Angel Vázquez: Revealing the Real Puerto Rico
IBA: You’re the star of “Hecho en Puelto Rico.” Tell us a little bit more about the premise of this play.
Angel Vàzquez: This is a monologue about a student in Puerto Rico who wants to leave the island as soon as possible. He receives a phone call from his dad and he thinks he’s going to get money to go to the states, but when he opens the suitcase his father sent him, it’s just full of stuff that’s meaningless to him at that point. There’s a letter about his grandfather who moved to the states in the Great Depression, his experience with culture shock, language, racism. As he keeps reading the letter, he learns more about the things in the suitcase, which are reminders of Puerto Rico, and they eventually gain more meaning.
IBA: You also wrote the script. What inspired you to write this?
AV: As a playwright, you have to live the experience so that you can feel what the char feels about his roots, his heritage. It’s about feelings. What was meaningless is now pride for his family and history. This play is especially important because now people are leaving the island. For those of us who are proud of our country, those who are fighting for us, making a difference, I think it’s important to know who we really are. This is about the real Puerto Rico and believe me, most people don’t know about the real Puerto Rico because education here has somehow prevented us from knowing the whole truth.
IBA: You mention that this is a play from Puerto Ricans to know themselves — is this piece meant to be a critique?
AV: It’s a satire, it’s a musical comedy…there’s a lot of things going on onstage–dancing, singing, poetry. Yes, it’s meant to be a critique but it’s also meant to be inspirational, motivational so that we can get together to get ahead in our lives and put Puerto Rico back together again. It’s a cry for resistance and unity.
IBA: This is a very well timed play given the crisis caused by Hurricane Marìa. Did you create this before or after?
AV: Before, but since I’m the playwright, I have the right to adapt it! It’s still the same situation–there was an economic crisis before and since the hurricanes, the themes in this play are more relevant than ever. If you don’t have a job, if you don’t have hope that’s one thing….but as people keep leaving, it really hurts the economy. I started these investigations to find out more than what we know.
IBA: Why is it so important to you to target university students?
AV: That’s how it began. It was written for students at first, but I moved onto presenting theaters, touring the United states. I remember before I went there, someone asked, “how do you think Puerto Rican people in the states are going to take your message?” I don’t think it matters where you’re at or where you are–you’re still Puerto Rican. There’s a line in the play that states, “the Puerto Ricans in New York can be just as Puerto Rican as those in Puerto Rico.” For example, the first aid after the hurricanes came from the diaspora in the United States — not FEMA. We were touched by that gesture from our fellow citizens. They have a massive political voice in the states, which is why this play is for everyone. I’m not putting down anyone for leaving–I embrace anyone who wants to help us out. There’s no magic solution to our problems; we just have to get together and work.
IBA: In your opinion, what will it take for Puerto Rico to recover over the next few years?
AV: Too long. It’s hard to say, but it’s been a very slow recovery. As we speak, there’s around 40% of people on the island who don’t have electricity. The traffic lights are still not working, schools have lost their students because the government wants to charter schools instead. It doesn’t mean they’ll have the best education–it hasn’t really worked in the states. The vision of this government is not working in a way of making Puerto Rico stand by itself. We depend too much on US aid and i don’t see any plans for economic development. Now we have less population.
IBA: How do you feel about IBA and its mission to preserve latinx culture?
AV: This is the first time that I’ll be working with you. I’ve heard a lot of great things from my school in Puerto Rico. I’m so proud of the community and how committed they are to make it work for the latino community in Boston. Every time I hear a story from here, I fall down on my knees and say thank you for making a difference. You make Boston a better place to live. Diversity truly makes for a better life.