Shoebox Stories UndocuAmerica Series: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors
- Motus Theater
You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.
Shoebox Stories is Motus Theater’s community story-holding project, where we ask friends, family members, or strangers to gather together and stand in another person’s shoes, by reading their story aloud, saying their words, and holding—for a moment—the weight that they carry.
Through respectfully holding a story different from our own, we expand our understanding of what it means to be human. The stories we hold close impact our thoughts, our actions, what we prioritize when we vote, and who we see as part of “our community.”
Below is an excerpt from Motus Theater’s Shoebox Stories UndocuAmerica Series. You will have the opportunity to read aloud a story from the life of Alejandro Fuentes-Mena. We suggest you get together with one to three additional people for a meal in a quiet location (or over Zoom, if you prefer).
Follow the reading instructions below, and read aloud the story. Then use the reflection questions to have a discussion. You will not only get to know featured storyteller Alejandro Fuentes-Mena, but you will also deepen your relationship with your fellow readers and yourself.
This excerpt is best read aloud by two to four readers. (The script is divided into four parts, so two readers can simply double up.)
Tania Chairez, national outreach & education director of Motus Theater
Kirsten Wilson, artistic director of Motus Theater
Reading Instructions (to be read aloud):
We are gathered to read an excerpt from Motus Theater’s Shoebox Stories UndocuAmerica Series, where young people with DACA (Deferred Action for Child Arrivals) share personal stories from their lives.
Holding another person’s story is both an honor and a responsibility. We are entrusted, for a moment, with their struggles, hopes, and dreams. By reading the words of another, we are not saying that we agree with them. We are simply agreeing to refrain from judgment. After the reading, we will have an opportunity to talk about the differences and similarities between their experiences and our own.
Here are a few suggestions for reading a Shoebox Story aloud:
- Read significantly more slowly and loudly than you normally would.
- Honor feelings that may arise as you read, but try not to add additional drama.
- Articulate the words, and pause with the rhythm of the punctuation.
- If anyone in the group asks you to read more slowly or loudly at any time in the process, please comply.
Shoebox Stories UndocuAmerica Series excerpt: “Deport Me”
Featured Storyteller: Alejandro Fuentes-Mena is a Motus Theater UndocuAmerica monologist. He was born in Valparaiso, Chile, immigrated to the United States at the age of four, and grew up in San Diego, California. He received a BA in psychology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Through Teach for America, Alejandro became one of the first two DACAmented teachers in the entire nation. He recently completed his seventh year of teaching in northeast Denver and will be moving on to get his master’s degree in educational leadership in hopes of creating an arts integrated school, to be named the Radical Arts Academy of Denver (RAAD).
Reader 1: I was just a kid when I realized what being undocumented meant. At age eight, I started going to work with my dad so I could help him rebuild the entire outside of other people’s homes, all the while not having a real home of our own. I would help my dad research what to charge and work out all the math. For example, I would discover that for one given job, contractors would charge $20,000. But my dad had been screwed over so many times that he would only charge $15,000. Clients would see his strength in Spanish, his lack of English, and his lack of documentation, and they would give him about $10,000. And that is who my father believed he was: half the man I thought he was, half the value of any other.
Reader 2: I witnessed as my mother would leave for an entire weekend—seventy-two hours— to take care of someone else’s family. She was lured with the promise of being paid over $300 for the weekend, but she would come back with only $100 in her pocket. One hundred dollars that she saw as a blessing. One hundred dollars that I saw as an attack on our family.
All those rich families saw little value in everything my mom did. They would take her away, only to use her and spit her out. The money they paid was barely enough to put food on the table. It didn’t cover the worry my mom had because she couldn’t be home to take care of us when we were sick, help us with homework, comfort us when we returned to an empty house. One hundred dollars for a whole weekend away from her family—like she was worthless. But don’t you understand? She was priceless to me!
Reader 3: Well, spending my weekends without my mom as she cared for other people’s children, and spending those weekends working for my dad for free so he wouldn’t lose money for the privilege of building a home for someone else’s family, and witnessing this over and over and over again, I began to think that I wasn’t worth much either. Despite the fact that I had been recognized at school as “Gifted and Talented.” Despite the fact that I was a math wiz; that I had learned English—a completely unknown language—in less than a year; and that I was an engaged student. Despite the fact that I was the precocious worship leader at my church. I let those weekends of feeling worthless affect me.
Reader 4: I began making jokes rather than making plans for my future. Playing games rather than paying attention. Chasing girls rather than chasing my dreams. And, like all self-fulfilling prophecies, I got to the point where my grades reflected what society said my parents and I were worth: half-priced human beings.
But luckily, I had a teacher named Ms. Kovacic who worked hard to remind me of my value and helped convince me that what this society was telling me and my family was wrong. With her support, and that of many others, I got myself out of that pit of self-deprecation—past the insecurities, past the hate, past the negativity, past that half version of me—and into a good college and into a position where I am now an educator who teaches math. And like my mentors, I teach young children their value, because all children are valuable, just as you and I are valuable.
Reader 1: As a teacher, I can’t help myself. Let me take you to school for a few moments. Hope you're good with that? Let’s start off with a little math lesson. My father is one man, one of the hardest workers I know. My mother is one woman, one of the strongest and most compassionate individuals in my life. My sister is one daughter, a brat, but a lovable one, and an American citizen. I’m one son, half of this country and half of Chile. And we are four whole, beautiful gifts, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Not the half-priced individuals that society has attempted to make us.
Reader 2: Moving to applied math and economics: If this country continues to deport the undocumented community, it is missing out on courageous, strong, intelligent, family-loving, hard-working people of great value. And that is not only our loss; it is your loss to miss out on us, not to mention the billions in taxes we bring in every year, which is billions more than large corporations are paying.
Reader 3: Lastly, moving beyond math to ethics: Paying an undocumented person half the value for their life’s work; extracting all you can get to build your homes and take care of your families, and then deporting them, as if they had not brought value, is not just mathematically flawed; it is also an American math story problem gone wrong. It is criminal to treat us as subservient and less desirable.
Reader 4: I am living in this country undocumented, teaching your children, supporting them, engaging their minds in math and in their dreams. I’m 100% here and 100% committed to this country in which I was raised, this country that constantly seeks to spit me out. Lose me and you lose my value-—not just the money I pay in taxes and the money I pay into social security that I will never benefit from, but you also lose my ability to inspire, connect, and engage. You lose my ability to bring an impact, and you lose the knowledge I bring to my students, who are your children. This country would be foolish to lose me.
Deport me. But in the end, it’s your loss.
This autobiographical story was written by Alejandro Fuentes-Mena in collaboration with Tania Chairez and Kirsten Wilson as part of a Motus Monologue Workshop.
Set an end time for your discussion. Consider using a timer to encourage participants to speak for no more than three minutes per question. Please allow each person to answer the question for themselves. This exercise is an opportunity to listen and reflect.
- What is the main emotion you felt while reading Alejandro’s story and why?
- What part of Alejandro’s story was most impactful to you? Why?
- In what ways can you or your ancestors relate to the experiences of Alejandro?
- Who in your community or family would you like to have hear Alejandro’s story?
- Why is it important to listen to stories of people with a different experience than your own?
Story Sharing Options:
- This Tilt West Journal excerpt
- Alejandro reading his own story on the Motus Monologues Podcast
- The great humanitarian chef and culinary innovator José Andrés reading Alejandro’s story, with a musical response by Ozomatli, on the Shoebox Stories Podcast
- The full Shoebox Stories “Host Your Own” toolkit (currently available with stories from women in sanctuary), which may be downloaded at ShoeboxStories.org