Huffpost Arts
Alyson Renaldo Headshot

America Fares Well, Through the Message of Jamaica, Farewell

Posted: Updated:

Debra Ehrhardt reminded me of something important the other day. Who is Debra Ehrhardt, you ask? Figuratively she is your neighbour, co-worker, a friend...and, at the moment, someone who provoked my reflection upon immigration reform.

Immigration law, illegal immigrants and the protection of American borders are undoubtedly some hot button issues which will be perpetually bandied about during this election year. With respect to the present state of immigration reform, house speaker, Mr John A Boehner recently stated, "Immigration -- [he and President Obama] had a very good, very healthy conversation on immigration."

With a (justifiable) sigh, citizens will probably rub their foreheads and grip something as they struggle to synthesise and absorb all the emphatic political positions being hurled at them on this issue. After a while, voters just take refuge in the warm blanket of cynicism while wondering why they're even dealing with this, which ultimately, doesn't feel in anyway tied to their immediate quality of life.

I saw Debra's play the other day at the Santa Monica Playhouse. It was entitled Jamaica, Farewell and was directed by Joel Zwick, who also directed My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Frankly, the play could have just as easily been called Believing in the American Dream. 2014-02-28-JamaicaFarewell_205.jpg
Debra Ehrhardt in Jamaica, Farewell

Debra Ehrhardt is figuratively someone in some aspect of our daily lives because the story of Jamaica, Farewell, in which she stars and also wrote is a powerful, captivating parable, holding at its core a message of tenacity and hope likely realised by many people with which we interact, all day, everyday; it chronicle's Debra's personal journey as an American citizen and immigrant.

Joel Zwick remarked that he got involved with this project because he was, "Blown away by the intensity of the story and Debra's ability to hold the audience. Just remarkable." Had he known anything about the Jamaican experience prior to this work? "Absolutely not, but what evolved in this piece was the value of the American dream. We forget that there are people all over the world who [value it]. We don't think much about the glass being half full, as we deal with the day to day."

Indeed Joel.

This author would go as far as suggesting that there may not even be a glass half empty or full. It's more like a solid gold goblet 80% filled with wine of a vintage year! Those who filled the goblet probably purposely stopped at 80% to make it easier to walk around paradise without spillage!

Is the United States of America "Paradise"? Um, yeah, no. To this author's mind, absolutely not. Why? Because, like every other nation on earth, the U.S. is inhabited by humans: imperfect, sometimes petty, contradictory creatures.

Debra explained to me that upon graduating she was told that her dream of being an actress in America probably wouldn't happen until she sought out a speech therapist to rid herself of her Jamaican accent, "I couldn't do it," she tells me, "My Jamaican upbringing is part of my identity. Hearing 'no' only helped me to find creative solutions to living my dream."

Whoa. Wait. What? The land of opportunity telling someone no, right out of the gate? Is that not counter to its message of 'the dream'?

Again, clearly not perfect because, after all, only perfect beings can create perfect environs, which automatically counts us humans out.

However, to premise a nation's modus and trajectory upon universal ideals of absolute equality and opportunity for the individual and collective, as the U.S. has done is indeed remarkable and valuable, as it offers a window into paradise. Is it any wonder that people beyond citizens of this nation would deeply wish to peer through that window as well?

I urge every American to remain connected to the awesomeness of privilege in having a Windex clear view through that window; not out of superiority towards what other nations ostensibly lack, but out of wonderment at your coveted birth or naturalised right.
Debra further remarked to me that, "No matter where we are in the world we all have our dreams. Longing, determination, grit--we all feel these things; they drive us to be bigger than ourselves."

This author would also wish to add something rarely discussed. The seeming annoyance of immigration issues is likely more deeply felt by the emigrated nations. Consider that the tenacity, determination and courage of persons who legally immigrate to the U.S are probably virtues their native lands would rather maintain domestically and have contributing to that nation's viability.

How ever you come down on the issue(s) of immigration, stay connected to the humanity to which it is tethered. Go see a play like Jamaica, Farewell. It may help the task of decisioning feel less irritating and remind you of why all this matters beyond political talking points. For this author can think of no one: citizen, or foreigner, legal or illegal who wishes to see the American dream reformed.

You can catch Debra Ehrhardt's performance this weekend (Saturday the 29th/Sunday the 30th) at the Santa Monica Playhouse. For more information go to jamaicafarewellplay.com