The Borders That Bind Us: ‘El Rio'

A staged reading will be held on May 8 at 8 p.m. in La Pena Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave. $5-$10, tickets benefit the Rio Negro Community of Guatemala.

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In his play for an honors thesis in Ethnic Studies, Playwright and UC Berkeley senior Andrew Saito deviates from the norm of academic papers all-too typical of in UC Berkeley writing. He understands that one should not be limited-neither by a major nor the borders of an ethnic backgrounds.

He describes the many different ideas and definitions of borders "El Rio" touches upon while tugging off his socks to eliminate any imposing, awkward interview jitters.

"What I am trying to say with the play is that borders function to bring opposites, conflicting forces or elements together," Saito says.

"El Rio" attepmts to question concepts of identity and broaden narrow ethnic perceptions. In dealing with the factual events of the Mayan community's genocide in Guatemala, it disrupts preconceived views of diversity. Seito introduces an array of distinct characters with varying backgrounds from the US, Mexico, Africa and Native America, whose stories ultimately and inevitably intertwine.

The ethnically mixed and diverse characters each symbolize a message of the difficulty of defining identity. Characters like Reynaldo perfectly portray the schitzophrenic clash of pride in a Mexican heritage and his duty as a border patrolman and his efforts to assimilate himself into American and white culture.

"I am playing with the preformed idea of what ethnicity is," says Saito. "There is this constant fusion, so you can't really make distinct lines."

"We all have a visceral connection," Saito asserts. The play's commentary on the exploitation of the Rio Grande and how the destruction of this river affected the people inhabiting the surrounding area is personified through Francisca. Saito believes "her role is often a plot device and her being a person further demonstrates how things are connected. If you damage the river, you damage the people."

Saito has recently held a stage reading in cooperation with the Ethnic studies department at UC Berkeley, the published playwright Cherrie Moraga, and with VIVIS, which he invited the community to view and then ask questions and offer suggestions. The play's actors are a mixture of professionals and experienced students or Berkeley residents. The significance of the play is not confined to just the Ethnic Studies department or even the University, but is open and should be of interest to the greater public.


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