A ‘Dreamer’s’ plea to us: ‘I am not your enemy’

ALEX ALPHARAOH in “WET: A DACAmented story.” Photo credit: Ray Shaw

BOSTON – “I am not your enemy.”

Alex Alpharaoh says it with power and conviction that you wonder why anyone would doubt it.

But he knows that even as he says it and has the courage to put himself out there, there is a  possibility his legal right to stay in the  country that has been his home for almost his entire life could be snatched away.

Arts Emerson is presenting his one-man show “WET: A DACAmented Journey” at the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre at the Paramount Center through Nov. 25.

Alpharaoh has been living in the U.S. since he was three months old, brought here from Guatemala by his 15-year-old mother, who spent weeks crossing the Mexican desert with him at her breast. It could have been over even before it began, as his mother struggled to find water in any form, her breast milk dried up, and he grew weak and one day had a seizure.

His mother’s desperate pleas were for help were heard by a Good Samaritan, a woman who breathed life back into the baby and then fed him herself. They finally made it to Los Angeles, where Alpharaoh lives today as one of 850,000 “Dreamers,” people living and working in America under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, commonly known as DACA.

Cue the shifting sands of politics today. President Trump recently moved before the U.S, Supreme Court to end the program, which lower court rulings presently prevent him from doing so. Stay tuned.

Alpharaoh said as a young child growing up in LA he was often bullied and singled out as someone probably lacking “:papers.”

He asked his mother one day: “What are papers? Do we have papers?” only to have her burst into tears.

The lack of those papers didn’t stop him from graduating from high school and college, becoming a successful social worker, father and artist in Los Angeles.

When he publicly came out about his undocumented status, it stunned many friends and co-workers who had no idea.

Why “WET?” To put it in his own words from a recent interview: “I said I have to stand up, I have to tell my story. Performing it in front of audiences was a way for me to say I’m tired of hiding. I’m a human being. I deserve to be seen, and as a person I deserve to be heard.”

Growing up, domestic violence scarred his family life.  His mother left for a long while when he was 8 to learn English and earn college degrees, and he describes the anguish when his father, a car painter, died when he was 35, when Alpharaoh was only 16. “Why did you leave me?”

Even the road to attaining DACA status was fraught with roadblocks. One by one, he checked off a long list of requirements. He checked every box instead of one, and eventually he settled a charge against him that could have been the impetus for forcing him to leave the country. On May 1, 2013 he was approved for the DACA program.

Alpharaoh had to cut through  a never-ending string of red tape as he navigated the maze that is the U.S. immigration system. That included a four-day visit to Guatemala to visit family, with no guarantee he would be allowed back into this country or even see his 15-year-old daughter again.

That’s because he journeyed there on what is called “advanced parole.” Because his original entry into the country was never documented, he had to establish an official point of entry before he could apply for citizenship.

The tale is told with theatrical intensity,  building the suspense, anguish, and the uncertainty of the situation. He will get back into the country, of course, and even get a “welcome home” from the customs officer.

WET” reminds us of the power of “reality theater” – real stories from real people, living in the moment.

For decades now, it seems  the country has stumbled in finding a way that would allow people such as Alpharaoh to “come out from the shadows.”

In the final moments of “WET,” Alpharaoh makes a plea for the 14 million people estimated to be here illegally and the 850,000 living here under DACA, who came here as children, not by their own choice.

He turns to the audience and states his case, finishing with two powerful sentences.

I am an American,” he said. “I am not your enemy.”

The ArtsEmerson production of “WET: A DACAmented Journey.” Written and performed by Alex Alpharaoh. Directed by Brisa Arelli Munoz. At the Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre at the Paramount Center. Artsemerson. org.