Tomás and the Library Lady – Representation Matters on Stage
Our first family visit to San Antonio’s Magik Theatre could not have been for a better play. Tomás & the Library Lady is one of the most heart-filling stories that could have been brought to the stage.
Tomás & the Library Lady is based on the award-winning book by Pat Mora. My family already loves Pat Mora because she does an amazing job writing our stories Mexican-American families’ stories. Playwright Jose Cruz Gonzalez brings this particular story to life by adapting it for stage.
The book is a simple story of a young Tomás Rivera who travels with his family from Texas to Iowa to pick vegetables on a farm. This story is so familiar to so many Mexican-American families in Texas. Tomás finds a friend in the library lady after his grandfather sends him there to read new stories. Tomás’ family is big on storytelling.
On stage, this story comes to life with new parts of the story. On stage, the cast sings bilingual songs and reveals to us an ugly but very true and common storyline of how Tomás was punished and judged for speaking Spanish at school. He would have nightmares of his teacher calling him lazy. That addition to the story is what makes this adaptation of Tomás & the Library Lady an important and moving play – for all ages.
The audience gets to follow the story along of a boy who becomes an amazing storyteller thanks to the belief of his grandfather and the library lady. But on stage, the audience gets to hear the sounds of the language. This is important because it’s our language that at times can begin to define who we are. This whole story is about finding who you are within the stories we tell and who we treat the people who surround us. In the play, the audience also gets to see how Tomás deals with his nightmare and finds his confidence thanks to the people who love him.
Overall, this play is full of culture – our culture – the Mexican-American culture. This story introduces families to a man who went on to introduce so many of us to Mexican-American stories that we didn’t have without him. This play made me laugh out loud at many of the mishaps of living in a world of two languages and two accents. It also made me cry about some of the offenses in the lives of migrant families. And, it made me feel grateful that families will know this story, too.
What I didn’t know I wanted from the play was exactly what I got. After we watched the play, my son told me how he felt about it – he felt proud to have seen a character whom he felt he related to and was Mexican-American ‘like him’. And, he was happy that this book and this play was available for everyone else to see him in it, too.
I can’t say it enough – representation matters. When we see ourselves in books, on stage, in stories, we confirm our stories do matter. When others see us in books, on stage, in stories, they, too, confirm that our stories matter.
Kudos to the director, cast, and crew! It’s still amazing to me that this was only a four-person cast. Each actor delivered an outstanding performance.