Arts @ Large featured a special series of performances for a new stage play that highlighted voices from the immigrant community in Milwaukee.

Prompted by social unrest in their homeland and their family’s desire for new opportunities in a peaceful land, every year thousands of students find themselves immersed in the challenges of creating a new life in a strange country.

“My Family Came for This” is an evocative theatrical montage that combines the words from some of these adolescents, with the professional writings of other immigrants and refugees. Through the performances, the play strives to capture the heartache and hope of experience that has been the foundation of American life for its vast immigrant communities.

The play was compiled and directed by Jacque Troy, who has worked as a professional actor at nearly all of Milwaukee’s best theatres. The show was the result of a new Arts@Large initiative called Fabric of Milwaukee. With the help of artist educators, many of them immigrants or refugees themselves, English language learners at two schools were encouraged to explore their home culture and their transition to life in the United States.

“The show came specifically from guided writing with students at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, including an assignment given by their teacher, Sarah Harley, who asked them to write about the misconceptions that follow them in their daily lives,” said Troy. “Since none of these young writers wanted to be actors, I hired a core of artists to share the student’s stories. To honor the writing of the English Language Learners, we have all worked hard to preserve the way in which they use their new language. About 75% of the performance comes directly from these high schools students.”

One segment of the play included two young Muslim men having a talk. The character Ibraheem shares his thoughts as a short monologue. The words were written by a high school student, and the grammar was not corrected on purpose. One of the goals of the show was to present immigrant voices in their original and unpolished context.

Ibraheem: (interacting with soccer ball) “I remember one day, when the sun was setting, I was walking to my cousin’s house, which was very close to my house. I was wearing Islamic clothes. On the way there, I passed a man.

He did not look at me with a happy face. We were going two opposite ways. After a few steps, I was looking back, the man turned back, looked at me and started running. I was a little scared and start walking fast. I did not know what I did wrong.

I did not do any weird thing, or frighten the man. I was very shocked to see a person who don’t know nothing about me but is scared of me because of my clothes.

But that did not put fear in my heart to stop wearing my religious clothes because of what people see from outside and what the media has fooled them to believe.

I wear Islamic clothes almost every single day outside and inside the house because I know what I represent and do not care what the media says.”

– From the script, “My Family Came For This”

The focus of Arts @ Large is to activate Milwaukee’s education communities by building environments that support arts-rich, life-long learning. “My Family Came For This” was the latest example of its programing, to ensure members of the audience were engaged by the messages from its outreach program.

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Jacque Troy