At 18, This Immigrant Discovered He Was Undocumented—Now His Story Is a Broadway-Aimed Musical

Special Features   At 18, This Immigrant Discovered He Was Undocumented—Now His Story Is a Broadway-Aimed Musical
 
After trying to enlist in the Marines, Tony Valdovinos found out he was actually undocumented. His story hits the stage in Americano!.
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Tony Valdovinos and actor Sean Ewing, who plays Valdovinos in Americano!

Harold Hill. Dolly Levi. Eliza Doolittle. Tony Valdovinos.

Okay. Maybe you don't know all of those names. That last one is mine. And I never thought I’d be in the company of these characters. But now, I too am the subject of an original musical. How that came to happen, I don't know. I’m still scratching my head. I suppose musicals often focus on outsiders, dreamers who have overcome obstacles standing in their way.

Well, I am an outsider. And I am a dreamer. But I am Dreamer, with a capital “D.”

Let me explain. I was just a kid on 9/11, but I remember that day in images: my teachers in tears, a person throwing themselves from a burning tower. My country, the United States, was at war. The tragedy of that day inspired me to stand up for my country. I spent the next several years wanting one thing: to be a Marine. On my 18th birthday, at last, I could pursue my destiny and, after graduating high school, went to the recruiting office to serve my country and enlist.

Recruiters asked for my birth certificate and driver’s license to start the process.

I didn’t have either. I didn’t think it was a big deal. The recruiter, on the other hand, seemed to think that that I was wasting his time.

He got angry and told me to go home and confront my parents. I did. It turns out, for all of these years, they had not told me the truth. I was undocumented. They had brought me to America from Colima, Mexico, when I was two years old. I had no idea. My dreams and my identity were shattered. In that moment, I became a Dreamer.

After graduating from Camelback High School in Phoenix, I tried community college. But then it became unaffordable as Arizona voters decided I had to pay out-of-state tuition.

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Sean Ewing in Americano! Jessica Alves

I was lost.

But sometimes, when you lose your way, you discover a different path. If the universe could not open for me, I could fight back. And that’s what I did. I became politically active, and made my voice heard.

I was the first undocumented immigrant to ever work at Phoenix City Hall. And while I did not get to serve in the Marines, I played a key part in electing a Marine, Ruben Gallego, to the United States Congress. I started my own consulting business. This is my country—the only country that I’ve ever known—and I have never given up on my dream to serve it. I just found new and alternatively powerful ways to serve.

Fast forward some years, I was approached by some people, writers and composers, who wanted to create a story of an immigrant. They had read an article about me. I met with them and I told them my whole life story.

Imagine someone calling you out of the blue and then a year or so later, you hear 20 songs involving the most intimate details of your life? Here were 17 artists investing their best talent in the depiction of some of my most personal challenges: confronting my parents infuriated at my discovery that I was not a citizen, feeling left behind when my girlfriend at the time enlisted and served, disappointing my family when I told them what I wanted to do with my life. Witnessing these moments in Americano, my musical story, moved me to tears. As hard as it was to revisit my pain, this journey is worth it to share the story of Dreamers and what their families endure. I hope it will put a smile on their faces and inspire them to keep their dreams alive.

On January 29, Americano! opens at The Phoenix Theatre Company. While it is my story, it is the story of so many.

And what will my curtain call ultimately look like? Will I raise my hand to take the oath of citizenship, or be deported? On the eve of being celebrated in a musical, the United States Supreme Court may force us to leave the only country we have ever known.

What a crazy, beautiful and incredible country this is. It is my home. I opt for living in the moment. I can’t wait to see the show. And I’ll keep dreaming. Now that is something worth singing about.

Americano! will play its world premiere January 29–February 23 at The Phoenix Theatre Company as part of its 100th anniversary season. The Broadway-aimed musical is produced by Ken Davenport, Quixote Productions, and PTC, and features an original score by Carrie Rodriguez and a book by Jonathan Rosenberg and Michael Barnard, who also directs. The musical features choreography by Sergio Mejia and arrangements by Sergio Mendoza with Marco Rosano. Tickets and information here.

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