Cătălina Florina Florescu
I came to the States to experiment with exile. I came here to see how it feels to be dual. I was born in Romania. I earned my Bachelor’s from University of Bucharest, Romanian Literature (major), American Literature (minor); I hold a Master’s and a PhD in Comparative Literature from Purdue University (specializations: comparative theatre & medical humanities). At Jersey City Theater Center, I am the New Play Series and JCTC Playwrights Lab curator. At Pace, I teach honors, interdisciplinary courses in theater, cultural studies, cinema, and writing. I am a published author with books in permanent collections at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and prestigious universities: Transacting Sites of the Liminal Bodily Spaces (literary criticism; medical humanities); Disjointed Perspectives on Motherhood (mothers in literature & motion picture; feminist criticism), exhibited at the MLA, Chicago; Inventing Me/Exerciţii de retrăit (memoir, in Romanian), book launch at Craiova; Of Silences (philosophy; theater; art). Transnational Narratives in Englishes of Exile (cultural and literary criticism; immigration; Englishes and plurality) was exhibited at the MLA’18, followed by a book launch at the U of Chicago and another at Columbia U. 2017 marked my debut in poetry with The Night I Burned My Origami Skin, poems read at Symposia Bookstore and showcased at the Poets House, New York, and the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference.
My next goal is to see my plays performed. Tracus Arte, a publisher based in Bucharest, has published the Romanian version of the plays. Their English version will be published in 2019. With “Mia,” I had a reading at the Romanian Cultural institute in NYC and was also a guest speaker at Harvard. With “Suicidal Dog & Laika,” a staged reading directed by Marcy Arlin, an event that took place at TheaterLab in New York City. The play also had a talk in Berlin titled “Playing a Game Called History.” With “The After/Tastes of Life,” I had a dramatic reading at the Museum of Romanian Literature in Bucharest. “Mia” and “Suicidal Dog & Laika” will soon have staged readings directed by Haldan Ozbilgin and Olga Levina, respectively.
I am working on a volume of short stories “Not/Yet” and on a collection of various dramatic pieces, “What I Couldn’t Say Out Loud.”
I presented at New York University, Harvard, Sorbonne, Columbia, University of Bucharest. I have been awarded several grants.
More about my professional activities: https://www.catalinaflorescu.com/
To all my loves from A to Z
An actor enters the scene. He should pass for a teenager, 13 years old. The clothing should also transmit the vibes of his young age. He appears to be poor. Do not cast a child in this role, though. He hums as he enters. He holds a chalk and starts drawing relatively quickly on the floor. As he speaks, he draws, facing the audience intermittently. Every now and then he stops drawing, but resumes it almost immediately. There is an organic connection between the boy and the chalk. The monologue and the drawing are intertwined.
My name is Alegrías. Well, it’s not my birth name, really. It’s my nickname. You see, my parents were deported in 2018, exactly one year ago. They were farm cropping and toilet cleaning, decent, beautiful, hard working people. I remember… (Hesitatingly,) I think this happened to me. Sometimes it’s hard to confirm my own past, being alone and all. Well, I am not alone-alone. Look, I am with these (points to the piece of chalk and to what he has been drawing). My parents used to call me Alegrías, and when I asked them why, they said, “Well, son, that’s easy. You brought life into our lives, you made us happy and complete.” I asked them, “Why is this the only Spanish word you say to me?” My mother made an angry face, as if she would have wanted to expose her hardened tears accumulated over the years, tears that now resided only in her body. She did not say a word, and I heard father whispering something in Spanish to her, but I couldn’t tell you here (pause) because I don’t speak Spanish. “Why don’t you teach me your birth language?” My question remained unanswered. Almost always when I asked it, I heard dad saying to mom, “Mujer, cállate!” They could never look straight into my eyes and admit their mistake, or guilt, or just be brutally honest and tell me why they did not teach me Spanish. So, I had to change my strategy. I asked them once about my extended family. I remember, my father, who was a gentle man passing for a tough one, with hands chopped because of years of working in dusting fields and soles growing another skin from all those miles walked from countless farms to our place… I remember him saying I did not have anyone else but them, and, even so, if asked about my family I should say, “We are all fine, thank you, who wants ice cream?” I should never reveal my nickname either and once I almost betrayed them and said, “I go by…, call me.., las alegrías, las alegrías,” and when I was asked what I was saying, I replied in a hurry, my voice splitting in distress, increasing its pace, as if followed by shadowy monsters, “I heard this in a dream. I don’t know what it means, really, who wants ice cream?” Of course, one can say we are all in a dream. But mine ended. There was a knock on the door in the middle of the night. Men wearing uniforms on which I could read I.C.E., but no cream; they were holding their hands on riffles, yelling, “Are you Fernando Borrador?” My father said, “Yes, sir. I am.” And they pushed him out of bed. They did not bother to ask my mother’s name. They pushed her out of bed, too. One said, “A wetback always marries a wetback.” And he laughed and then spat on the rug, the very old rug my parents brought from Mexico when they thought they would be happier on the other side of the border. I poked my head out of the blanket and screamed, “Mom! Dad!” Then, another officer approached me. My mom was trembling, almost fainting. “Do not take the child, please! I beg of you.” They pushed her and ordered her to “Shut up!” This woman has been told too many times to shut up. Imagine the stories she could have been able to share, now all gone. A deleted history. Mine. And hers. And ours. Like these ephemeral drawings, you see them now, but the rain makes them disappear. The rain does not care, it is greedy and wants new stories, over and over again. Ah, you want to know what happened after I had disclosed I was there? The men formed a circle and started to whisper something. I was not scared. I was not because nothing made sense and when nothing makes sense, when men burst inside your humble space in the middle of the night to wake your family up, that’s not normal, that’s abusive; so, yes, I have a simple logic: if it does not make sense, I do not worry, it’s not real, it’s a dream. It will go away.” (Beat) This one would not go away, though. My mother said, “Leave the child here, I beg of you. He is a D.A.C.A., protected under the law.” The men laughed so hard, the walls of our place were shaking. “Protected? Woman, you are muy loca. This is a new administration, so, law, shmlaw…” He did not finish his insensitive thoughts. Another man entered our place and said, “What’s the holdup, bro? Let’s go, we have to catch a hundred by dawn. That’s the order we got from our superiors.” Aside, I said to myself, “Catch them? Were they talking about invisible fish in an invisible pond?” They formed that circle again and while they talked, my father said to me: “Son, your mother and I will be crossing. We will be crossing a piece of earth. That’s all.” Mother nodded holding back tears. She knew that, this time, she had to make herself shut up for my sake. I mean, the tears were all going inside her body in chunks, I could see them traveling with difficulty inside her body. I did not cry. The last thing my parents, now in chains, said to me, was: “Mi querido, mamá te ama.” And father said, “Papá también te ama.” They were pushed off of our place and I heard them saying, while the van was revving up its engine, “Alegrías, Alegrías, take care of you, son…” The words were vanishing, but it was not raining, except inside of me. The words were disappearing, taking my parents away with them. I stayed in bed for days. I had water and something to eat. One day, there was a knock on the door. I rushed to answer thinking they came back: “Mom! Dad! You are home!” I opened the door. Two women were standing there holding a file. One said, “Are you William Frank Moses Borrador?” “Yes, ma’am, that’s me.” She said to the other, as if I was invisible, “This kid… his parents really tried hard with all the names.” The other replied, “Tried what hard?” The first woman said, “Sometimes I wonder if you are dumb on purpose or you really are.” That made me smile. My mother used to say something similar to dad when he was saying dumb things. The first woman said, “Look, William sounds American, Frank German, and Moses, well, this one has a touch from the Holy Bible. But then, boom, Borrador, the identity is revealed in an instant. Betrayed by the last name. You can’t run away from who you were born to be.” I edited this in my head and was left with, “Betrayed by my last name. Betrayed by my last name. Betrayed.” The other woman was and was not exactly listening and for an instant it felt like they completely forgot I was standing in front of them. I said, “Hello,…” and that brought them back to reality. The first woman, opening the file, said while shaking her head, “Not good…. Not good,” because that’s (sarcastically) the best way to start saying anything to a child. The other gently poked her to look at my sad, perplexed, and most likely empty face. The first woman said: “Your parents are gone, right?” “Yes,” I said. I asked, “When are they coming back?” She replied, “They are not.” The second woman added, “Not right now, little one,” and she opened her purse and gave me a lollipop. “What?” she said looking at the first woman, a little bit annoyed, a little bit embarrassed. “You have not cured your addiction for crappy food, have you?” The second woman said, “Leave me alone. The therapist says I need them. I have severe oral fixation.” “Start smoking again,” the other said in a mean tone. They kept forgetting I was there. It was bizarre. “Where are my parents?” I asked. “Who knows?” the first woman said. She continued,” Who car…,” but did not finish because the second woman covered her mouth. “Why are you here? To take me to them?” “No, that’s not possible. To take you…” she stopped. She looked at the other woman and said, “You are used to crappy things. You say it.” The second one looked into my eyes and said, “Hi, my name is Amelia, and I work at an agency that helps kids like you. We are going to take you there. They have food and toys, and they speak all sorts of languages. Most of them speak perfect English. It will be fun.” “But I don’t want fun. I want my parents.” “I am afraid that’s not possible.” She then added, “Hurry up, we have to make nine other stops. Our shift ends at noon.” The first woman, who had started to circle the room inspecting it disappointingly, said, “Hey, kid, do you have anything you’d like to pack before we go?” I said, “This carpet. It was my great-great grandmother’s.” They gave each other a look, but did not say a word. I was starting to break off the shell of my childhood and innocence and read signs and looks differently, with my heart and my eyes, with my mind and my past. I don’t think I was a child after that day anymore. Who needs my childhood anyway? It’s not happy. It makes people uncomfortable. I was dying inside of me, desperately wrapping myself with all the memories of mother and of father, with us, in the tiny half kitchen/half living room making alegrías and hearing them singing songs and telling me in a soft voice, “You will have a bright future here. You will not suffer.” We put our fingers in the bowl. It had toasted amaranth seeds and honey and, for a second, we stayed together like that. I will never forget that moment. We touched our hands amid that stickiness. It was beautiful. Now I am wrapping my body and mind, inside and outside, with that memory. They cannot take that away from me. It’s forever mine, like my eyes that are my mother’s and my hair that is my father’s.
Stops drawing. Stands up.
My name is William Frank Moses Borrador. You can call me Alegrías, too, but only after you have said my whole full name. I am thirteen years old. I will grow in a foster home. My parents have been deported for no reason. Is this my home, my country? To whom do I belong? I do not know when or if I will ever see my parents. Nobody wants to tell me anything about their whereabouts. I have started to learn Spanish. I dream that one day I will meet them, run towards them, hug and tell them, Mamá, papá, qué alegría haber finalmente encontrado. Nadie nos separará de nuevo.
There is this kid at the foster home and at first he only spoke Spanish and everybody ignored him. But there was this big backyard and I had my chalk and I started to draw and name in English all the things that I was drawing and then he wrote their Spanish names. The rain washed them all off, of course, but this time we knew… (As he is about to say this, a projector may show images related to this reality per director’s choices) We grow inside cities that we never saw but imagined, we grow inside us parents whom we lost on account of cruelty, we grow inside us free, open lands without barbed wire fences, we grow bigger and bigger inside of us until we spill over all those who thought we could be ignored, ridiculed, and disrespected. (Once he is over saying this, the projector stops)
What we own is our protected territory. No borders. No papers. No deportation. There is alegrías in my body, tingling my insides. And then I had an epiphany, a reality appeared before my eyes, a reality that no rain could ever wash away: nothing and no one can erase my past, my parents, and my identity. I am Mexican. I live in the United States. I am learning Spanish. I am determined to work hard. I think of mom and dad daily, and I know they wanted me to be here for a reason. I don’t fight anymore with my ghosts. I respect my parents’ wish and look at the horizon; I know that people can learn how to love and how to care. As for those full of hatred? They are nameless, truly, fodder for their own nightmares.
Out of his pocket he takes a small box full with powder and puts the powder over his hands and smacks them. The idea is to let the audience in a dust, similar to a trail left by a truck’s tires deepening its marks on roads that seem to never end, more and more trucks collecting immigrants to uncertain futures. He exits the scene. He comes back.
“My name is Borrador. It means eraser in Spanish. Erase me, if you want. But think before you do that. Think if you are truly scared of me, or if you are afraid of who you may have become.”
The monologue ends with the boy removing a barbed wire fence (or a paper with a drawing of a barbed wire fence), which up to that moment had been hidden, and instead of it he should be drawing a line, a line that we all know will not be able to divide countries, but will disappear when the first rain drops touch it.
There are several online recipes for alegrías. Here’s one: https://www.godairyfree.org/recipes/alegria-amaranth-candy