Spanish-English theater group brings insight into sex trafficking in the U.S

By Dora Totoian | November 5, 2016 7:42pm

Ajai Terrazas-Tripathi plays Raúl in Teatro Milagro's production of "Broken Promises". The performance took place in Buckley Auditorium Thursday night. 

Media Credit: Annika Gordon / The Beacon

Amid a backdrop of Manu Chao and Drake songs, the audience, comprised of mostly students and a few professors enthusiastically awaiting Teatro Milagro’s production of "Broken Promises", settled in the brightly-lit Buckley Center Auditorium. The spectators filled up about half of the space and looked eager and excited to take in the performance.

I was also looking forward to the play as it had come to my hometown a few years ago, but I didn’t see it. As a Spanish major, I relish any opportunity to hear Spanish spoken or learn more about the Latino community.

Teatro Milagro is a bilingual Spanish-English theater group based in Portland. The group’s play "Broken Promises" centers on the sex trafficking industry that lures and also endangers many young Latina women, specifically in the Northwest.

Many students watched the play as a class assignment. Sophomore Miriam Starrett and junior Cassidy Christopher attended as part of a project in their Latino Health Care and Social Issues class. Freshman Sarah Ponce viewed the play for Spanish 301 but said the message would have compelled her to go regardless.

“That’s [sex trafficking] a really important thing that people aren’t aware of today that still exists, especially prominently in the United States,” Ponce said.

The play succeeded in approaching a delicate, uncomfortable topic from an angle relatable to young people.The students’ problems are also understandable for all students, such as feeling stupid, like Esteban does, or finding money to cover tuition. There were even a few laughs as the actors occasionally incorporated a joke in an otherwise serious performance.

The play began in a high school classroom where the four characters, Adriana, Esteban, Josefina and Raúl were discouraged about the future. The characters, with their flannels, baseball tees, and Nikes, could be at any high school in America.

The set itself was sparsely decorated with a mural depicting a dollar bill declaring, “in no one we trust” and an image of death personified carrying a young girl, saying “it’s not me, es la vida.” The vivid imagery set among a bleak and simple backdrop created a grim air carried throughout the play.

Adriana felt defeated and wanted to escape the home she shares with her sexually abusive father. Esteban was constantly told he was stupid. Josefina did not want to be confined to life as a maid and Raúl was also discouraged.

“Life sucks,” the four characters declared in unison.

In one of the only light-hearted scenes in the play, the characters danced to loud, energetic music at a party. The four teenagers then discussed the possibility of producing online pornography. They’d heard a person can make thousands of dollars from such a venture. It’s understandable that their desperation drives them to this discussion, but the transition seemed abrupt as they went from dancing to contemplating a felony.

Their plan was put into action, and the four quickly turned out a profit. But the plot took a dark turn when Esteban took the money for himself and manipulated Adriana into becoming a prostitute. Emile Dultra, the actress who portrayed Adriana, delivered an emotional, powerful line in the midst of her tragedy, lamenting, “I’m something you buy online.”

Emile Dultra, the actress who plays Adriana, powerfully portrayed her character’s pain. As Adriana was forced further into the world of sex trafficking, her hair and clothes became disheveled, she was feeble and she carried herself with less confidence. Dultra effectively conveyed how Adriana had gone from a suffering girl who had hopes of going to college to one whose life was so bleak that she contemplated ending it.

Marlon Jiménez Oviedo, who portrayed Esteban, persuasively transforms him from an insecure, hopeless teenager in the beginning of the play into a power-hungry villain who physically abused Adriana and psychologically manipulated her.

Though Esteban became a villain, Jiménez Oviedo can still empathize with the character.

“He has no role models, he doesn’t have a dad, his mom works till late, no one actually talks to him, everyone calls him stupid, no one believes he can do anything. And this one time he found something that he was good at and found a way out of poverty,” said Jiménez Oviedo.

The mood in the audience became somber as Esteban threatened Adriana more and more, telling her she can’t go anywhere without his permission. While I was hoping the play would end with Adriana breaking free from Esteban and the dangerous world she was unwillingly a part of, her fate was uncertain, and there was no sign that she would escape from Esteban’s grip.

Freshman Ana Clyde echoed my sentiments, as she was shocked by the play’s ending.

“I thought that they were going to take us through her whole journey, and in the end, it’d all be ok, but they just stopped it,” Clyde said. “Despite that, I still appreciated the message.”

The small production, with just four actors, made me feel connected to the characters, like I understood what drove them to make the choices they did. As I realized how desperate Adriana’s home life was, it became increasingly difficult to criticize her choice of entering the field of sex work. However, it was more challenging for me to have empathy for Esteban as he views the world of pornography and prostitution as an opportunity to escape poverty.

I loved how the play incorporated English and Spanish seamlessly. It reflected a smooth blending of languages I think is common to many immigrant communities. In my house and with my Romanian friends, we know that “Romglish” (Romanian + English) has its own set of linguistic rules.

Freshman Jacob Amaya believed the play’s bilingualism gave it an authentic feel.

“I was kind of enthralled in it because it was a fairly accurate portrayal of how Hispanics or Chicanos would talk, how they would mostly talk in English, but when they would try to emphasize something or they cursed, they’d usually do it in Spanish, so it made the play more believable for me,” Amaya said.

The actors and Green Dot’s Tiger Simpson held a panel after the play discussing why it was brought to campus. The audience was responsive and engaged during the panel as it discussed the obstacles Adriana faces, warning signs someone might be a sex trafficking victim and resources for that person.

The resources available to victims of sex trafficking were also mentioned, such as talking to a counselor, going to a shelter or on campus, going to the Health Center, Title IX coordinator, or hall staff. One of the main reasons the play was brought to campus was so students know they are peer resources for struggling students, Simpson said.

While the end of "Broken Promises" was disheartening, the play provided important insight into sex trafficking. This issue hits closer to home than many might think.