Barcelona Dance Company Speaks Out On Being Barred From Performing At The Los Angeles Theatre Center By Immigration Officers
A year ago, José Luis Valenzuela put his plans in motion to bring the award-winning performance artist, Marta Carrasco and her acclaimed political dance-theatre production Perra de Nadie (Nobody's Bitch) to Los Angeles. The trip, Carrasco's third as an artist produced by Valenzuela, was meant to be her farewell performance.
Valenzuela, who is Professor Emeritus at UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, founded The Latino Theater Company in 1985 as a laboratory for creating artistic excellence. With over 50% of Perra de Nadie's seats already sold for its eight day performance, things were going well. But then, just hours before the company's arrival, Valenzuela started receiving text messages from a member of the production asking for help. The company had been detained, separated, and interrogated in Seattle. Thus far, their ordeal had already lasted for more than three hours.
While scrambling to work things out, Valenzuela received an official phone call from customs with a message: Carrasco and her three dancers were being returned to Barcelona. "I asked, 'Why? Is there something wrong with their visas? Can I send a lawyer?' They (the customs officials) said no and that was it. The next thing I knew they were in Amsterdam."
Though their phones were confiscated, one of Carrasco's production members had stashed away an extra device and was using it to secretly communicate with Valenzuela. Texting from the bathroom, he explained that they had been escorted by five police officers to a plane and kept in isolation the entire time- even after they arrived in Amsterdam. "They felt mistreated, as if they were terrorists. They had no coffee or food. And they hadn't slept for a very long time."
Realizing that the production was now officially canceled, Valenzuela started working on informing the theatre's patrons about the unfortunate change in events. Wanting to spread the word as quickly and accurately as possible, he asked Carrasco to send a written statement about what happened, and posted it to Facebook. That's when things got weird. First, his personal page was made temporarily unavailable. Then the post and its comments disappeared, as if they had never existed.
Slightly spooked, but still undeterred, Valenzuela asked his marketing director to try posting the statement as well. While writing on Los Angeles Theatre Center's page, they were blocked by a pop-up message accusing them of spreading political speech. "It was really strange because this was not a campaign. I got a little freaked out because I thought, 'What's it about?' We are a theatre company in Los Angeles and this was for our community." *I contacted Facebook for comment on this article. They are currently investigating why this happened.
Statement from Marta Carrasco:
For Valenzuela, the precedence of this unprovoked attack on artists and freedom of speech is horrifying. "I'm Mexican, so I know the history of Latin America. I know what happened in all those countries during the 80s. First, they got the journalists, intellectuals, and artists and erased them because they were the only people talking about ideas and having a dialogue with the audience or with the community. I never thought I would experience something like this in The United States. Especially not over a dance company."
Though this debacle counts as a total financial loss--lost revenue from returned tickets and impossible to recoup funds spent on preparation including airplane tickets, services, technicians, and built sets--Valenzuela is more concerned with the implications of this thwarted cultural exchange: even if your visas are in order--as they were for Carrasco and her team--when dealing with customs, Homeland Security has the prerogative to negate entrance to anyone attempting to enter the country for any reason.
Sadly, no one from the Homeland Security, Customs, Immigration, or The State Department has been in contact to explain what went wrong. Perhaps we will never know, particularly since our governing system for accountability has been dismantled by the current administration. None of this deters Valenzuela from continuing to work towards improving the world. If anything, this experience has emboldened his resolve to continue his work.
"Our mission is to create dialogue between cultures and communities, so that people can begin to learn about each other and become more tolerant of others. I want the artistic community to be aware that this is a dangerous time. This (deporting artists without cause) should not be allowed in our society. This is not who we are as a country or as a people. People should be treated with dignity. They (Marta Carrasco and her dancers ) felt mistreated and abused and that's not who we are."
*This article has been updated to include new information.
Reporting by Juan Michael Porter II.