Sometimes a work of art presents a moral question so starkly that we cannot avoid confronting it, and ESTHER’s “Voices of Hope: Life Stories of Latinos” is such a work. It throws the moral and legal issues associated with immigration into high relief, and it forces us to take a stand. This reader’s theater presentation directed by Kris Clouthier is based on interviews from Peter Geniesse’s book Illegal: NAFTA Refugees Forced to Flee.
“Voices of Hope” tells the stories of several Latino immigrants. Among them are two young women who are high school seniors in Appleton, Wisconsin. Both of the women are good students. Both are leaders in their graduating classes. Both hope to attend the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, but one will be able pay in-state tuition and receive scholarship help, while the other must pay out-of-state tuition and is ineligible for scholarships. One is able to get a driver’s license that enables her to drive to Oshkosh. The other is not. They are different because one of them was born here of an undocumented mother who was pregnant when she arrived, while the other was brought here as an infant. Thus, one is a legal citizen, while the other is an illegal alien because her parents came here after she was born. Is this just?
“Voices of Hope” skewers us on the point of this question. From one point of view, we can say that this is a country of laws and the law must take precedence. The student who is here illegally cannot claim the rights of a legal resident of Wisconsin. If this causes her pain, that is unfortunate, but her parents should have thought of that before they brought her here.
On the other hand, we also believe that the law should be just. The girl who is here illegally has the same human rights as anyone else, and we should not punish her for a crime she did not commit merely because her status – which she did not choose – is illegal. We can go further. We can say that the girl’s parents came here to work in response to our economy’s clear demand for workers. Through the parents’ work, the economy grew, and we all benefited. How can we accept such benefits from a system that causes this girl’s suffering? Do we not have a responsibility to change the system to alleviate the suffering?
“Voices of Hope” brings these questions alive for us and forces us to take a stand.
The final performance of "Voices of Hope" will take place on Tuesday April 24, 2012 at 7 PM at the Appleton Public Library.