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Immigration drama finds different stage

Teens attend city-sponsored ‘compassion play’ about immigration at Rancho Pico

Posted: January 27, 2010 10:10 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2010 8:00 a.m.
At City Hall on Tuesday night, hundreds of grown-ups argued passionately over illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, at Rancho Pico Junior High School, the immigration debate among about 30 teens played out more thoughtfully - or at least more quietly.

Most of the teens hadn't heard a word about Councilman Bob Kellar's controversial remarks last week on illegal immigration until a teacher filled them in with a brief explanation.

"I was surprised that we have a councilman like that, who thinks like that. Or who would at least not keep it to themselves," 16-year-old Reid Walz said after the play.

The play "Wheels," produced by an area nonprofit, was brought to the Rancho Pico Junior High School auditorium as part of the city's "A Season of Diversity" program.

The 40-minute, one-act show tells a story about a Salvadoran-American teen who encounters people with varying views on immigration as he journeys to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get his driver's license.

Actor Bernardo Badillo performed all the roles.

The play's timing, held as the City Council prepared for an onslaught of commentary, was coincidental, community services administrator Janine Prado said.

As part of the same diversity series, a multicultural music program called "Share the World" was held Wednesday morning at Old Orchard Elementary School.

Before Tuesday night's play began, the teenagers stared blankly as project coordinator Lex Steppling mentioned what a "hot button issue" immigration is in Santa Clarita.

Steppling said his organization, ENCOMPASS, wants to bring an understanding of cultural differences and a sense of personal responsibility to California teenagers. Steppling said Californians between 12 and 19 years old are the most culturally diverse demographic in the world.

"We're not here to demonize anyone," he said.

After the show, the students were thoughtful.

"I think (immigration) is fine if some people have to escape problems they're facing in their own country. America is one of the leading countries for that. It's up to someone to help those people," Walz said.

His friend Thomas Henderson, 17, agreed, but was more leery about how immigration affects natives.

"Most gangs are not white," he pointed out. "Immigrants, their old country is gang land."

Nick Farrel, 15, said immigration is good - if it's legal.

"Illegal immigration is illegal. It should not be allowed," he said.

Cheyenne Keelinghamm, 13, was more forgiving.

"Unless they're criminals, they should be allowed to come here and make a living," Keelinghamm said.

Her twin brother Shane Keelinghamm said immigration isn't as bad as people say.

"The more the merrier," he said with a shrug.

Saugus High School Spanish teacher Maria Fulkerson, who sits on the city's anti-gang task force, said the world would be boring if everyone were exactly the same and spoke of the many freedoms Americans enjoy.

"In America, we have our freedom of speech," she said. "In that I may disagree (with Councilman Kellar), he has his opinion."


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