PHOENIX – Growing up, Tony Valdovinos dreamed of joining the Marine Corps. But that dream ended when he learned he was living in Arizona without documents.
Born in Colima, Mexico, he came to Arizona at age 4 with his family. He was 18 in 2008, when he graduated from high school but couldn’t go into the military or afford college with in-state tuition because he wasn’t a citizen.
“I was very young at the time, and I saw that the whole world was moving without me,” said Valdovinos, who remembers how it felt to see his peers move on to the next chapter of their lives.
But he discovered a new mission: to inspire other young Dreamers like him. He began helping people register to vote and to elect politicians who would resolve the immigration status of people who were children when they entered the country.
In the end, he made a bigger impact than as a Marine. His story is told in the musical “¡Americano!”, which was created for the Phoenix Theatre Company in 2020 and now is the first original Arizona musical to debut off-Broadway. It opens at New World Stages in New York on March 31.
The so-called Dreamers were brought by their parents to the United States when they were very young and only know this country, but they don’t have legal documents. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, this group can apply for permission to stay in the United States under certain rules.
But DACA has been in jeopardy since it was created under the Obama administration. It was suspended by the Trump administration, though President Biden is trying to preserve the program. Still, their future in the U.S. remains in doubt.
A few years ago, Phoenix Theatre producers had the idea of creating a musical with a positive story of someone pushing through obstacles in life. But the path to that story wasn’t easy. Artistic director Michael Barnard and his team searched for the right story without success.
Then writer Jonathan Rosenberg discovered Valdovinos when he heard him speaking on the public radio program The World, and he introduced Valdovisnos to Barnard, who co-wrote “¡Americano!” with Rosenberg and others.
“We decided we wanted to do a human story, a positive story, a story about a Dreamer who was so committed to this country, and who deserved and wanted to be a citizen,” Barnard said.
David Adame, president and CEO of Chicanos Por La Causa, which helped get the musical to New York, said it’s important to share the message that Dreamers should be supported.
“We’ve been invested from the beginning,” he said. “Now we’re going to take that call to Broadway. ‘¡Americanos!’ is an American story that deserves a national stage.
“We need them (Dreamers). Our workforce will never be fulfilled and, as I said at many economic councils across the state, it will never be fulfilled unless we invest in our community, we invest in these Dreamers and we invest in these DACA students.”
Valdovinos, Chicanos Por La Causa and the production team are excited to see the play off-Broadway. Valdovinos also hopes this platform will inspire others to do more for their community.
“So I hope that in my actions, they find another way to serve,” Valdovinos said. “ With luck, the Dreamers who are lost like I was will find some direction and hope that allows them to stay standing and keep fighting.”