‘Dreamers’ oratorio puts the plight of young immigrants to vocal music

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Datebook San Francisco Chronicle – By Azucena Rasilla

An American-born child separated from her parents, who were deported back to their country of origin; a student who can’t continue his college education due to his lack of legal status; an entire family broken across borders while trying to escape poverty and war, all in hopes of forging a better future in the United States — these are the struggles “Dreamers” face all throughout the country.

But when Jimmy López Bellido and Nilo Cruz were commissioned by Cal Performances to develop a production around the Dreamers, they didn’t want to just repeat faceless stories. They wanted to humanize their struggles and find that unique connection that speaks to the Bay Area.

So they turned to López’s alma mater, UC Berkeley.

“Some have siblings who are U.S. citizens, some of them are fleeing war, some are fleeing extreme poverty, some came as babies and know no other reality or language, some came as teenagers and have a formed identity before coming to this country,” López recalls of listening to these array of migration tales. “Even if they achieve some degree of legality or citizenship, the fact that their parents have no path (towards citizenship) is already heartbreaking.”

This is the crux of “Dreamers,” an oratorio crafted by López, a noted Peruvian American composer who earned his doctorate in music at Cal in 2012, and Cruz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuban playwright who wrote the libretto for the piece. The program makes its world premiere Sunday, March 17, at Zellerbach Hall, before an encore performance at Stanford University’s Bing Concert Hall the following night.

As part of their year-long research for the project, López and Cruz interviewed seven Dreamers who attend UC Berkeley, all currently protected under an executive order signed June 15, 2012, by then-President Barack Obama, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The university has an entire department — the Undocumented Student Program, which is part of the Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence — devoted to the roughly 500 Dreamers currently enrolled. The program assists students with academic support, provides free legal aid by East Bay Community Law Center, and offers other resources to help obtain financial aid and scholarships.

The Obama-era program has been under scrutiny since Sept. 5, 2017, when then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, under the direction of President Trump, decided to send the more than 800,000 Dreamers holding a work permit into immigration limbo. The program remains in place as litigation continues.

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