By Daniel Mendoza
Returning with a triumphant third run, Sandra Delgado’s La Havana Madrid will take you back to a time that people often remember as simpler, and show you how complicated it really was for a lot of new Americans.
The scene is 1961 Chicago. The characters are Colombian-, Cuban-, and Puerto Rican-Americans and the story is their search for a connection in a segregated city. La Havana Madrid is a celebration of how music can create a feeling of belonging, and how many people’s stories have been untold in order to hide a past of violence and discrimination towards people of color. Unfortunately this has also erased histories of joy, love, and victories for nuestra gente.
The show begins with an incredible musical number, the first of many, led by our narrator, portrayed by Sandra Delgado, and backed up by the incredibly talented Carpucho y Su Super Combo.
The audience is immediately entranced by the live music and then we meet Maria (Aysette Muñoz), a migrant teenager. She talks about the pros and cons of moving to the new country as she adjusts to life in foster care and communicates with her family, whom she is excited to see once they finally can afford to come to America. We then meet Henry and Maruja (Tommy Rivera-Vega and Alix Rhode), respectively, a displaced couple who at the time of the show are celebrating their anniversary. We hear about their first meeting and falling in love, we learn about their families before Henry leaves for Chicago to find work, so he can bring Maruja over. We hear about their struggle to feel like they fit in, and how La Havana Madrid’s music made them feel at home and like they belonged.
Carlos (Victor Musoni) tells us about how he found his place through photography and documenting how urban renewal was really more like “urban removal.” We can’t help but feel happy when Tony (Mike Oquendo) finds his human side again through radio after feeling as if he lost it. Myrna (Ilse Zacharias) goes from the top of the world after being crowned queen of Chicago’s first Puerto Rican parade to on the ground because of the 1966 Humboldt Park Riot. A young man (Marvin Quijada) tells his story about facing deportation on multiple occasions and working hard in order to play his music before revealing that he grows into one of the musicians that has been playing on stage all night, band leader Carpacho himself.
With that reminder, you remember that all these people are real. The stories you couldn’t believe were real, were endured by individuals who not only worked through these difficult and traumatizing times but persevered. Myrna went on to be co-founder and executive director to the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance, to make sure stories like these are told. (You can also find and an interview Gozamos had with Myrna before last year’s Destinos: 2nd Chicago International Latino Theater Festival here).
Just like all the characters in Delgado’s La Havana Madrid, the show makes you feel welcome. It also fulfills a very important task of making Latinx people who have family who have immigrated feel heard. Obviously Delgado’s show can’t tell everyone’s story but it can make the public aware that our stories exist and that we will not stay silent.
With live music, beautiful scenery, and important stories that must be heard, I highly recommend this show to anyone who will listen. And if you had the chance to see it in one of its past incarnations, spread the word and bring someone new.
La Havana Madrid has been extended and runs through June 30 at The Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.