Juana in a Million and the Struggle of Latin American Women: An Interview with Mexican Director and Actress Vicky Araico Casas

Mexico today means different things to different people. For me, it is a country whose real face is hidden behind the holiday adverts featuring white sandy beaches and mariachi players in sombreros. In reality, Mexico, much like other Latin American countries, has an amazing cultural heritage and is haunted by the ghosts of the past, where following the “Conquest” by Spanish forces over 500 years ago, many Mexicans are still being discriminated against. Luckily there are many investigations and social studies conducted today that shed light on some of the difficulties encountered by Latin Americans both in their home countries and abroad; all in the hope of somehow, somewhere along the line, improving their situations. Being a woman anywhere requires a lot of effort and bears a lot of challenges. Not just in terms of living up to others’ expectations but also living up to our own. In the west our experience as women is possibly somewhat easier than for those who are living in a countries considered to be part of the third world. Vicky Araico Casa in ‘Juana in a Million’ Vicky Araico Casa in ‘Juana in a Million’ In Vicky Araico Casas’ critically-acclaimed one-woman show Juana in a Million, Araico Casas raises the plight of Latin American women. Araico Casas says the following about her show: “The story of Juana becomes a quest of any woman to find a place where she can fully exist. With this show I think we are not trying to give answers so much as to give body and form to some of the questions…” Originally designed for a four people cast, Araico Casas took it as a “challenge and a pleasurable risk” to perform it as a one-woman-show. She claims that it allowed her “to become a better performer, to know herself and her work in a very special way.” Araico Casas, a Mexican, originally studied to be a lawyer because she thought that “having a sense of justice was enough to become one.” She explained that it is “very difficult to practice” this profession “at least in Mexico”, because it requires “thick skin” and “blind sight in order to get the results you want.” She felt that she was doing “bad acting” all the time. This is when she decided to change her path and she feels that acting is a “more human, a real way to give voice to others”. In Juana in a Million, she offers a collection of voices inspired by the life experiences and struggles of the women of Mexico and Latin America in general. You have lived in London for 3 years but before that you lived in Canada. How does London differ in terms of immigration, perception of the Latino community and acceptance? “It is a bit hard to say. While I was in Canada, I had no papers so I was always under the shadow. There was not a clear way in which I could belong to a ‘mainstream’ community. Whilst in London I had papers, a student visa. Things are so different when you have the right status. I have never experienced discrimination in London, but I know of others who have.” How much of the play was inspired by your personal experience? “The point of departure of the play was my own experience in Canada, and this was later nurtured by the experiences of other people, immigrants from different countries in London. Juana is a fictional character, a kind of mosaic of stories from others.” You believe that women stand a better a chance in London than in the South American countries. Why do you think that women are less likely to want to go back to their home countries? “I guess women feel more free in the UK. Free to dress in a certain way without being judged, or being harassed in the bus or on the street. That empowers them.” How do you see the situation and status of women in Mexico today in general? Do the individuals’ background – of native or Spanish descent- still make a huge difference today? “I see a lot of discrimination against women. Although it is changing, women in Mexico still suffer a lot of violence, abuse and work discrimination. Machismo is still a big problem. Classism and discrimination prevail in Mexico. I guess it is a consequence of the Spanish conquest, and the order established 500 years ago. People from Spanish background or with European traits are still perceived and treated as ‘better people’.” According to the “No longer invisible” survey conducted by Queen Mary University though the Trust of London and LAWRS), the majority of the Latin American community in London are employed in low paid and low skilled jobs. Do you think that their chances are pre-determined or do you think that everybody has the same chance and it is all down to the individual to make the best of themselves? “I used to think that every human being has the power to modify their circumstances and therefore make the best of themselves. I know today, that some circumstances are very powerful and can restrict a human being from becoming the best of themselves. Everyone’s chances are influenced by their background, not determined though.” What are the deciding factors, do you think, for an immigrant to ‘make it’ in London? “Language is the first thing. You need to speak English, after that you need knowledge, vision, qualifications, talent and hunger”. What did you think of the overall reception of Juana in a million in London? Do you think it got the appropriate attention and was its message passed on and understood by the audience? “I think the message reached its audience in an effective way. Of course, we are a Fringe production and we couldn’t get as much attention as we wanted until the last week of the run when the word of mouth was doing the work, and people started to talk about it. The feedback we got from the audience was extremely good. People were moved and filled with questions, which I think was one of the things we were aiming to do: to create a dialogue. As it happens, different audiences engage in different ways and whatever the play stirred within them was very specific to who they are, and the experience they have. However, I think the message of humanity behind the word immigrant and behind boundaries came across well.” The show has finished a few weeks ago and you are now back in Mexico performing it. How was the play received back in your home country, in comparison to London? How do the people relate to it? “The people have loved it. They find it funny and heartbreaking. They relate to it in a different way, because we are Mexicans and it hurts us to know the terrible conditions people live in here in Mexico and overseas.” Juana’s character comes from Tierra Caliente, Michoaca, where terrible things are happening because of the Narcos. According to narcospehre.narconews.com the Mexican government “under the newly empowered President Enrique Peña Nieto is promoting the nation as a rising economical contender while downplaying the disastrous war on drugs that have claimed more than 125,000 lives since the bloodshed began in 2006.”. Even though there are plans to transform the “hotbeds” of these cartels, much of the nation is living below the poverty line. What is your view on the situation? “People in that region experience the extortion of the Narcos. The ‘fees’ they have been paying from over 12 years went from money to now having to give their women and daughter to only get them back when they are pregnant. People got sick of this and have armed themselves to fight this. The army and the government are doing nothing. The people of Tierra Caliente have told them where the narcos are, but they don’t do anything. They are trying to keep it as a secret but people need to know about this.” What are your plans after Juana in a million? “I am touring Juana in a Million to United Solo Festival in New York and Oxford in the autumn this year. I am also starting to develop a new piece; awaiting for inspiration and exploring some ideas. Ready to work and collaborate with others.”
By: Melinda Szucs

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