Mexican theater company scheduled to perform at Chicago festival denied entry into US

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A Mexican theater company scheduled to perform in Chicago is having to cancel their shows after they say U.S. immigration officials denied their visas to work in the country.

"It was such a shock," said Jimena Saltiel, producer of "La Tia Mariela." "We were all very angry, sad, and frustrated. We made certain expenses. We planned. We invested time and money."

The company was scheduled to perform four shows at the National Museum of Mexican Art, from Thursday through Sunday.

The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance invited the company to be part of the Destinos theater festival, which runs through October 27. The festival was scheduled to feature a dozen theater productions, but now it's down to 11.

Jorge Valdivia, co-curator of Destinos, said he saw Once Once Producciones' "La Tia Mariela" in Mexico. He wanted to share the story with Chicago residents as well.

"You are talking about a production that is spearheaded entirely by women. Let's start there. The songs, the music of Yucatan is also unique. For all these reasons, that's why I thought it was important for us to present it and bring it to Chicago," Valdivia said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said the government "cannot comment" on specific cases because of privacy.

In a written denial to festival organizers, the government agency wrote that the performance is not "culturally unique," and that organizers sent "insufficient" evidence to prove otherwise.

"It's sad we have to prove its uniqueness," Saltiel said. "This show, in particular, is very culturally unique, so it's quite contradictory."

Valdivia said it's partially political as well.

"It's not that their work isn't culturally unique. It's that the issue here is the people making the decisions are, unfortunately, culturally uninformed," he said.

The denial is bittersweet, according to Christine Perez of the Chicago Latino Theater Alliance.

"We shouldn't take these things for granted. We should go out and support our artists because they work really hard and we fight really hard," she said.

Perez said it's unlikely the alliance will appeal immigration officials' decision.

"You have no idea how many weeks or months it will take," she said. "It's just not likely we can do it all before the end of the festival."

As for Saltiel, coming to Chicago, or even the United States, doesn't seem like an option, even if they were granted visas to travel.

"I don't think this show will go to the United States. How can we try again, you know?" she said. "We aspire to have a theatrical industry like there is in the United States. But, after this, it's not both ways."
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