Borderlands Theatre

Barrio Stories Nogales

When & Where June 17 & 18, 2022 | Borderlands Theater, Nogales, Arizona

Reviewer Patricia Cassidy

Barrio Stories Nogales is a celebration of the history and heritage of Arizona’s historic Mexican American neighbourhoods in downtown Nogales, a border town in Arizona. It was conceived by Borderlands Theatre, Tucson in 2015 and the project is an on-going site-specific series intended to preserve and reflect the stories, people, music and places that made these barrios so vital to the cultural fabric of the Southwest. Barrio Viejo (also known as “La Calle”) and Barrio Anita become the primary subjects of the Borderlands theater project, each takingon a different process and presentation. Barrio Stories this year was presented over two nights on June 17 and 18th, so we drove down from Tucson (an hour drive) to see and hear some of these local stories.

The oral histories were projected onto Morley Avenue’s historic buildings. There were giant puppets and shadow performance artists doing their thing when we arrived and some of the live music for that evening included Los Velvets, Los Waldos, and ReneeGoust. These local musicians continue the rich musical tradition of “Ambos Nogales” which translates to both Nogales, Arizona and Nogales, next door in Mexico. There was a Welcome by the City from Mayor Arturo Garino which was nice. The giant Puppet play, Las Reinas, was a Nogales love story that took place during the competition for the 1958 Riena de las Fiestas de Mayo and the Shadow Theatre event later on in the evening told the story of Mario and Armida Villa and how through hard work, faith and community values they started a successful business in Nogales. There was also a Story circle event in the local Museum where lifelong residents of Nogales shared stories of important and interesting moments in Nogales history and of their own life journeys.

Apart from all this, there was continual large scale video projections on Morley Avenue’s historic buildings featuring interviews with 20 folks from Nogales who recalled their early life and culture in Nogales from the 1930’s through to the 1970’s. These video projections were my absolute favorite. They were outstanding. You could see them clearly, and these continual images of past life and events of the residents was the thick glue that cemented the whole evening together.

I have never seen street theatre like this before and it was amazing. The streets were packed, art galleries were open, kids were playing, old people were sitting, watching and smiling and the atmosphere was one of great local pride.

Nogales, AZ has been through tough time these past years with COVID, lack of visitors, and huge border and immigration issues plus “The Wall” which was a few feet from the celebrations. This event was a joy to see, and I hope Borderlands Theater keeps up this tradition.

© 2022 Patricia Cassidy