So, I’m currently participating in a writing workshop that explores the Latino immigrant experience, using Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors as our guide. It’s one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve ever had, both in terms of my writing and my personal life. I love speaking Spanish in the room (even though I’m a Spanglish speaker at best), listening to others tell their stories, feeling a little bit more at home.
This isn’t the first time I’ve explored Shakespeare in the context of being Latina. My freshman year of high school, we studied Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story side by side, and through the hell that was my first–and only–year in that school, this exploration was everything. Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of Latinos on television or read about Latinos in books, which is probably why West Side Story affected me so deeply. Reading the stories and watching the movie cemented my love for both Shakespeare and musical theater. I annoyed my family by obnoxiously singing along with the movie, sometimes more than once a day. While the starry-eyed, desperate teen Jessa loved scenes like “Mambo”, “I Feel Pretty” and “One Hand, One Heart” (on which I modeled a senior wedding project because, in my other high school, we had to take a Marriage and Family class where we planned a Catholic wedding, making religious programs and all, and then had an egg “baby” that we had to care for. But I digress.), adult Jessa keeps going back to “America”. That conflict of hope and disillusionment, the deep pain and frustration at not being respected, sadness and resentment at the difficulties my parents faced as young people in the US, especially my dad, who came to the US from PR when he was eighteen, the way even anger and frustration can be turned into art. It’s masterful, and the lyrics resonate. Plus, Rita Moreno is a goddess.