This month, the last of his trilogy series, “La Ruta,” premiered in the Bronx, NY. The immigration-themed play, which takes place inside a 48-foot trailer truck, will travel through Brooklyn, Manhattan and end in Staten Island on May 12. It aims to show the reality of what an undocumented immigrant goes through by allowing the audience to live through the experience — a 24-hour day condensed into 70 minutes inside of a hot, crowded truck.
“I wanted to make it an immersive experience,” says the 39-year-old playwright. “I wanted to toss the audience in that world of dealing with the coyotes and being inside the tractor-trailer — for many, that’s their ride.”
He says what sparked him to write about immigration was the whole debate that started back in 2006.
“It started to make the front pages of the papers, marches began through various cities — that’s initially when I was inspired to venture into this world,” says Cardona. “My plan was to write three plays about the undocumented immigration experience.”
The first, “Pick Up Pots,” which won the John Golden Award, is about a bunch of kitchen workers in Connecticut, where Cardona was born and raised. “American Jornalero” is about day laborers in Queens, NY and was produced last year and selected as a finalist by the 2011 Metlife Nuestras Voces National Playwriting Competition. Then, the Working Theater was commissioned for “La Ruta.”
“The previous two plays were about the undocumented already here working, and the sacrifices they go through while they’re here,” says Cardona.
With ‘La Ruta,’ he says he wanted to explain the journey immigrants went through to get into the U.S.
“I just feel that personally, as a Latino, even though I’m Puerto Rican, I just feel a connection to the topic of my fellow Latinos and a sense of responsibility to give these folks a face and a voice in the American theater scene — to get these stories heard,” says Cardona. “I remember hearing stories as a kid of racism and bigotry towards my father when I was little, and he was legal. ‘Pick Up Pots’ is loosely based on stories my father shared with me…I feel they need to be heard.”
He says he hopes by telling these stories, people will begin seeing immigrants as fellow human beings.
“I hope people see these people as just a human being searching for a better opportunity, nothing more,” says Cardona. “Sometimes they’re forced to risk their lives, and I think we need to start honoring that instead of demonizing it. I don’t want to sway opinions, but just humanize it — even if it’s people just having a conversation about the show afterwards.”
The other way Cardona tried to make his play as realistic as possible was that he cast a nearly all-Latino cast — of all shades and backgrounds.
“I wanted them to be Latino and to get a sense of the different faces — of what a Latino is,” says the playwright. “There are so many stereotypes out there of what the undocumented immigrant looks like.”
But he says he thinks as a country, we’re headed in the right direction.
In addition to having another play brewing about Dreamers, he’s also working on a play about a female Iraqi War veteran suffering from PTSD. He says he’d love for “La Ruta” to travel nationally, though.
“Even if it’s just a campus tour, I would love to take this out of New York City and to other communities,” says Cardona.