A classroom in Condon Hall on the University of Oregon campus is a full house at noon on Thursday, Oct. 17. But the people there aren’t waiting for class to begin; they’re waiting for the cast of “We Are Neighbors” to take the stage. The room is full of community members and students who have come to learn the intricate and complicated stories of immigrants living in Lane County.
According to the plays manager, Cosette Adamson, “We Are Neighbors” is about immigrants in Lane County and how they got here.
“Their struggles, their resilience, their life here in Oregon, how they were treated and friendship,” Adamson said.
The full-length version, “Now, I Am Your Neighbor,” follows a plot nearly identical to that of the current iteration, but is significantly longer and typically performed in a formal setting with more cast members and longer dialogue. “We Are Neighbors,” the touring version, is scheduled to perform twice each month for the next few months in and around Eugene in different locations.
The play first started as a show that was paired with a photo and quilt exhibit touring around the area nearly 20 years ago. Recently, It’s resurfaced as a play and photo exhibit that tour separately to address the issues that are currently affecting Lane County.
CALC and Minority Voices Theatre adapted the current version in 2017. The play blends together aspects of the original and new interviews with members of marginalized communities in Lane County.
The interviews feature a wide range of people from all different age groups, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. A few of the stories covered include: DREAMers, Syrian refugees, Muslims and undocumented immigrants. Local playwright Nancy Hopps cultivated a narrative that stitches together the stories of local immigrants in a way that it can be presented in a dialogue on stage.
The cast constantly rotates, but each actor is specifically chosen for their role to accurately portray the storyline of the character they depict. With this in mind, many of the actors on stage are immigrants currently living in Lane County who struggle with similar issues as their characters. “Thirty percent of the cast are immigrants and another 30% are first generation,” Adamson said.
CALC is a social justice organization that has existed within Lane County for over 50 years. SInce the 1970s, They’ve fought for the rights of immigrants and enforced human rights, safety, inclusion, peace, equity and justice as an active part of every institution and community in Lane County. They hope to inspire compassion, empathy and a desire to fight for social justice through this play and their traveling photo exhibit.
“A lot of people are aware of immigration issues in the back of their head, but it can be good to bring it to the forefront and tell people what they can do to help,” Adamson said..
CALC sponsored four social justice-themed murals that were painted by youth members of the Lane County community, and the nonprofit brings music and poetry to events and rallies throughout the community. They also have several programs for advocating shelter rights, promoting equity, resisting bigotry and challenging militarism. With the help of staff members and volunteers, they work year-round to bring social justice issues to the forefront of the Lane County community through art, discussions and events.
The production of “We Are Neighbors” can be performed free-of-charge at any school, agency, place of worship or community event. The photography exhibit that features the stories of Lane County immigrants can be booked for one-month showings.
“It is a message of empathy. It’s really easy to judge people based on their accent or where they came from or what they look like, but if you actually take the time to ask ‘Why did you leave your country?’ and ‘Why did you come here?’ that you discover that they have good reasons for that,” Adamson said. “I think that when you understand people’s stories, you’re much more understanding and respectful to them.”