Friday, July 4, marks the 100th birthday of the Statue of Liberty. The Mark Taper Forum’s current show, “Green Card,” concerns the immigrants attracted by Miss Liberty’s torch from the days of Ellis Island to the time of the boat people. Here are points of view on JoAnne Akalaitis’ play from writers whose families came to the United States from Korea, Mexico, Germany and Ireland: Sophia Kim finds “Green Card” patronizing. Victor Valle thinks it strikes a nerve. For Mark Wurm, it’s bad rhetoric. For Dan Sullivan, it’s good poetry.

It is the closing scene of the first act of “Green Card.”

The stage darkens as the slicing sound of a helicopter--a 20th-Century metaphor of impersonal police or military terror--subsides and a Salvadoran refugee, played by Jesse Borrego, repeats a story we have already memorized.

The refugee tells us how the wealthy lady he has worked for turned him over to the immigration agents, how these agents beat him with sticks and then how they him hauled off to El Centro Detention Facility, that “big piece” of treeless dirt surrounded by barbed wire under a blazing sun reserved for those awaiting deportation.


“It is really a jail,” he says. Finally, he adds, “El Centro is near Los Angeles.”

With mathematical efficiency, playwright and director JoAnne Akalaitis has subtly introduced a new element into the equation of the American immigrant experience. As a nation of immigrants, our common experiences of flight from oppression to freedom, the humiliation or terror of legal or illegal entry and dreams of success are experiences that reveal our common humanity.

Akalaitis drives this theme home again and again throughout this collage of memory, dance and farce: The immigrant’s suffering makes him or her human to us.

But the daring, if not always clear, juxtaposition of histories and ethnicity goes beyond provoking sympathy or outrage. El Centro’s proximity to Los Angeles also implies our moral responsibility for our immigration policies.


Throughout the second act it becomes clear, as we focus on Los Angeles as the new melting pot, that the characters of Marshall Ky, Hmong tribesmen and the tortured Central American peasants are immigrants because the United States is a world power in some way responsible for the wars or the death squads from which they have fled.

Thus, in addition to enduring our xenophobia and racial bigotry, the new Asian and Latin American immigrants must bare another burden: They are painful reminders of past defeats and cold and hot wars still being waged by our government.

Near the end, in the scene titled “Dying in Your Dreams,” Akalaitis’ hauntingly poetic vision of soul loss explores the duality of immigrant identity. For the Hmong of Vietnam and Laos, as well as the peasants and Indians of Latin America, this New World of mass consumption and alienation can cause a disorienting rupture with their ancestors and myths. The results: deep psychic wounds carried inside like a void or a ghostly self hidden from view.

Akalaitis, however, does not propose political solutions. The final scene begins without having resolved the questions she has raised. She cannot. The audience must decide whether cultural pluralism or homogenization will prevail, whether the dialogue of cultures that is Los Angeles will produce a bold new American hybrid.


But Akalaitis does provide a brilliant metaphor of the future: immigrants waiting at a Los Angeles bus stop as if waiting for the sun. Somehow, the landscape is different. These would-be passengers are not just an assemblage of foreigners. What was once mystery to us--their most intimate longings, pains and dreams--can be plainly read on their faces.