Things don’t always go according to plan, but how you react when life throws you a curveball is how real change happens.
This is the concept behind the new Broadway-aimed musical Americano!, which is inspired by the true story of Tony Valdovinos, a DREAMer and Phoenix community reformer.
Americano! chronicles Valdovinos’ trials and triumphs as he grapples with the realization that he can’t fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a U.S. Marine. The Camelback High School graduate vowed to enlist on his 18th birthday, only to find out that his undocumented immigrant status barred him from being recruited.
“I was just utterly speechless and totally intimidated and I just knew in my heart that it was over,” Valdovinos, who was born in Mexico and brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was 2 years old, says of the day the recruiter turned him down.
Valdovinos didn’t stop dreaming of serving the only country he had ever known, so he found other ways to make a change. He went on to become the first DREAMer – a person brought to this country without official authorization who is eligible for special immigration status under the DREAM Act of 2001 – to work at City Hall. He worked as community outreach director for Phoenix mayor Kate Gallego and aided Ruben Gallego when he ran for congress.
Now, he’s serving as a consulting producer for a musical about his life. He hopes people who see the play will get a different perspective on what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S. The production is especially timely, as the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on the fate of DREAMers in June.
“I hope that they can humanize the immigrant and humanize the contribution that the immigrant really brings to this country,” he says.
The world-premiere production runs January 29 to February 23 at The Phoenix Theatre Company and features a cast that is 85 percent Latino. It also features an original score by critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez and was written and directed by Phoenix Theatre Company’s producing artistic director Michael Barnard.
Barnard interviewed Valdovinos “countless times” to ensure he could tell his story authentically.
“With those countless times, the script has altered, changed or deepened,” Barnard says.
Rodriguez, who describes her sound as “Americhicana” because of its Americana influences and Spanish lyrics, relates to Valdovinos’ story.
“That was the most exciting to me… getting an opportunity to tell a story that I honestly feel is every American’s story. This story is the all-American story of a kid with dreams and going after his dreams and feeling like anything is possible, finding out it’s not, but then persevering and still finding a way to follow his dreams and make an impact,” she says. “I really felt like if we told it correctly and with the right heart, then it could be a unifying work of art that could counter all this crazy divisiveness that we’re experiencing right now in this country.”
Rodriguez says it’s hard to single out one song that strikes the biggest chord, but the tune that ends Act I, “The DREAMer,” is especially poignant. The chorus chronicles Valdovinos’ love for his country: “This is my home, my heart, my soul. Who’s to say this great country I vow to defend is no longer my home? I’m not alone, my roots have been sown. All I’ve ever known is I’m American and this is my home.”
Valdovinos says coming to see the play is a great way to support community activism, as a portion of the proceeds will go to Poder in Action and Aliento, local organizations that are “fiercely fighting for immigrant families.”
“We’re thrilled to have people come see it,” Barnard says.