We are here.

March 6, 2013 § 1 Comment

Los Angeles is a global city: people come here from all over the world, bringing their food, customs, and languages. Most of the time, that makes living here fun, or at least interesting. Other times, this global reach smacks you upside the head and demands that you pay attention to where people are from and how they ended up here.

Last week, it was the latter at a production entitled, “We Are Here.” 

A tall woman with dark skin stands framed by a spotlight on an empty stage. In an even voice marked by the lilt of her native Uganda, she tells us how she was thrown into prison and tortured by her government. Her offense? Campaigning for an opposition candidate.

One night, after more than a year of imprisonment, she was dragged her from her cell, beaten viciously, blindfolded and bound, shoved into a car and driven deep into the countryside. Her captors then began to argue.

“First one said, ‘You kill her,’ then another said, ‘Just leave her, wild animals will finish her off.’ And they argued like that until finally they drove off and left me. I expected to die.”

But Josephine Athieno did not die. She survived and after many hardships, she is here, in the United States, telling us her story, as do half-a-dozen other refugees and torture suvivors from Cameroon, Russia, El Salvador and Guatemala.

We Are Here - torture victims

You might think stories of repression, rape, torture, and death would add up to an evening of anguish, but in fact it was a display of human resilience and passion for justice. In part, that is because the story-tellers had found their way to the Program for Torture Victims, which since 1982, has provided physical, emotional, and social support to torture victims.

Dr. Jose Quiroga, founder of PTV, along with Ana Deutsch, told us, “The fact that [the performers] can get up on stage and tell their stories means they have integrated these experiences and have moved on with their lives.”

The production of “We Are Here” was the work of Hector Aristazabal, himself a torture survivor from Columbia, and his codirector Alessia Cartoni, of ImaginAction. They interviewed participants at length and helped shape their presentations, also adding theatrical elements and soundscape.

A deep bow of gratitude to the performers in “We Are Here”: Josephine Athieno (Uganda), Mario Avila (Guatemala), Edison Bandeeba (Uganda,) Masha Choporova (Russia), Rossana Perez (El Salvador), and Boniface Talla (Cameroon).

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