A cinder block, a hippopotamus, and unaddressed letters tell the story of women in Colombia fighting displacement and fear.
Lively music and singing birds played while the audience entered the room to see Pequeños Territorios en Reconstrucción at the Goodman Theatre. Everyday items, like toys, paper scraps and construction equipment, become lead actors that tell the astonishing story of displaced women in Colombia.
Pequeños Territorios en Reconstrucción’s premiere is part of 5th Destinos Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. Written by Teatro Linea de Sombra, the play is a documentary fable about the “City of Women” in Turbaco, Colombia. Political conflict in Colombia between left-wing guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries caused nearly eight million people to leave their homes, with sexual violence targeted at women. The “League of Displaced Women ” took it upon themselves to build 100 houses with their own hands and faith to find safety in their country once again.
Cinder blocks covered the stage recreating Colombian houses. In front of each block is a cardboard cutout or photo of every woman belonging to the city. As each photo is placed, descriptions of the women’s lives are given. Some are mothers who double as seamstresses, while others work to cultivate yuca. As endless names are given, an emotional connection is created between the audience and the women. We took a step into their lives and felt the weight pushed onto them by the violence. It is motivating to hear of such strong women fighting for a home and learning how to bring a city together. It feels like you know each resident of the city and watch them build each house brick by brick.
The toy hippopotamus brings humor to the audience, but the reality of the situation is a dark and serious matter. The hippopotamus symbolizes a criminal organization called “The Nápoles Ranch” in Colombia. The violence of these drug traffickers threatens the lives of the women and their children. The image of the hippopotamus left us with an eerie feeling that lingered in the room. It felt like the danger was creeping up behind our seats and the fear instilled in those women was now inside of us. My anxiety ran high for the women at stake, and it is dreadful knowing that their lives were run over.
The unaddressed letters are the lighthearted moment after learning of looming darkness in the city. The letters are produced at a workshop in the Hearts of Women community center. The kids in Colombia write to kids in Mexico, they speak of their lives and what they dream of for their future. The story of the letters trickled joy along the audience, and it was relieving to hear how hopeful children could be. It was beautiful to hear of their pure intentions and had me reflect on the importance of striving for more in life. I felt happiness for the children and thankful that they were able to leave a mark in their city.
The many components of Pequeños Territorios en Reconstrucción created a colorful stage and brought light to a dark and dreadful reality. The final scene reads, “They decided to paint their houses this way because they wanted their place to stand out, from a distance, as a luminous spot in the middle of a dusty field.”
To attend a production of the Chicago Latino Theatre Alliance, click here to view the Destinos 2022 lineup. It will continue through October 16 and showcases Latine theater artists and companies from the U.S. and Latin America.
Header illustration by Samarah Nasir