Within the past week, a federal judge in Texas declared that DACA - the program that offers deportation relief and work permits to immigrants brought to the country illegally as children, was itself illegal. It's a ruling that will be appealed. But the people who benefited from the program - known as DREAMers - are also the focus of a play at the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis. The name of the play itself is a phrase used as a lightning rod by critics of immigrants. The play is called Sanctuary City, and the main characters of the play are portrayed by actors with connections to Indiana – Seni Tekle and Diego Sanchez-Galvan. They spoke with Ray Steele on Morning Edition.
RAY STEELE: Let's get your background. Seni, you are a UIndy graduate, but you also grew up in Avon.
SENI TEKLE: Yes, I was raised in Avon, born in (Washington) D.C. My parents moved to Indiana in what would have been 1999. So, I was born and pretty much raised here. I'm a Hoosier.
STEELE: And, Diego, you're still in school right now.
DIEGO SANCHEZ-GALVAN. Yeah. I'm at school at Ball State University. I’m a junior there. So it's the latter half of my degree. And it's, it's great. I really enjoy it.
STEELE: What are you studying?
SANCHEZ-GALVAN: I'm studying acting.
STEELE: You are DREAMers in the play, or those are your roles. What have you learned about that experience -- the experience of the DREAMers -- just by portraying them?
TEKLE: Well, I'm a first generation in real life and actual life. My parents were immigrants. Through being in the play, I feel like it's a story I know all too well, in the sense that these two characters are finding sanctuaries within each other, finding home and comfort within each other. And they even talk about in the play, like even though I was born in - what have you, I'm from here. This is a place that I'm from, this is where I know everything, whether it's language, culture, just where I grew up. And so, it's definitely a familiar feeling.
STEELE: I was going to ask it, and you can answer this Diego, even though you're not a DREAMer, what have you experienced in real life that might be similar to what the characters have experienced?
SANCHEZ-GALVAN: I've had family who's been immigrants and they tell me stories about the way they were treated when they first came here, and not being paid enough. My father worked at this restaurant for a really long time. And he was severely underpaid. And when he realized it, he told the guys like, hey, I haven't been getting my money, please give me money. I'm doing like overtime, and yada, yada, yada. And just hearing the stories from my family has been like, not necessarily my experience, but just hearing that constantly has kind of influenced me to keep working hard. Sometimes, I go into space, and I get a little nervous about just the way I look, I get a little nervous, like people are judging me or assuming that ‘he's not from this country just because he's Brown and has a Spanish last name. They might assume that I'm an immigrant myself or something of this sort. So sometimes, I get a little startled when people just give me an eye when I enter a room. I'm like, I speak English. You don't have to. You don't have to talk to me in Spanish. I know, English.
STEELE: Seni, what's the message the play is trying to send?
TEKLE: I guess reminding people that America truly is a melting pot. And there are, you know, young kids that are brought to this country that are so small and have absolutely no idea what they're getting their lives into. Ultimately, their parents are bringing them to America for a better life, of course, but once the kid grows up, and like our characters in the play – 16- or 17-years old and high school, this is all that they know. And because they're not -- because his character is not a citizen, he can't go to college, you can't apply for financial aid. And it's heartbreaking, because his character takes school very seriously. But that's not necessarily an option for him, because he's not a citizen. So, it's just I guess, reminding people that there unfortunately, are a bunch of kids that are brought to this country without knowing (they were brought illegally) because they're kids, and they're not granted opportunities because they're not citizens. And it's just not fair and it's really heartbreaking.
STEELE: Seni Tekle and Diego Sanchez-Galvan. I really appreciate you coming.
TEKLE: Thank you so much for having us.
Sanctuary City is now playing at the Phoenix Theatre Cultural Center in Indianapolis. Information is available at PhoenixTheatre.org.