Feathered Bastard

Joe Arpaio, Paul Chagolla and the Veil of Fear in The Tears of Lives

I don't know if playwright James Garcia modeled the character Captain Montoya from his new play The Tears of Lives on Deputy Chief Paul Chagolla of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. But as portrayed by actor Andrew Valenzuela, Montoya is a chilling vision of Hispanic self-loathing, a man driven to browbeat arrested illegal immigrant Regino Ortega (Masavi Perea), and to pursue Ortega's children, who've been left stranded by their day-laborer father's incarceration.

True to the experience of many undocumented, Ortega is only in MCSO custody for a short time before being turned over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for deportation back to Mexico. Two of his three children are U.S. citizens. The eldest, Olivia, is undocumented, but she doesn't know it yet, and it is on her that Captain Montoya ultimately sets his sights.

The play is actually more about the trials of the Ortega family as they deal with their father being deported. A school counselor tries to help the three kids, but soon she too is drawn into a dangerous scenario where the same Montoya is threatening to arrest her for aiding immigrant kids on the run.

Still, what rang particularly true to me was Montoya's menacing presence. Equal parts goofy, thuggish and stupid, he adds to this personality stew the single-minded pursuit of illegal immigrants, no matter how defenseless or small. He describes what he's doing to Ortega as "hunting," and he makes sure that Ortega knows he's going out of his way to track down Ortega's offspring, despite Ortega's refusal to cop to having any family at all.

By comparison, the ICE agent Rodino, played by James Rivas, is only driven to do the minimum necessary. There's a funny exchange between Montoya and Rodino, where Rodino has to explain to Montoya that he's Greek, not Hispanic like Montoya, and that Greek is not a "Latin" tongue. For Rodino, deporting the undocumented is just a job. For Montoya, his self-hate is projected outwards, and collaring illegals is a way to prove his superiority as a law man. 

The real-life parallel seems to be to Deputy Chief (and former Captain) Paul Chagolla, a Hispanic cop charged with helping to round up illegal immigrants as part of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's regime. It's not a perfect parallel. Chagolla's not guilty of Montoya's misdeeds. But Chagolla is in the odd position of working for an agency that persecutes his own people.

Arpaio's not a character in the drama, yet the fear that empowers Montoya and cowers his prey is the product of Arpaio's rule. (Arpaio will be the key figure in an upcoming comedy by playwright Garcia, American Pastorela: The Saga of Sheriff Joe, which debuts in December.)

The production was only supposed to run for the weekend, but it's been held over for at least another week. Performances are August 21 through 23 at Playhouse on the Park, 1850 N. Central Avenue (in the Viad Building at Palm and Central), , and all proceeds go to aid the financially-strapped Macehualli Day Labor Center. For times and to buy tickets, see centromacehualli.org. And for more pics of the production, check out newcarpa.org.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons