By Jaime Zahl
Organización Latino-Americana of Eastern Long Island, popularly known as OLA, is kicking off its 2016 season of events with a one-night-only performance of the original play “Soy Maria,” written by the advocacy organization’s newly instated executive director, Minerva Perez.
The play, spoken entirely in Spanish, tackles the issue of domestic violence in the Latino-American community. Ms. Perez originally wrote “Soy Maria” five years ago based on her experiences serving as The Retreat’s director of residential and transitional services, running a 24-hour domestic violence crisis shelter. She said the play’s focus did not stem from any indication that domestic violence is more prevalent in the Latino community; rather, it stemmed from the taboo surrounding its discussion.
“In the Spanish community, although we’re in the 21st century, there’s still a stigma,” Ms. Perez said. “Your mother tells you that, ‘That is life. You have to suck it up.’ I think this is important because it gives people a voice. It puts a face on the problems we have within the Hispanic community.”
In order to portray that sense of community, Ms. Perez wrote the play as a series of 16 monologues—each read by a different character. She said she wanted to convey that a victim of domestic violence is never in it alone—there is always someone else who is a witness, or who will be affected by what’s happening to the victim. “There’s going to be a whole community of people that are connected to this victim of domestic violence ... it’s not just how we look at domestic violence, as one single victim. It’s the entire community of so many different socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s everywhere,” she said.
Playing the lead role of Maria, a woman trapped in a domestic violence situation, is radio personality Ana Maria Caraballo. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Ms. Caraballo moved to the U.S. to study radio and has climbed the ranks in recent years to become promotions director for JVC Broadcasting, which includes popular Long Island radio station La Fiesta 98.5, where she hosts the morning show.
Ms. Caraballo, who has worked with Ms. Perez on four other productions including an all-Latino staging of “The Vagina Monologues” in Bridgehampton, said that “Soy Maria” struck a nerve when she first read it a few years back.
“When I was in high school … I was a victim of that type of violence—more psychological abuse than anything—with my ex-boyfriend,” Ms. Caraballo revealed. “And you don’t think that it happens at that young age, but it does and you stay there because you don’t tell anyone. You don’t tell your parents, you don’t tell anybody.
“And I’ve seen it,” she continued. “I’ve seen it with my family. I’ve seen it with relatives. I’ve seen it with friends, and they go back and they stay and then something bad has to happen for them to understand it. Sometimes they had the opportunity to look for support and not just say, ‘This is the cards that I was given, I have to deal with them.’ Because a lot of [victims] feel guilty too.”
For this particular production, Ms. Perez decided to alter the original ending. Looking to make an impact on the audience, she had written a tragic end for Maria. Taking into consideration the real-life death of Lilia “Esperanza” Aucapina—the Ecuador native who was found hanged in Sagaponack late last year—Ms. Perez opted for an alternate conclusion.
“I wrote that five years ago, so it had nothing to do with her,” Ms. Perez said of the original script. “But because of her, I wanted to change the ending and make it a happy ending. Not just happy, but a hopeful ending.”
The entire evening of entertainment, which is titled “Soy Maria, Soy Mujer,” or “I Am Maria, I Am Woman,” will also feature the drum stylings of Chilean musician Carolina Fuentes of the band Mr. No Shame, as well as a series of spoken word poetry presented by local performers.
“This is a celebration, essentially,” Ms. Perez said. “It’s a celebration of the beauty, the power, the triumph of a Latina woman ... And it is a celebration because that kind of strength and spirit is hard won. It can’t just be given to you. ... You have to win it hard and that’s what Maria shows everyone.”
“Soy Maria, Soy Mujer” will take place at Guild Hall, 158 Main Street, East Hampton, on Saturday, April 2, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11.54 for general admission and $22.09 for reserved seating. Visit soymariasoymujer.eventbrite.com.