Play set at El Tiradito 'homegrown' story about activism, tradition in Borderlands

A play about the legend of El Tiradito Wishing Shrine is taking place at the landmark itself from Thursday to Sunday. 

The theatrical piece was the result of a partnership between Teatro Dignidad, who commissioned it, the Coalición de Derechos Humanos and the University of Arizona Confluence Center for Creative Inquiry’s Fronteridades program.

“El Tiradito” was written by playwright and UA associate professor Elaine Romero, directed by Alida Holguin Wilson-Gunn and produced by Alba Jaramillo. Jaramillo is also the play’s lead actress.

“We are all Tucson-based artists,” Romero said. “The play is truly home-grown.”

Romero’s play recounts the legend of the shrine’s origin. The shrine is a symbol of spirituality and solidarity in Tucson, especially for memorializing the lives of people who died crossing the desert to the United States.

“El Tiradito has been an important part of my own life, and when I was asked to write this play, I felt so honored,” Romero said. “And I am so proud. We have a cast of seven people and it’s so immersive.”

Romero said that while they were deciding where to stage the play, they had options for different places but she felt it would be right to hold it at the site.

“When you’re there, outdoors and you have all the lights, it is so special,” Romero said. “I also wanted it to be accessible. In case there’s people who maybe do not feel comfortable with going to a theater, maybe they’d feel comfortable coming here to El Tiradito.”

Romero said the history of the shrine feeds into the “artistic purpose” of the play. For close to three decades, the Coalición de Derechos Humanos has gathered at El Tiradito to keep the memories of the migrants who died along their journey alive in the collective narrative. 

Regardless of whether the migrants are named or remain unknown, they are remembered at the shrine monthly by the activists in the group.

“Not everybody understands the experience of the migrants who journey to the United States,” Romero said. “And it is especially sad because this country is this beacon of hope for everybody except for them. They come here and they are mistreated.”

Romero said the play consists of three storylines that weave together. One of the storylines focuses on the original mythos of the shrine, which is the story of a man named Juan Oliveras who was killed by the husband of his lover. 

El Tiradito was dedicated to this legend. The second storyline is about someone who is traveling across the Sonoran Desert and the third is about an activist.

“The purpose of this play is to showcase the reality of the lives of migrants and this desert land we share across the U.S. – Mexico border,” Romero said.

Romero said that while it isn’t marketed as appropriate for children, there is only “a murder and a curse word in the whole play.” 

The performance begins each night at 7:30 p.m. The suggested donation for general admission is $20 and $15 for students, military members, teachers and artists. Romero posted on Facebook that anyone who is unable to pay for admission should send an email to [email protected].