“I am interested in origins, and when we claim them and when we stop. The power of language and place. Native vs. foreign. Especially in a country as complicated as the US.”Tania Del Valle, “Native Gardens”
PlayMakers 22/23 season will feature two Latinx playwrights, Karen Zacarías with “Native Gardens” and Matthew Lopez with “The Legend of Georgia McBride.” PlayMakers is proud to present “Native Gardens” during National Hispanic Heritage Month, in collaboration with UNC’s Carolina Latinx Center, American Indian Center, and NC’s Botanical Garden, on stage October 12 – 30, 2022.
“Native Gardens,” is a comedy about neighbors, but more than that, it is an exploration of identity. And for the characters Tania and Pablo Del Valle, a Latinx couple expecting their first child, identity in the US is complicated.
The Del Valles have big plans for their new fixer-upper house, including a “native garden” made of plants indigenous to the environment. The idea is the brainchild of Tania, a Ph.D. candidate, and supported by Pablo, a lawyer with dreams of making partner at his new firm. A friendly dispute over the lay of the land with established neighbors, Virginia and Frank Butley, quickly spirals into a war of taste, class, and entitlement.
“The hilarious and complex Del Valles show us a dynamic representation of the different mindsets that exist amongst our communities,” says Assistant Director, LatIndigenous storyteller, and dedicated activist, Talitha Morena Moniz McMillion.
“We see Latin Americans like Pablo every day, the immigrants who come to this country believing in the American Dream. And we know Latinx people like Tania who have grown up here and are familiar with just how deceiving that idea can be.”
The complexity of the American Dream is a concept that resonates with queer artist, activist, and “student of life,” Sarita Ocón, who plays the part of Tania Del Valle. She is a daughter of immigrants, a first-generation American, and “her ancestors’ wildest dream come true.”
“The American dream is a complicated one, you’re constantly aspiring towards a deeper understanding whether that is economic health and prosperity or a sense of expertise with the land and connection. There’s a yearning for a sense of home and a constant feeling of displacement, I wonder if that’s just part of the immigrant experience. This play comes at a poignant time in our collective existence and brings a lot of questions about identity. I think it’s an important dialogue, what makes us who we are in our existence?”
Tania Del Valle’s family comes from New Mexico, inhabiting the area for 200 years, generations before there were ever borders, though, in the play, her identity still remains in question. In a conversation with white neighbor, Frank Butley, Tania explains that although they have similar origins, “Because of what [she] looks like [she’s] considered much more foreign than [him].”
Patrick Torres, director of “Native Gardens” shares that this play is all about the question – do I belong?
“We see the Del Valles really struggle with feeling that they belong in this really nice neighborhood they just moved into. The idea that you can walk into a space and belong isn’t always true for people of color in this country. We do have to code-switch and think about how to enter a space we may not be welcome in.”
Sarita Ocón explains that “*code-switching for those of us who’ve had to figure out which voice we’re going to tap into whether that’s an academic voice, professional, familial, community. For those of us who’ve been “othered” due to our backgrounds, we are constantly up against the question – how can we be authentically ourselves? Though each of our voices is authentic to us.”
In North Carolina, the Latinx population has grown by 40% over the last decade, now over 1.1 million people; a fact that actor Alejandro Rodriguez, performing the part of Pablo Del Valle wants you to know. “We’re now over 10% of the state’s population. We’ve been your classmates, coworkers, and neighbors for years, and although there are many distinct nationalities and experiences within the umbrella of Latinx, most share a rich ancestry and an abundance of cultural practices — which we’re not typically shy about sharing!”
“I’m deeply proud to be part of Playmakers’ first Mainstage production written by a Latina, and directed by one of those aforementioned neighbors, the incomparable Patrick Torres of Raleigh Little Theater. Let’s just hope the party doesn’t stop with us!”
A sentiment shared by all is that this is an important story to share. Sarita Ocón explains that “we often see narratives about the border crisis, though very important, or stories that only highlight an economic situation or circumstance. This is a wonderful opp for conversation and to see other aspects of my culture represented on stage and that’s why I really wanted to champion this particular play.”
Talitha Morena Moniz McMillion shares that “In many ways, Karen Zacarías is showing us a journey of Latinx people discovering their Indigeneity, their sovereignty to their land, and the deep, ancestral need to reclaim it.”
*code-switching: the use of one dialect, register, accent, or language variety over another, depending on social or cultural context, to project a specific identity.
1Rebecca Tippett “North Carolina’s Hispanic Community: 2021 Snapshot” October 18, 2021 www.ncdemography.org/