He tried to join the Marines. Then his life took a turn he never expected.

But there are several reasons why he hopes you will.

“Americans !” begins with one of the most painful moments of Valdovinos’ youth – the day he tried to join the Marines at his high school in Arizona, but ended up learning he was an undocumented immigrant and that he could not.

“It’s not a show for me. It’s actually, really what happened. And watching it in person just hurts me a little bit,” Valdovinos said.

Everything changed for him that day. The future he had dreamed of evaporated in an instant. And his life took several turns that he did not expect.

Becoming the subject of a musical, says Valdovinos, is just the latest example.

Valdovinos, 31, is now a political consultant and no stranger to sharing his story. But as “¡Americano!” begins his off-Broadway run, he hopes new audiences will learn from — and be inspired by — his experiences.

The coronavirus pandemic delayed the show’s New York debut. But Valdovinos says his message is more urgent than ever.

The day he found out he was undocumented marked an end and a beginning

Valdovinos still remembers the time he asked his mother for the papers he would need to join the Marines.

He was nearly 18, and a military recruiter at his high school had just sent Valdovinos home after learning he was born in Mexico. But Valdovinos had dreamed of enlisting for years, ever since he had seen the World Trade Center towers collapsing on television, and he was determined to return to the recruiting office with paperwork in hand.

“My mom just started breaking down. She started crying. … Her whole demeanor changed. Her energy changed, her shoulders changed,” Valdovinos said. “And she told me the truth.”

Valdovinos was born in Colima, Mexico, and brought to the United States when he was two years old. Prior to his mother’s revelation the day he tried to join the Marines, Valdovinos says he had no idea he was undocumented. And after that day, he suddenly found himself unsure of his path in life.

This is where “¡Americano!” begins, but far from where the story ends.

The musical then depicts Valdovinos’ discovery of a new mission as a political organizer and eventually founding his own political consulting firm.

“Being part of the elections, even though I can’t vote myself, but being part of the organization has been very rewarding. … It’s very much a matter of honor,” Valdovinos said. “It’s about helping to ensure that our communities are not looked down upon and, above all, suppressed.”

Eventually, he landed a job as a field manager during Ruben Gallego’s run for Congress.

Gallego, now a Democratic congressman from Arizona, is a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. And as Valdovinos sees it, even though he was never able to join the Marines, he was able to serve with one.

“Being told to leave by the Marine Corps was a very big experience. But…meeting a Marine, who taught me how to cut out political maps and knock on doors and canvas, was just as impactful And I think that’s what ‘¡American!’ is,” Valdovinos says. “It’s a back-and-forth story, but without giving up.”

DACA protects him from deportation. But her future is uncertain

Four years after the fateful day he learned he couldn’t join the Marines, Valdovinos’ life changed again when the Obama administration announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. DACA granted deportation protection and work permits to Valdovinos and hundreds and thousands of other so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

It’s been almost a decade since then.

Year after year, politicians on both sides of the aisle have said they would support legislation that gives Dreamers a chance to become lawful permanent residents and eventually US citizens.

Growing up, Valdovinos says he often worked with his father's construction company.  Here, construction workers are at the center of a scene of
But the Biden administration’s efforts to pave the way for citizenship have stalled. And so countless other proposals.

“We feel like professionals in limbo. Literally my whole life has passed, my whole youth has been with me in politics, hoping we’re going to get some aid or some policy, and realizing the country is not more focused on that,” says Valdovinos.

He says he hopes “¡Americano!” “reviving this conversation”, in Washington and across the country.

They see the show as a new avenue for activism

The show’s 2020 Phoenix run, he says, already seems to have opened some minds. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, a Republican, described the performance as “powerful and inspiring”.

And Valdovinos says he heard audience members leave the theater saying they had “no idea Dreamers even existed”.

The ability to reach new audiences was a big selling point, Valdovinos says, when a creative team at the Phoenix Theater Company pitched the idea of ​​writing a musical based on his life.

The theater approached him, he says, after hearing an interview on NPR about his work knocking on doors to reach Latino voters. He had never imagined that the story of his life could be found on stage.

“I sat with them for two hours almost seven years ago, and I told them the whole story of my life and my pains, my struggles, the things that inspired me, the things that happened , the things that didn’t happen,” he says. “And they decided after a week that they wanted to put that into a production.”

Years later, “¡Americano!” made its stage debut at this theater, featuring the music of singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez.

“I realized we could knock on doors forever and be chewed out by people who weren’t supportive of us, or have to beg people to care in the first place,” Valdovinos said. “But at the end of the day, when you watch a movie or a piece of art that resonates with you, I think it’s a lot more impactful.”

Chicanos Por La Causa worked to help ensure authentic Mexican performances as executive producer of "Americans!"

And Valdovinos isn’t the only one hoping for “¡Americano!” will help the story of Dreamers like him reach a different audience.

It was one of the main things Max Gonzales says he had in mind when his organization, Chicanos Por La Causa, decided to invest $1.75 million to help fund the show’s run in New York.

Chicanos Por La Causa is an Arizona-based nonprofit organization that focuses on community development. And become an executive producer of “¡Americano!” is a big step for the organization, says Gonzales. The arts, he says, can be an “innovative way to do advocacy”. There is a long history of arts linked to political activism, he says, such as the famous engravings of a skeleton holding a basket of grapes that highlighted the harsh conditions farm workers face.
As Arizona voters prepare to weigh a ballot measure that would restore in-state tuition for Dreamers like Valdovinos, Gonzales says he supports “¡Americano!” is another important way to spread the word.

“We really wanted to be part of the show because of its significance and its strength,” he says.

‘I’m American’

“Americans !” officially opened its off-Broadway run at New World Stages on May 1, and the show is scheduled to run through June 19. From there, its backers hope it will be destined for Broadway.

No matter what happens next, Valdovinos says he’s thrilled to see the show’s message spread, even if the performances are too painful for him to watch.

Tony Valdovinos (right) stands next to Sean Ewing, who portrays Valdovinos onstage in

In one issue of the series, “Dreamer”, the character Valdovinos – played in Phoenix and now New York by Sean Ewing – recounts a ballad of belonging:

It’s my house

My heart, my soul

Who can say that this great country that I have sworn to defend is no longer mine?

I’m not alone

My roots are sown

Who can say that this great country that I have sworn to defend is no longer mine?

I’m not alone

My roots are sown

All I ever knew was that I’m American

It’s my house

It’s a message that Valdovinos hopes will resonate beyond the political arena as well.

“I hope someone who is at least close to the mentality I was in back when everything seemed impossible, realizes that it’s possible just by changing a little perspective and having a little more courage throughout your journey, no matter where it is,” he says.

He knows how quickly fortunes can turn. And even when he’s not in the audience, he’ll clap “¡Americano!” to succeed.

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