In The Know

Stage production 'Americano!' tells the life and struggles of a 'Dreamer'

The real-life story of a "Dreamer" is getting the theatrical treatment - and a congressman plays a central part in the show.

Tony Valdovinos marked his 18th birthday by stepping into a Marine Corps recruitment office to fulfill his dream of enlisting. But when he tried to become a Marine, he says he was shocked to learn his goal couldn't become reality.

"The Marines came back and they're like, 'Hey, you're wasting our time,' " he says.

Valdovinos's parents had never told him he did not have legal immigration status.

"They didn't ever want to tell us out of protection, but it ended up hurting us in the long run," Valdovinos says. "I was fresh out of high school, had all this energy, and then not a single door would open."

How he dealt with that disappointment - and went on to become a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the founder of a political consulting firm - is the focus of a forthcoming musical. "Americano!" is poised to debut Jan. 29 at The Phoenix Theatre Company in Arizona.

"I never in my life thought a musical would be developed from my story," Valdovinos, who was born in Mexico and brought to the United States by his parents as a toddler, tells ITK. About 690,000 immigrants without legal status who came to the country as minors, known as Dreamers, depend on the DACA program to live and work in the U.S.

Valdovinos was a field organizer for Rep. Ruben Gallego's (D-Ariz.) House bid in 2014. The lawmaker, who calls Valdovinos a "dear friend," is a key character in "Americano!" which is aiming for a Broadway run.

Gallego, a former Marine who served in Iraq, says with a laugh that he never expected to be portrayed onstage.

"Not in a musical," he chuckles. "But I love musicals, so I can't wait to see it when it opens."

The congressman, who didn't get a sneak peek at "Americano!" before its premiere, says he hopes audiences take away from it what Valdovinos saw: "An opportunity to change his life and the opportunity to change the lives of those around him in a very, very dark period."

"I think it could be good for a lot of people to go watch it to see how a young man who felt disempowered in politics, how he grabbed ahold of his own future," Gallego says.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule this summer on the DACA program, an action which could change the deportation status of nearly 700,000 people.

"Instead of being discouraged, he actively got involved in politics," Gallego says.

"It is the perception of the human story, versus the perception of the [political] party story, or the progressive, or the conservative story," explains Valdovinos of the show.

Before he became eligible for DACA in 2012, Valdovinos says, "I couldn't get a job. I couldn't get a driver's license. I could be deported at any moment for getting pulled over or whatever."

Now 29, Valdovinos says he hopes his story will serve as a guiding light for others: "The encouraging part is to inspire some young man or some young woman to truly move whichever way they want and be successful."

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