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      I Love America
    I like to be in America

    Lidia Ramirez's funny, sexy and tragic one-woman show "I Love America" dramatizes the boat people of the Dominican Republic who risk their lives to come to Nueva Yol.


    (Originally reviewed at American Place Theater in May 2001.)

    In the Dominican Republic you may be poor but at least you're happy, says one old-timer as he blissfully grills his favorite dish — barbecued chicken with Arabian sauce. So why does anyone need to risk his life on a raft trying to get to New York?

    "Those coños go to Nueva Yol," he says, turning the meat on the grill, "and they are surprised to find that the dirt in Nueva Yol is the same color as the dirt right here. It's the same shit!"

    Written and performed by: Lidia Ramirez.
    Directed by: Elise Thoron.
    In English and Spanish without subtitles.
    This is one of the characters created by Dominican-born, New York-raised actress-playwright Lidia Ramirez for her outstanding one-woman show "I Love America." In fact, he's the only one not desperately trying to get to America.

    The play's characters — based on interviews with real people — speak with a fearful, almost sacred respect about the "yolas" (invariably pronounced "jolas"). Yolas are the rafts on which desperate Dominicans brave sea, sun and sharks to get to Puerto Rico, giving them a chance to reach New York illegally. The yolas give and the yolas take away — they give the lucky ones a chance to make those big Nueva Yol dollars but they take fathers, mothers and children a thousand miles away, if they don't simply deposit them in the sea.

    Your experience of "I Love America" will depend a lot on your level of Spanish. If you're fluent, you'll get all the jokes, which Ramirez usually sets up in English before delivering the punch line in Spanish for added effect. The Latinos in the crowd were literally howling with laughter the night I attended, as Ramirez played characters like the "mojado" ("wet one") who tries to fool the Puerto Rican cops by flailing his arms Puerto Rican style while he speaks: "Yo no soy mojado, yo soy . . . Bo-ri-cua!" I guess if you're Caribbean you know exactly what he's talking about.

    With a smattering of Spanish, I caught enough of the jokes to have a really good time. If you understand no Spanish, you still won't be sorry you saw "I Love America" but you will experience it as a movingly tragic portrait of one of our city's largest immigrant groups — interrupted surreally by frequent peals of laughter.

    My only quarrel with the show is about its last vignette. The character of a teenager fashionably outfitted in hip-hop gear as he rides the subway home to Dyckman Street in Washington Heights was a big crowd-pleaser, funny and true to life, if maybe a bit exaggerated for comic value. But to end with this character suggests that he is the ultimate payoff for the life-and-death struggle that brings Dominicans here, and yet he's pursuing a phony dream. He boasts about how he's going to be a big star driving an expensive car with 20 mamitas (babes) in it — the rap-video ideal of life. It's not that this kid might not really exist; it's that he has no idea what life is about and he doesn't even represent the reality of Latino immigrants who work long hours cleaning apartments, washing dishes or sewing clothes for a living.

    Still, "I Love America" is a funny, sexy, poignant performance by Ramirez, a joy to watch and an emotional tribute to the people who sacrifice everything to come here.

    MAY 24, 2001

    Reader comments on I Love America:

  • American Dream   from Teresa, Nov 13, 2001

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