Writer, poet, journalist, educator, visual and performance artist José Torres-Tama is bringing his dynamic touring solo show to Madison East High School on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 7-8:45 p.m. “Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers” exposes the hypocrisies of a system that dehumanizes immigrants while readily exploiting their labor.
“It’s very dramatic because I present real, true stories of people that I have interviewed,” Torres-Tama tells Madison365. “But it’s also very funny. I try to inject humor into the piece because life is both tragic and humorous.”
“Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers” is a sci-fi Latino noir show about the anti-immigrant hysteria gripping the “United States of Amnesia” that has been developed by Torres-Tama through a National Performance Network Creation Fund award. The show is in its ninth year of touring. Torres-Tama has created several theatrical pieces examining borders, immigration and the hypocrisy of a “freedom-loving” nation that dehumanizes immigrants while readily exploiting their labor.
“Everybody thinks this is new but this has been going on for a long time,” Torres-Tama says, speaking from Chicago where he is doing two shows for the 3rd Chicago International Latino Theater Festival before coming up to Madison. “It’s just now exacerbated by the fact that we have an individual as president whose platform is anti-immigrant – when he launched in 2015, one of the first things he said was that ‘Mexicans are criminals and rapists.’
“But what my work does is chronicle the hate crimes – not just since him – but from the post 9/11 Bush area of blind nationalism,” he adds. “This anti-immigration hysteria has been going on for a while. As an artist and a provocateur, as someone who is socially conscious, I’m interested in presenting the stories of my people.”
A native of New Orleans, Torres-Tama also delves into the treatment of Latino laborers who helped rebuild New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures.
“The piece deals with the fact that Latin American immigrants reconstructed New Orleans,” he says. “They gave up their blood, sweat and labor and they gave up their love to rebirth the iconic city of New Orleans. And this story has been forgotten.”
Dane Arts, in partnership with East High School and Centro Hispano, are hosting Torres-Tama for this one-night performance in what has been described as “a sci-fi Latino noir genre-bending performance that is visually dynamic, profoundly moving, hilariously absurd, and challenges the anti-immigrant hysteria.”
Torres-Tama says that he hasn’t been to Madison since 2000.
“I remember being at Centro Hispano with Mark Fraire way back in the day,” he says. “Mark reached out to me again about a year ago and said, ‘Hey, whenever you’re up here in the area, we’d like to make something happen.’ I said, ‘Well, there’s rumblings about me being in Chicago to present a show.’ When they came through, we worked out the stop in Madison.
“I really enjoyed my time in Madison back in 2000. Centro Hispano has really grown in that time since the nearly two decades since I first visited,” he adds. “It’s really becoming a big and important agency. That’s so vital at a time like this.”
Fraire, Dane County Director of Cultural Affairs and a former board member at Centro Hispano, was happy to be able to bring Torres-Tama back to Madison.
“José and I have known each other for many years. He is the consummate artist who often tells the stories of those forgotten or oppressed and exposes the underbelly of the racism and hate the permeates our society – he is a true artist,” Frairie tells Madison365.
Torres-Tama can often be seen wearing a T-shirt that says “No Guacamole for immigrant haters.”
“My battle cry is a comic one. I have t-shirts that say that because I talk about quite often how gringo culture loves to consume our food, but demonizes our cooks,” he says. “So many people love tacos. We have ‘Taco Tuesdays’ all across the country.”
Maybe, he says, we should call it ‘Cultural Appropriation Tuesdays.”
“Because what they were doing is they are loving the food, they’re eating the food, they’re using the food, but demonizing the cooks,” he says. “That’s a huge problem. Especially with this current administration where our immigrant people have been criminalized by the state.
“But the situation is not new, by any means,” he adds.
“Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers” chronicles the treatment of immigrants and recent anti-immigrant sentiments as well as issues of civil rights and violence against people of color. It also explores the effects of mass media on race relations.
“For me, above all this show is one that presents a human heart and a human story of immigrants who have been criminalized – especially under this current administration,” he says. “I’m looking forward to coming to Madison. I think they are going to enjoy it.”
“Aliens, Immigrants & Other Evildoers” will take place Wednesday, Oct. 9, 7-8:45 p.m. at Madison East High School, 2222 E Washington Ave. The public is invited to this show. Pay what you can, because the creators do not want anybody to miss the show. Suggested donation is $10 for adults and $5 for students with ID.