The Story Behind The Story

by Thelma Virata de Castro, Playwright


In 2016-17 I worked as a playwright and Community Liaison for Halo-Halo–Mixed Together Stories from San Diego’s Filipino American Community, produced by Asian Story Theater with the support of a Community Stories grant from California Humanities. We wrote short scripts based on historical research and interviews. A friend asked if I would like to interview him, but I didn’t know why. When we met I was surprised that he shared about domestic violence in his family. I later interviewed his mom as well. Their story became the basis for my script “Testimony”. It was powerful because of its honesty.

After the performances we had audience talkbacks on a variety of subjects explored in the production. I invited Anne Bautista, an immigration lawyer with Access Inc., to be on our legal panel. She helps undocumented victims of domestic violence obtain visas through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). I tucked into my mind the idea of working on another theatre project about domestic violence. A few months later, I received an email from Anne that she was starting the FIRE (Fellowship for Immigrant and Refugee Empowerment) program , a series of workshops to teach women about domestic violence, advocacy, grant writing, and public speaking. The participants would develop projects to bring back to their communities. I joined the Filipino community group. (There were also Latina, Middle-Eastern, and Vietnamese groups.) We served as mentors for a workshop about healthy relationships to young women in Silayan Filipina’s (a women’s service organization) Karilagan program.

Access Inc. FIRE Group and Silayan Filipina Karilagan participants and their mothers
Anne Bautista and Thelma Virata de Castro
at FIRE program graduation

My project was to write a play based on interviews that explored domestic violence in San Diego’s Filipino community. In partnership with Access Inc, the project won a California Humanities Quick Grant. With Asian Story Theater, it was awarded a Creative Catalyst grant from The San Diego Foundation. Our community partner is the Philippine Consulate, San Diego, and our artistic collaborator is MaArte Theater Collective.

The Image

Photo of Anonymous Interviewee
Photo courtesy of anonymous interviewee

The San Diego Foundation asked for photos to document the project. Since the majority of interviewees elected to be anonymous, I asked them to send me a picture that represents them. One interviewee asked me to take a picture of her wearing the t-shirt above that had personal significance to her. The Audre Lorde quote represents the spirit of this project. As I explored the issue of domestic violence, I learned it wasn’t easy to separate it from other issues, such as sexual harassment and human trafficking. I found that domestic violence is related to mental health, religion, gender roles, parenting, and even sexual education. Domestic violence is not particularly high in the Filipino community compared to other communities. It’s in every community, regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and socio-economic status. Domestic violence affects all of us.

The Title

The title “The Fire in Me” comes from a story an interviewee told me about her mom’s reaction to her breakup with her high school boyfriend. Her mom didn’t know about the boyfriend’s abusive behavior. When they broke up, the inteviewee’s mom said it was okay because the boyfriend didn’t match her “fire”. The interviewee thought that was ironic. Her mother had never seen the boyfriend’s anger. In the play there are additional meanings to the title. We invite the audience to discover them.

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