She was told to go back to Cuba on a banana boat when she was growing up in Broward. Now award-winning actor and playwright Elena María García strikes back in the world premiere of ¡Fuácata! or a Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe at that Arsht Center February 23.
The Cuban colloquialism “fuácata” is tricky to translate, but it’s quite onomatopoeic. “Think of it this way,” García says. “It’s a backhand right across the face. A wakeup call. A punch in the face. A woooooo! moment.”
In ¡Fuácata!, a one-woman show with 24 characters, García explores what it means to be a Latina in today’s America. She follows the journey of Elena Flores, a first-generation Cuban-American special-events planner simply trying to survive her chaotic Miami day. “Every time she thinks she has a grasp on something,” García explains, “some obstacle gets in her way. Boom! ¡Fuácata!”
García is no stranger to fuácatas in her life. Born in Philadelphia to a Cuban doctor father and teacher mother, she moved with her family to Miami when she was 7 in the early 1970s. Two years later, they relocated to Broward. “We got a lashing up there,” she says. “My siblings were blond and quickly blended in. I was a brunette and got called a Spic.”
But García was a rebel. “I refused to pronounce my name in English.” She also refused to budge when it came to acting. “I was 5 years old, sitting in the living room, watching Shirley Temple in The Little Princess,” she recalls. “My mom was vacuuming. I begged her to turn off the Electrolux. Pointing to the TV, I said, ‘Mami, that’s what I want to be!’ She sighed and kept on vacuuming.”
There would be many more sighs, as well as family opposition and even interventions. “My family used to say, ‘You’ll starve to death, and everyone will think you’re a prostitute,’” García recalls.
Eventually, the family accepted her passion for acting, but she remained keenly attuned to the stigmas surrounding a woman’s place in the world — a reality that informs ¡Fuácata!, in which all but six of the 24 characters are women. “My characters are mostly Latinas,” García says, “South American, Central American, Cuban, Puerto Rican. But there’s also a Jew and a non-Hispanic white.”
García worked with director and co-playwright Stuart Meltzer of Zoetic Stage to craft the voice of a Miami Everywoman through comedy and satire. Flores, the main character, deals with her daily fuácatas with the help of Sophie, “a stereotypical Miami girl everyone knows and loves,” García says. “All she wants to do is be happy with the least amount of effort, and who can blame her?”
Although ¡Fuácata! is not overtly political, it features a staunch Republican Cuban-American. “She does her spiel as a campaign commercial,” García says. “She feels like she’s the only immigrant who deserves to be here. She’s against helping any immigrant other than herself.
“With the political climate we have now, anyone who wants to build a wall against immigrants will probably not come see this play,” García admits.
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The only somber moment in the play tells the story of Marisol, a street peddler from Honduras. García is moved by the horrific abuses of women in other countries, such as torture and human smuggling. “It’s the desperateness of where they’re at and what they’re willing to do just for freedom,” she says. “For Marisol, bottled water is more than freedom. It’s a dream.”
There’s also Estrella from Cuba, a former top accountant at the Tropicana casino who now pushes pastelitos and cafecitos in a cafeteria. “All told,” García says, “each woman fights something within her culture and comes out victorious in her own way, in the only way she knows how.”
García is proud of the play, which she believes was a long time coming. “Come on, Miami! Why did it take so long?” she asks. “It’s the first original play written by a Latina about Latinas performed by a Latina. I hope it will inspire women from other Latin American countries to speak out.”
¡Fuácata! or a Latina’s Guide to Surviving the Universe
February 23 through March 12 at the Adrienne Arsht Center's Carnival Studio Theater, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Tickets cost $50 and $55.