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Acting out: Latino celebrates his roots through theater
[su_label type=”info”]Column: Community in Focus[/su_label]
Francisco Rodriguez. Courtesy: Francisco Rodriguez
Francisco Rodriguez. Courtesy: Francisco Rodriguez

I’ve known Francisco since we were children. But our bond runs deeper than that.

There is a similarity we have that I think has been especially meaningful for both of us: We are both second generation Latinos. We both have chosen a bit of a different path than those of our parents and have tried to make sense of what to do with the biggest gift our parents have been able to give us: the gift of choice.

Francisco Rodriguez was born in the Mission District at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1988. His father immigrated to the United States from Zacatecas, Mexico in the 1970s and worked tirelessly in the fields.

“My father worked all day and all night,” Francisco said. “He sometimes only had time for a single snack on his work days a tortilla with a glass of milk, a snack we later shared when I was a little boy.”

That hard work paid off. Francisco grew up comfortably in Daly City where his father and mother raised him and his four siblings. Francisco fell in love with theater in high school, eventually receiving his bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts from San Francisco State University.

Francisco Rodriguez (right) performs in “The Learned Ladies” on SFSU’s Main Stage productions. Courtesy Francisco Rodriguez
Francisco Rodriguez (right) performs in “The Learned Ladies” on SFSU’s Main Stage productions. Photo Alandra Hileman

But making a living through theater seemed daunting for Francisco. He resisted his passion, opting for the practicality of a nine-to-five office job.

“It wasn’t a smooth transition making the decision to pursue theater,” he said. “I didn’t just graduate high school and go straight to college. I struggled with it. I resisted it. I tried living another life for while, a life in a profession that didn’t truly reflect my passions; a life that offered more stability, but it didn’t work. Theater and a creative life always pulled at me.”

After receiving his degree, Francisco fully committed to his art and spent a year interning with Bay Area Children’s Theatre while also performing in productions at Shelton Theater, Z Space and The Flight Deck in Oakland. He was auditioning regularly and getting callbacks. He was well on his way to building a career in the Bay Area… but in his heart, he felt that something else was missing.

“There was another side of me that I longed to understand,” Francisco said. “I have always wanted to move to Mexico and experience what it’s like to really be there and nurture that side of me, my Mexican side.”

Francisco has visited many parts of Mexico including where his father came from.

“My father is proud of me for completing college and I know he loves me, but sometimes I think he worries about me and what I’m doing with my life.”

We, as children of immigrants, have often talked about what our choices mean to our parents. How our parents can sometimes be perplexed as to why we do what we do. They provided so we could have choice and then the reality comes of what we do with that choice. This is especially apparent when we have so many different opportunities for choice and they seemingly conflict with one another. I remember telling my mother years ago that I wanted to study in Guatemala one day, the country she immigrated from, and her saying, “Oh dear, why do you want to go to Guatemala? Everything you need is here.” (“Ay Mija porque quieres ir a Guatemala?! Tienes todo que necesitas aqui”.)

My mother was not necessarily judging my desire. But her experience and perspective is that of someone who did not have choice when she was young. As second generation Latinos, our view of these countries includes a longing to connect to a culture that is in our blood, but that we have never known first hand. Our parent’s views may be of a country to escape from for better opportunity.

So now Francisco and I have to talk on WhatsApp because he is calling me from Guadalajara, Mexico. He took the leap and moved there more than a month ago. He has brought his passion for theater with him and found an acting workshop where he is now studying.

Francisco Rodriguez performs in “The Day the Crayons Quit” for the Bay Area Children’s Theater (BACT). Courtesy: Francisco Rodriguez
Francisco Rodriguez performs in “The Day the Crayons Quit” for the Bay Area Children’s Theater (BACT). Courtesy: Francisco Rodriguez

“There is a huge theater scene in Guadalajara,” he told me excitedly. “There are theater festivals and plays and art shows.”

Francisco knows this journey won’t be easy. He is adjusting to speaking Spanish all the time and trying to make sense of his move and what it means to his family. But he followed his heart and it seems that his destination will offer him the opportunity to pursue two loves: immersion in his culture and theater. And of course, he’ll have a tortilla with milk every now and then to always remember the hard work his family put in to get him here.

Story by: Elizabeth Veras Holland