with his wife, Maria.
One summer evening in 2010, my best friend Adam, his cousin Veronica, my neighbor Emily, and I were outside while Emily’s little brothers were taking a nap. Inside of the house were Emily’s parents cutting the lemons and everything as usual when all of a sudden we heard two people arguing really loudly while things were being thrown. We started to wonder what was going on, so we asked Emily, “What is happening between your parents?” She responded by saying, “I’m not sure, I’ll be back.” As the screaming continued, we saw her walk into her house and then, all of a sudden, everything got quiet. We got scared but then after a minute or so, Emily came out holding her mom’s hand.
We looked at her mom and she was crying while Emily stood by her looking confused, not knowing what was happening. We stood there in shock, then we heard her husband slam the bedroom door with Christian and Jorge, the two youngest kids, napping inside. Maria got frustrated as she wiped the tears off her face and asked me, “Cuida la Emily por favor?” She walked over to my best friend’s house and Emily asked me, “What is going on?” with so much worry in her little dark brown eyes. I really didn’t know what was going on and I responded by saying, “I’m not sure, but everything will be okay!”, as she walked over to the wall and sat down and put her head over her laps. A couple of minutes later, her mom came back followed by Adam’s parents and his older brother. They all walked over to Maria’s house and they all tried talking to her husband but he refused to listen to them. He screamed, “I want to talk to my wife now!”
Lucy, my best friend’s mom, walked over to talk to Maria about what her husband said. Maria was sitting on the floor hugging Emily, telling her that everything was going to be alright with a little smirk on her face. She agreed to go and talk to her husband. As she walked in and knocked on bedroom door, her husband opened it, handing her Jorge as he was waking up. She received him and handed him to Lucy. Emily called her brother as she was glad to see him. I looked over at them and she was hugging him. 10 minutes passed by and we heard screaming again. They caused so much noise that everyone in the apartment came out to see what was going on. Adam’s dad and older brother were hitting the door saying, “Open the door right now!”, but that only got Richard angry.
While that was happening someone overheard everything and called the police. Immigration followed. One cop told us kids to step back as another cop was talking to Lucy about what was happening. I was scared because I knew there was nothing that I could do to help them. Lucy told them everything that was happening and the officers made their way into Maria’s house. They knocked on the bedroom door and Maria opened the door carelessly, not knowing who it was. The police rushed in and dropped Richard to the floor and cuffed him as they searched him roughly. Emily went into the house as that was happening and witnessed everything. She just started saying, “Leave him alone, he’s a good person that loves his family so much!”
Lucy rushed in and got Emily taking her back out.They picked up Richard and brought him outside. Maria went out after him and Lucy’s husband got her and was holding her back. We were just standing there in shock unable to grasp that something this sad was happening to good people. One of the police officers jogged out and pulled up as immigration did also. Before they put Richard in the car, Richard asked if he could give his family a final goodbye. The authorities said, “yes, but make it quick.” He went up to his kids and wife and kissed them goodbye and told them, “I’m so sorry for all this, I love you guys so much” with tears in his red, watery eyes. He got inside the car and they all drove away.
Maria started crying as soon as they left. Emily and Jorge ran up to their mom and Emily started to ask, “Why my dad? We need him, I’m not ready to lose him,” while hugging her mom and her little brother Jorge as he seemed confused. Lucy was just looking at them while holding the youngest child, Christian.
Every year families are separated due to legal problems and being deported back to where they are from. This episode made a huge impact on us due to the fact that my friend’s dad was a hardworking man trying to raise money for his three kids and his wife, and to pay bills and the rent. Thousands of people are sent back to where they are from every year, but many have never committed crimes and have have a good reputation.
If I were president I would propose immigration reform to help lower the statistics of these type of situations. I would support a system to first check an individual’s reputation and have the police talk to neighbors and those who know the individual personally to see what kind of person he/she is instead of assuming something and having to go through something like this again.
Lights up on Richard, a middle aged man whose eyes give away his exhaustion,
though his jolly spirits are a decent mask. He stands at a bare table, “the taco stand.”
(Switching between English and Spanish) Tacos! Tacos! 3 dollars!
Tacos de pastor, tacos con pollo! Everything you want, we have!
Maria enters cradling a baby. She joins her husband.
Ay, we haven’t sold much today. Jorge needs leche.
We’ll eat. Hey, if nothing else, we have more tacos than we know
what to do with.
Si, so does everyone else on this block. And the next.
Lights shift to Zulieka. She is holding a simple pad and paper.
I used to babysit for little Jorge. He never cried. He loved warm leche.
He’d grow to love tacos con pollo too. You really can find those stands on every block out here.
East LA. Taco heaven. Almost.
What happened to the customers, mi amor?
They’ll come. I promise. Dance with me!
They hum a tune and dance joyfully. Lights up on Zulieka.
Back in sixth grade, I memorized part of the Declaration of Independence for history. It says all men are created equal. It’s right, we are. But we
don’t seem to be listening to that today.
Zulieka enters the scene. She takes the baby from his mother.
Ay, love, take Jorge for a minute, no? We’re low on tortillas.
Richard takes Maria to the side of the stage. In hushed tones:
We bought new tortillas yesterday.
And we used every one! You just had to give the free tacos a la señora y a la nina on her way to the school bus!
I can’t buy more tortillas.
Have you thought about joining your brother at his stand? He’d
be lucky to have you on the grill!
He is upset; the arguing intensifies.
Did we come to this country so I could cook pollo on my brother’s grill?!
We came to give a Emily and Jorge a better life!
They thought I couldn’t hear. They probably thought no one could hear.
I just held the baby. We’d seen immigration raids on the news. They even came to my
cousins one time. But not to my building. Not to my neighbors. Not the people I’d
known my whole life.
They go back to the ensuing argument.
I’ll ask my sister for the tortillas. She’ll be happy to spare.
No! Please. I will get the tortillas if it means I don’t eat tonight!
They continue to argue, though it is far from violent.
There is a loud knock.
The knock was deafening. Not scary yet. Just loud. It could’ve been Anna with
tortillas or my mom bringing me a treat to give Jorge. But Jorge began to wail.
His cries matched the knocking as it amplified. I guess he knew.
Maria tenderly opens the door. An immigration officer enters firmly.
(under her breath)
We received a complaint about noise. Have you been hurt?
No…no, not at all… (she turns to Zulieka) Cuida la Jorge por favor?
Zulieka nods and moves away with the baby.
Can I help, sir?
The officer briskly approaches Richard and, in front of his wife and children,
shoves the man’s hands behind his back.
‘Everything will be ok,’ I whispered to the baby. But I was eleven
years old and I knew it wouldn’t be.
Please, officer, I believe there’s a misunderstanding…
Richard and Maria stand, frozen. They stare at each other at a loss. The silence is painful.
(as he ushers Richard harshly to the door) Come with me.
Please, my Emily, she’s at school. She’s at the day care just nearby. Please let me say goodbye.
Please, he’s a good man. We have the vendor permit, please. You don’t know our lives!
Let’s go. He’ll be at Park and 24th.
I love you, Maria! Te amo, Maria.
Maria followed. I didn’t even know my times-tables but I had witnessed my father’s
closest friend pulled from his wife. Deported. I hugged his child.
Maria re-enters, face covered in tears.
He was gone. Se fue. Se lo llaveron. Maybe back home. Maybe…never again.
She gently takes her child and sobs. Zulieka is left alone on stage, now writing at a desk that was once the taco stand.
My family isn’t perfect. We fight and argue and scream and love and cry. But we’ve got each other. (Beat.) You know, I had a dream once that I got into USC. The first in my family to go to college. We jumped for joy. I dreamt we were so loud in our celebration that we heard a knock at the door that sent shivers down our spines. We live in fear. (Beat.) Jorge hasn’t seen his papa in six years. (Beat.) You probably think of being torn from your family as the extraordinary. It happened many years ago, in places miles away. We read about it in our textbooks, it doesn’t happen now. But it does happen everyday in East LA.
Writing by Zuleika Maldonado
Playwright: Joey Safchik
Original Cast: Joey Safchik, Manolo Aguilar, Ivonne Flores
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