Day Laborer Theater Teaches Worker Rights

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Day laborers gather in front of Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras.

Day laborers gather in front of Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras. (photo: Kat Madrigal)

“Theater gives me strength to deal with things and helps me understand that everything is temporary,” says Juan Jose Mangandi, a day-laborer and the Artistic Director of Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras (TJSF), or Day Laborers Theater Without Borders.

TJSF is project produced by day laborers, for day laborers. TJSF came to Wilmington for a work-site tour this summer. The Los Angeles-based theater group is made entirely of day laborers whose mission is to improve jornaleros (day-laborers) lives through educational storytelling. The tour features two plays, "La Salud y Seguridad es la Vida (Health and Safety is Life)" and "Todos Queremos Vivir en Democracia (We All Want to Live in a Democracy)." The latter was performed at Wilmington’s day laborers’ site, the Harbor Community Job Center. It focused on the meaning of democracy for people whose voices are rarely heard in public discourse about immigration and citizenship.

The Cornerstone Theater Company and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network partnered in 2008 to create the group. TJSF Associate Director Lorena Moran says, in Spanish, that the group is using art to teach jornaleros that they have rights and that they all deal with similar problems. She says the group is using theater to tell migrants' stories and be a voice for the concerns of the day laborer community.

Moran says that day laborers have so many things to worry about - like bills, family, citizenship status and health care - that the theater group provides a distraction for them, if only for 40 minutes.

“The reaction in Wilmington is always good," Moran says. "Everyone is very friendly and respectful.”

The plays are inspired by the lives of TJSF members and other jornaleros. Mangandi, the Artistic Director of TJSF, listens to the stories of his fellow jornaleros during group gatherings, taking notes and creating scripts extracted from their stories. Mangandi, speaking in Spanish, says he never thought he would write plays, but with the help of the Cornerstone Theater he learned about Theater of the Oppressed, or teatro del oprimido. He says he believes it’s important that he honor the stories he hears and learn from those experiences.

“I wanted to call the group 'Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras' because we all come from different places - and we are here,” Mangandi says.

Mangandi says it’s hard to keep a group for a long time because the life of the jornalero is nomadic, going wherever there is work. He invites day laborers from various places to join his group, but knows that they must love theater and art to want to commit to it because day laborers are missing work by participating. Members are given a small stipend for being part of the group.

Day laborers meet at Cornerstone to rehearse the original short plays. Mangandi says that they have also been invited into Latin American countries to do their plays so that people understand life in the US isn’t as easy as some may think it is.

“Some day laborers are living worst then they would back home,” says Mangandi.

He says  people in Latin America thinking about coming to the US have a right to know about the life of a jornalero before they take that journey. Mangandi says it can be a very dangerous life, but he has found a community that helps him keep strong.

For future shows and information, check out the Cornerstone Theater's Facebook page.

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About Kat Madrigal

Kat Madrigal grew up in Wilmington, Ca., and is a UC Berkeley alumna. She participated in the successful Communities United against Prop. 23 campaign in 2010. She created the Wilmington Wire, a community blog, as a way to inform residents about news and events in the area. The blog was featured in the LA Times. She now works with ShareFest as an Art Instructor. This summer, she is helping organize the first annual Relay for Life of Wilmington.

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