‘Bravest Woman in Mexico’ Sees Her Story on a New York Stage
Until last week, Marisol Valles García, a petite, soft-spoken 23-year-old with rather severe rectangular glasses, had never visited New York, never ridden in an elevator, never dined in an Italian restaurant. And she had never seen a play.
But on Sunday, she attended “so go the ghosts of mexico, part one,” a drama by Matthew Paul Olmos at La MaMa E.T.C. that is based on her life. In a program note, Mr. Olmos calls it “a poetic impression of what Marisol did for her country.”
In 2010, Ms. Valles, then just 20, accepted the position of police chief of Práxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, a small town in northern Mexico. Ms. Valles, a criminology student, had originally applied for a secretarial position in the department, but after the decapitation of the former police chief, no one volunteered for the top job, and she agreed to take it, earning the media sobriquet “the bravest woman in Mexico.”
But at a news conference on Monday morning at La MaMa, seated alongside her lawyer and her older sister, Ms. Valles appeared very shy. Speaking through a translator, she quietly described her experience watching the play:
“It was very difficult for me to relive and see enacted on the stage many of the situations that happened, many of the deaths.”
Mr. Olmos, a native of California who often visited Mexico as a child, said in an interview that he began researching a play about the Mexican drug wars in 2008, spurred by the reports of mass casualties and the seeming media indifference. “There are thousands and thousands of people dying right next to us, and we don’t talk about it,” he said. But even as he amassed material, a play refused to emerge. “I didn’t have a story,” he said.
Then a news feed led him to a series of articles on Ms. Valles, one of a number of women thrust into high-level law enforcement roles. Her nonviolent approach to the cartels — hiring unarmed women officers, repurposing the police to aid children and families — moved him and led him to create the first play in a planned trilogy. When Sam Shepard won the first Ellen Stewart Award and was invited to select a young playwright for La MaMa to produce, he chose Mr. Olmos, who offered this play, which continues there through April 28.
Mr. Olmos is not the only playwright to have taken inspiration from Ms. Valles. The Unga Klara Theater Company in Stockholm is currently staging “Marisol,” another play based on her life.
Bernardo Cubria and Laura Butler Rivera in “so go the ghosts of mexico, part one.”
Like “so go the ghosts of mexico,” Ms. Valles’s own story has an ambiguous ending. After four months as police chief, threats from the cartels provoked her and her family (a husband, an infant son, her parents and two sisters) to flee across the Texas border in March 2011 and request political asylum in the United States. (Some Mexican officials dispute this narrative.) Other women in similar positions have disappeared or been murdered.
Mr. Olmos’s play opens with the Marisol character attempting sex with her husband in a junked car and ends with his violent death by machete. The playwright described Sunday’s performance, with Ms. Valles in attendance, as “surreal.”
“I would often look toward her seat nervously to see any sort of reaction,” he said. “Afterward, while at the talkback with her, I felt this true fear.”
Ms. Valles admitted that she felt nervous, too. As she does not speak English, Mr. Olmos provided her with a synopsis in Spanish, but even so, she said she found much of the play, which relies on ample symbolism and abstraction, confusing. “I couldn’t understand very well what was going on,” she said. Still she observed that the play “exaggerated some things.”
“Some things were true to my story, and some just weren’t,” she said.
Ms. Valles noted several specific discrepancies between her own life and Mr. Olmos’s drama. “Those elements that deal with my conversations with my husband are not necessarily 100 percent accurate,” she said. “The fact that he is killed in the play is not true.” Speaking afterward, she said that she had found his onstage murder very frightening, though she declined to elaborate.
She also drew a distinction between herself and the character of Marisol, played by Laura Butler Rivera. “The character was more nervous than I was,” she said. “I was very firm in my convictions and my dedication to the job.”
Re: ‘Bravest Woman in Mexico’ Sees Her Story on a New York Stage
IMO (based on reading the review): The play distorts the actual truth. I find this disturbing... as did Marisol herself admits.
I hope that someday, the story of Maria Marisol Casteneda,now known as La Nena de Laredo" is publicized in books, play, movie, documentary.
La Nena de Laredo (as a internet-network pioneer) courageously used her journalistic and computer skill to fight crime and narco-cartel evils. She risked her life knowing what nightmarish horrors awaited her if she was identified. .... Sadly, identified, she was!
In late September, of 2011, she was captured and taken to some horror chamber to be tortured... then, decapitated, dismembered, and displayed nude at the prominent Columbus monument of Nuevo Laredo (which features a sphere and spire).
In a disgusting act of criminal symbolism, La Nena's head was placed on top of the monument's sphere, resting on a computer keyboard (see picture).
Other posters here on BB, may want to submit the names, profiles, and stories of Mexican women they admire as crime fighters and martyrs.