The Latino experience


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Before he is deported from the United States, Onofre Aguilar wants to tell his story. He wants to describe the frightful days he spent crossing the Arizona desert and the dozens of men who suffered from thirst and hunger after 15 days of nonstop trekking across two borders.

Or the morning of May 12, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers raided Aguilar’s workplace, Agriprocessors Inc. in Postville, Iowa. He said the memories that resonate with him most are the shouts and the scattering people — hiding from immigration officials and clinging to the hope of freedom.

The effect of the raid leaves a sticky aftermath. Aguilar, along with hundreds of others from Guatemala and Mexico, is unlucky. He remains in this country only to testify in the trial on the raid.

However, he and a group of others have the opportunity to do something a bit unconventional.

Today, at the 11th-annual “Strengthening and Valuing Latino Families and Communities in Iowa Conference: Hecho en Iowa,” Aguilar and eight other former migrant employees of Agriprocessors. will tell their personal accounts in the play La Historia de Nuestras Vidas. The conference, beginning at 8 a.m. and lasting through Saturday, is coordinated by the UI School of Social Work and a statewide volunteer committee. Among the more than 20 cosponsors are the UI College of Public Health, the UI College of Nursing, the Belin-Blank Center, and the Center for Diversity and Enrichment. The event will be held in Des Moines at Grand View University, 1200 Grandview Ave.

Admission to the conference is free.

The event will also host various public forums on Latino issues including immigration rights, status of Latino health, arts and culture, education, and business.

“It’s a community-based conference,” said media-relations director Jefri Palermo of the School of Social Work.

La Historia de Nuestras Vidas, directed by Luther College theater department alumni Alex Skitolsky and Kate Blair, has been performed around the Midwest since March.

Though the prospect of a play initially started out as a joke among Aguilar and his friends, it turned out to be another means of income while they have been working at locations in Decorah, where they await trail and deportation following the raid.

The men took their idea for La Historia de Nuestras Vidas to Luther College’s Pastor David Vasquez, who then contacted Skitolsky, whose wife was also a theater department faculty member. Spanish-speaker Blair was asked to codirect because of her language skills.

“[The script] went through a lot of translation and revision,” she said.

The play’s format of storytelling theater has the actors performing in a single and small groups. The participants, who come from impoverished backgrounds and a limited education, have no prior acting experience.

“The most important aspect of the play is that it gives the audience the opportunity to see the immigrant workers face to face,” Skitosky said. “It’s a real human story.”

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