Although “La Gringa,” written by Carmen Rivera and presented by UrbanTheater Company, is primarily focused on Puerto Rican culture, it beautifully encapsulates the internal struggle some people of color born in America face when trying to find and connect to their cultural roots.
Many people of color, myself included, yearn to know our cultural past beyond passed-down memories and educational discourse. There is a longing to breathe the same air as our ancestors, walk their trails and experience for ourselves what it means to be in our cultural homeland.
Maria (Sofia Tew), the main character in “La Gringa,” is no different. She travels to Puerto Rico for the first time to visit her extended family during the holidays. Having only learned about her Puerto Rican roots through stories from her parents and the Latino Studies courses in which she has a minor, it is a dream come true for her to be on her native soil. Everything on this island is sacred to her. From the sound of the coqui (a small frog indigenous to Puerto Rico) to the mosquitos who initiate her into the land, Maria finally feels like she has found her place in the world. Yet as the play progresses and her reception is not the “welcome home” she imagined, she is forced to ask the question that some children of immigrants or progeny of those freed from enslavement sometimes ponder: “Where do I fully belong?”
Director Miranda Gonzalez has made Rivera’s twenty-year-old play accessible to the current generation while still maintaining the truth of its message. The spunk of NK Gutierrez and Frank Davila, the complexity of Nydia Castillo, the meekness of Anthony DeJesus and the humility of Phil Camacho all contribute to the rounding out of this wonderful cast.
This production is raw and honest. It will hit home for anyone who wants to know which cultural identity they should choose: their birth or their ancestry. The answer is, as Rivera tells us, you don’t have to. (Loy Webb).
UrbanTheater Company, 2620 West Division, (312)767-8821, urbantheaterchicago.org, $10-$20. Through December 11.