Holiday Traditions
8:00 am
Thu December 22, 2011

Pastorela shows life between two cultures in Yakima

There’s a Mexican Christmas tradition called a “pastorela.” And it’s getting a new twist in Yakima.

A pastorela is a play about the shepherds’ search for the baby Jesus. This weekend members of the community will perform a pastorela that draws on the real-life experiences of Latinos in the Northwest.

You start to get a feel for how the Yakima pastorela is a little different when the angel Gabriel appears to a group of shepherds to announce the birth of the baby Jesus.

“Say it in English,” says the children's chorus.

A bilingual show

The Yakima pastorela, like most of its cast, is bilingual. And the shepherds that Gabriel sends to search for the baby Jesus? They're teenagers hanging out at the Yakima mall.

“Has anyone here seen a baby in a manger in downtown Yakima?”

Erika Sanchez is the daughter of immigrants from Mexico. She says this take on a pastorela speaks to the experience of many in the Latino community. They straddle two worlds.

“It plays with boundaries of culture," Sanchez says. "And I'm fluent in English of course, but I love that it shows my culture. I'm still American.”

Written by a priest

The pastorela was written for Yakima five years ago by a Jesuit priest and has continued to evolve since then.

It’s an example of how Latin American immigrants adapt their traditions to life in the U.S. That’s according to Alma Rosa Alvarez, a professor of Chicano literature at Southern Oregon University.

“It has some vestiges of Mexican culture, but the way you see bilingual figures or certain characters played out, it certainly is creating a new type of narrative,” she says.

For some, that narrative hits close to home.

'... now he's gone'

Adela Robledo plays a single mother waiting at a U.S. Immigration office in the play. And in real life, she's now a single mother too. Robledo says her husband was recently denied legal residence after living here 20 years.

He had illegally over-stayed a previous visa. He can’t come back for another decade.

“I mean, we never thought something like that would happen to us," Robledo says. "But now he’s gone.”

At the rehearsal, the cast was still trying to perfect the last scene -– a showdown between Gabriel and the demons – the fight between good and evil.

It isn't quite like a traditional pastorela. It's something new.