Activism

Houston Police Chief Steps Into the Shoes of a Colorado Immigrant Leader

When she was thirteen, Laura Peniche made the arduous journey with her family from Mexico across the southern border into the United States. Together they navigated the desert, endured cold nights and risked getting mugged. But as Peniche shared in a live performance in 2019, she and her family were not alone.

“We were being helped by God’s hand into this country,” she said in her monologue. “When I see the beautiful, happy faces of my children, I know that I was meant to be here.”

The strength of Peniche’s faith helps her see humanity in others, and that faith is the subject of Motus Theater’s upcoming UndocuMonologues, which takes place virtually at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 11.

The UndocuMonologues performances focus on the experiences of undocumented immigrants. It’s part of the Boulder company’s UndocuAmerica series for the Shoebox Stories podcast, in which each episode so far has featured an eminent figure in American life reciting a monologue written by an undocumented leader. Past guests include New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, chef José Andrés, and feminist activist Gloria Steinem.

In this performance, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo will step into Peniche’s shoes by reading her monologue aloud. It is no coincidence that Acevedo will be reading Peniche’s monologue. Peniche works as a hotline coordinator for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, where she documents Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and other ICE activity. In her work, she has observed that undocumented people who come into contact with the police are especially susceptible to immigration enforcement.

“There are communities and families who believe that the police are actually helping ICE agents make these arrests,” Peniche explains. “There is a need to educate law enforcement on the impact of their work in our communities and our families. Law enforcement agencies — whether that’s ICE or local police — need to be working closely with the community and the directly impacted folks on rebuilding a system that can create safety.”

Motus Theater has a history of collaborating with local law enforcement on productions. In 2017, the company invited five officers from Boulder County to read six undocumented authors’ monologues.
click to enlarge Motus Theater artistic director Kirsten Wilson. - MICHAEL ENSIMINGER
Motus Theater artistic director Kirsten Wilson.
Michael Ensiminger
Motus artistic director Kirsten Wilson wants the series to bring community members closer to the pain felt by undocumented people. Even if most participants are proponents of policies supportive of the immigrant community, she says, “they’re now holding very close to them the impact if they don’t get the policy through.”

Wilson says deep storytelling has the power to create empathy and transforms people’s perspectives.

“There’s no doubt in my mind how effective it is in creating change,” Wilson says. As an example, she points out, “Every time someone in a family marries into a different race, ethnicity or class experience, suddenly that family has to shift because they’re holding close an experience that may contradict what was the mythology of that family — who’s good, who’s bad, what’s right, what’s wrong.”

She is convinced that “if you can help someone listen deeply to a story and feel the humanity of that person, experiences shift.”

What viewers will not see on Thursday is the process that went into the preparation of Peniche’s monologue. To prepare, in 2018, the ten undocumented leaders who have written their monologues met every Saturday for weeks, workshopping each other’s narratives.

“We dove in deep into each other’s stories and feelings,” Tania Chairez, national outreach and education director of Motus Theater and monologist, recounts. Peniche herself describes the experience as “life-changing,” adding, "The other writers and I became very close. We cried together. We also did a lot of healing together.”

The audience will have time to reflect on Peniche’s words with music played by Uruguayan musician Elisa Garcia. Garcia hopes that her music will allow people to “take a breath, listen to something that’s soothing, but also respond to the monologue.” Some of her favorite songs to play include Mercedes Sosa’s "Sólo Le Pido a Dios," Calle 13’s "Latinoamérica," and Argentino Luna’s "Las Manos de Mi Madre."

Peniche is optimistic that her monologue will compel other people of faith to reconsider their stance on immigration.

“I hope that by tapping into other people’s faith," she says, “they can be reminded that we are in this world to care for each other and love each other.”

UndocuMonologues: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors with Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo takes place at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 11, on Zoom. Sign up for this free event at the Motus Theater website.