What’s your border?

L to R: Michael Van Liew, Andrew Valenzuela and Kathryn James in "Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World"

In the opening scene of a stirring play titled “Amexica,” penned by the Valley’s own James E. Garcia and Alberto Rios, we hear people with different perspectives completing the following sentence: My border is….

One thing is immediately clear — the border isn’t some abstraction devoid of human meaning. It’s the people who live on and around it, and the years of individual and collective histories they carry with them.

Playwright Garcia and poet Rios seamlessly weave poetry and performance art together in “Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World” to create a unique work that’ll appeal to lovers of words, history, art and culture.

The world premiere run, a production of New Carpa Theater directed by Barbara Aker, continues at the Mesa Arts Center through Sun, Nov. 6. Aker is a retired acting and voice teacher who counts Andrew Valenzuela among her former students in the theatre program at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Raynell Gonzales (L) and Andrew Valenzuela in "Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World"

Valenzuela plays Javier, a recent college graduate and poet who decides to forego graduate school after learning that he was born in Mexico and adopted two weeks later by parents Dan (Michael Van Liew) and Tina (Kathryn James) of Oregon.

Javier travels along the border region in search of his roots, his identity and the mother who left him behind — encountering all sorts of people in his journey. The cast of 14 includes an elementary school student, a middle school student and a high school student. Each delivers a strong performance with true professionalism.

I was disappointed, while attending last Saturday’s matinee, to find that far too many seats were empty for a work of this caliber — and hope those who support the accurate depiction of border life, poetic reflection on the human condition and youth participation in the arts will make plans to see “Amexica” this weekend.

My daughter Jennifer, a cultural anthroplogy major at ASU, asked me one evening about the term “fourth world.” Like many, she’s more familiar with the term “third world.” So I got in touch with Garcia, eager to learn more about the choice of a title.

Seems Garcia first heard the term “fourth world” as a journalist working during the ’80s for a daily newspaper in Laredo, Texas. He recalls seeing the word “Amexica” on the cover of a 2001 issue of TIME magazine. In images, says Garcia, the border is two-dimensional. Nowadays, some border depictions in film boast 3-D images. But now, it seems, there’s a fourth dimention too.

Raynell Gonzales in "Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World" at Mesa Arts Center

“The fourth world,” says Garcia, describes the evolution along the Mexico/America border of a whole new culture. It’s a culture characterized by complexity, he says, reduced too often to “images of people coming over the fence.”

“The Mexican people,” observes Garcia, “have a long memory.” Also mixed feelings about their neighbors to the north. Though citizens passionately recall the conquest of Mexico and prior battles with the United States, they modeled their own goverment after American democracy and seek in some ways to emulate American culture.

The smart, sensitive treatment of border-related issues rarely finds its way to mainstream media — so we’re fortunate that Garcia and Rios have partnered to present a picture of the people who populate the border. “Amexica” is a compelling counterpoint to the caricatures that too often invade our discourse and decision making.

– Lynn

Note: “Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World” also features choreography by Michèle Ceballos Michot and original score by Quetzal Guerrero (whose CD I saw just yesterday at XICO gallery in Chandler). Click here for show and ticket information. The production includes brief violence and language best viewed by teens and above.

Coming up: Sandbox tales, A celebration of life

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