Antonio “Tony” Valdovinos dreamed of the day he could enlist in the US Marine Corp. Even though he was only a 6th grader on 9/11, he vowed to defend his country as he watched the tragic events of the day. On his 18th birthday, he attempted to enlist but discovered a secret that crushed his ambition. Valdovino’s parents never told him he was born in Mexico – or that he was an undocumented immigrant.
Although the DREAM Act was never enacted, undocumented young immigrants who were brought to the United States as children are often referred to as “Dreamers”. Likewise, those who receive certain protections through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which allows them to remain in the country, provided they meet certain criteria.
Now Valdovino’s life story has become a new off-Broadway musical. Titled “¡Americano!”, the show is presented by Quixote Productions with Chicanos For La Cause, an Arizona-based nonprofit that works to end discrimination against the Mexican American community. . It runs through June 21 at New World Stages in midtown Manhattan.
A strong creative team is behind “¡Americano!”, including composer Carrie Rodriguez, who is nominated for a 2022 Drama Desk Award for her work on the series, and the New York Times alum.
Tony, how did your inspirational story become a musical?
Tony Valdovinos: I had done a lot of political work for years before the Phoenix Theater reach. They interviewed me, called me about a week later, and said they wanted to go ahead with making this production. I didn’t know what that really meant at the time. Here we are seven years later, off-Broadway. It was an amazing trip.
Carrie, how did you get involved?
Carrie Rodriguez: I had no history with musical theatre. I had already attended a musical – “Anything Goes” – at the age of 10 during a trip to New York. I have acted in musicals. I am a violinist and have played in pit orchestras for a few. But really, zero story.
Out of the blue, I received a phone call from the producer asking if I would be interested in writing music for this original musical. He told me about Tony. I started to do research. A week or two later, I flew to Phoenix to meet Tony. All the time, I think, ‘I’m a folk singer/songwriter. I am not qualified to do this. But how could I say no? This is the greatest opportunity of my life to tell Tony’s story, to connect with Americans and to help change minds.
And you Fernanda?
Fernanda Santos: I had covered this story as a reporter in Arizona, but never felt satisfied. I wanted to be able to come out and show my outrage that in all these years since the first version of the DREAM law was proposed, we still haven’t found a solution for these people we call “Dreamers”. They are not all beneficiaries of DACA. There are still tens, even hundreds, thousands of them who have no papers, no kind of authorization.
I was, at that time, a university professor writing a book. Jason Rose, the series producer, asked me to join the writing team along with Michael Barnard and Jonathan Rosenberg. They were working with Carrie. I said, ‘I don’t write musicals. It’s not my thing.’ He asked me to think. First, I fell in love with this story. Second, I felt this was my chance to showcase wonderful Americans, like Tony, who are “dreamers.” Third, as a somewhat “young, rambling, and hungry” immigrant, I wasn’t going to “throw my drink away” to quote “Hamilton.
I started as a journalist. I now write opinion columns for the Washington Post. I have written many personal essays. I wrote a narrative non-fiction book. I am currently working on a dissertation. Who said I couldn’t try this other type of writing? If I don’t try, I’ll never know.
I’m lucky to work with a great team that welcomed me, amplified my strengths and taught me a lot. We break down barriers, put ourselves in positions where people like us aren’t usually seen.
At this year’s Oscars, Latinos were visible like never before. Is this a sign that opportunities are opening up for the community?
Carey: It’s difficult. I feel like we are still vastly underrepresented. I’ve felt that throughout my career – as a woman, as a Latina. I started out in the folk/Americana world as a singer, songwriter and fiddler. One of the first big festivals I played was in the South. There were about 20,000 people. I remember looking in the audience at everyone’s faces and thinking, “I’m the only Latina here, not just on stage, but in this whole music festival.”
But like Fernanda said, the best thing we can do is be seen. We need young Latinos who say, ‘Wow, a Latina is the songwriter of this musical? Maybe I can do that too.
Fernando: Originally from Brazil, I am also a naturalized American citizen. There’s this mainstream mainstream definition, based on an Anglo-Saxon idea of the United States, that hasn’t really served our people well. Therefore, anyone like Carrie, like Tony, like me, our stories are on the edges. We are the others, the “minorities”.
Well, the fastest growing category in the census was the mixed category. People come to a point where they realize they are more than one thing. What is mainstream if we have a changing country? If we had a new American majority which is no longer an Anglo-Saxon majority? Who are we making art for? For whom do we write? Who do we create TV and audio stories for?
“Americans !” shows that there are many people of color who will go to the theater. But theater makers never really stopped – until perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda – to look at the audience and say, “Let’s create a story about the people who are sitting there watching this musical and put it on. on the scene.” There is much more to us than West Side Story.
What’s your favorite song or moment from the show?
Fernando: The song “Voice of the Voiceless” has a “together we are stronger” kind of message. “For Today” is a beautiful song about the fight for what is right, a fight for freedom. But there’s a line that Ceci, the female lead, says to Tony, “Remember, you’re the face of New America.” It’s such an important line with so many meanings.
What’s yours, Carrie?
Carey: I feel the same way as Fernanda about this line. Every time I hear it — and I’ve heard it many times now — I feel a lot of emotion. This is a summary of what we have just seen.
Musically, I have different favorites on different nights. One of my favorites is “Dreamer”, the song that ends Act I. This is when Tony just finds out he’s undocumented and his whole life has been a lie. Heartache is very raw. But also, his love for this country is just as present in this song. Having these two things side by side has a very big emotional impact on people.
And you, Tony?
Tony: I never wanted to be a political organizer. I love what I do but I wanted to join the Marines. Every time I hear the song “Come & Join the Marines” it really takes me back to those years, the years before I found out the truth.
I don’t think the Marines dance like they’re depicted on the show. But this song gave me hope. I believe in the Marine Corps. He was an infantry marine who taught me to fight with a pen, not a sword. Listening to this song gives me strength.
“Americans !” will play at New World Stages (340 W. 50th Street) in New York City through June 19, 2022. Tickets are on sale at ticket office, by phone or via Telecharge.com.
Listen to the full episode of the Revolución podcast featuring Antonio Valdovinos, Carrie Rodriguez and Fernanda Santos with co-hosts Kathryn Garcia Castro, Linda Lane Gonzalez and Court Stroud, on Apple podcast, iHeartMedia, Spotify, Google, Amazon
or by click here.