Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles

International Festival Mexican Dancers

Mojada is the Spanish word for the derogatory term wetback. A word used in English to denigrate undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Before this connotation was coined, the word originally meant wetting or soaking. Medea is a Greek tragedy by Euripides. In his play, Medea, wife of Jason of the Argonauts fame, helps him steal the golden fleece, the pair then steal away. She is later betrayed by him, leading her to exact revenge.

Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles is a modern retelling of the Euripides play, set in the City of Angels. Medea is a shy seamstress and Jason is an enterprising go-getter. Jason embraces his new life in America, while Medea hates it, but cannot go home. Acán, their son, follows his father’s lead towards Americanization. Medea misses her home and cannot forget the traumas of their journey north.

Jason is seduced by his boss, Armida, an LA developer, who had not gotten the #MeToo message. She first steals Jason and then Acán. She then confronts Medea, and threatens her with eviction from her house. Pleading, Medea wins a one day reprieve. She uses that day to make Armida a dress that she had once requested. It is a magical dress. A dress once worn, transforms itself into a snake that kills Armida. Then still in a rage, Medea kills her only son with a machete.

This is a grisly end for Mojada, which is often comical and light, but that’s Greek tragedy for you. You get the same result as with a Shakespearian tragedy, but in fewer acts, where everybody dies in the fifth act. Greek tragedy is a source for several of playwright Luis Alfaro’s works. Alfaro has even reworked this play, when restaging it in other cities. At ninety minutes and one act, it is a short play. Some of the dialog was in Spanish, making some plot points difficult to understand, but also adding to the play’s authenticity.

It is in this concept of authenticity that Mojada seems to have differentiated itself from another popular telling of the modern Mexican immigrant story, as told in the novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. Much of the criticism of Cummins and her book originates with the fact that she is not Mexican. She is an Anglo. Charges of cultural appropriation have been leveled against her. This smacks of racism or maybe reverse racism, but it is also on a slippery slope. Where do you cross the line when telling someone else’s story? This question is especially pertinent when your retelling comes from a publishing pinnacle. There is very little room at the top. One person’s story can supplant another’s. 

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