Intergenerational conversations within immigrant families are complicated by differences in language, experience, and the trauma of immigration. Ana sits down with playwright Jenny Sánchez to see how she worked through her own family’s immigration story with her virtual, Spanish-language play, Abue!
July 9, 2021

Episode Host(s)

Ana, Host of Mosaic
Ana González

ANA: Hey everybody. It’s Ana González. This is Mosaic. When was the last time you talked to your grandma? Or grandpa? I talked to my last surviving grandparent, my abuelo Paco, on father’s day. The conversation was good, but it was kind of short, we talked about the weather. Lots of “chéveres” and “muy biens” and “hope to see you soons”.

It depends on the family, obviously, but it can be hard to keep conversations flowing between generations of a family, especially in immigrant families, where each generation has a different experience with language, culture, and identity.

My guest today, Jenny Sanchez, found sort of a workaround, a loophole to get stories out of her Mexican grandparents and create a space to explore them for herself in a play she wrote called Abue!. We talk about our grandparents, producing work in Spanish, and the importance of latinx representation in theater. Here it is.

ANA: I kinda want to start with your life growing up in Providence. Were you born here or in Mexico?

JENNY: So this is what I always tell people that first meet me. I was born in Providence, but I was conceived in Mexico. I think that's really important. but no, I was born and raised here in Providence. I went to Providence Public Schools since I was a little kid.

ANA: What do your parents think about you being an artist and, yeah, wanting to be a performing artist?

JENNY: My parents are very supportive, but I don't think they understood, like, what it would require. It is a lot of work until this day I'm still learning and growing. But I don't think they really took it seriously, like later on in life, I think.

ANA: Yeah. So the high schoolers, like, I want to be an actress. Like, okay, well, what are you going to do to make money?

JENNY: Yes, yes, I guess. Yeah, it all comes down to the money thing.

ANA: Yeah. So Abue! is this play, that you wrote about this intergenerational Mexican family, spanning, you know, two countries, four generations. And you really get to explore all the different dynamics of an immigrant family and all the different experiences and conversations that happen. And it's, I mean, it's so impressive, especially that you did it via Zoom. It is so engaging to watch. And so I just wanted to, to, like, compliment you as much as possible. But also ask you, when did the seed for this play start in your mind? When did you start writing and conceptualizing Abue?

JENNY: Honestly, I want to say kind of like, gradually. Even through my childhood, I was writing it without even noticing I was writing it. But when I officially said, “Okay, I want to make this into a play” was my last year in at Rhode Island College, my last semester. I remember, I was like, “Okay, this is it, I'm gonna graduate. What do I do?” Like, I was noticing, like, there was very limited roles for like, or stories that kind of resonated with, you know, my heritage or culture. And so I said to myself, “How about I make opportunities?” And so I said, let me let me write Abue!. Let me write it into a play.

ANA: Cool. So you started writing it in college. What were the obstacles in getting it created and then produced?

JENNY: it was really hard, because there wasn't a lot of people that can read Spanish. Yeah, it was, it was it was, I don't know what it was, because that originally it was in English. But then I was like, let me switch it to English and Spanish. But then I was like, “Let me just do it all Spanish.”

ANA: Yeah. Why did you choose that?

JENNY: Because I, for me, at that time, I was just like, I need to get back to my roots. Like, I don't want to forget where I'm from. The first language I knew was Spanish. And then I just happened to learn English gradually, you know? Yeah. That is one of the main reason, and also too, I remember I would do shows, you know, and, and most of the time, my parents couldn't understand. They were happy for me, but they just couldn't understand. And I just wanted to make sure that there was like, a space where, you know, my, my family, my community can, can be part of it too. Yeah, can laugh because, not only because the actor can act well, but also because they can hear the story.

ANA: Yeah. I hadn't ever really thought about that, that if you have a kid who speaks a different language, and you go to their school plays or functions, and you don't have a full grasp on that language, you're not gonna really get the whole experience.


ANA: I know that your family owns Casa Mexico, right?


ANA: So can you tell me a little bit and for those who don't know, about the best conchas in Rhode Island?

JENNY: Well, I don't know if I'm the right person to but yes, they have the best conchas. And I’m really happy, it’s running, it’s thriving. It’s been there, you know the best tacos for man, a long time.

ANA: So for people who haven't seen that, can you just give a short little synopsis no spoilers of what Abue is about?

JENNY: Ok, so, basically, it takes place in Providence, Rhode Island. It's a play that follows the journey of Mexican immigrant family that, you know, they want to follow the American dream. It showcases the story of Fernando and Marta. Fernando, who is very adventurous and he has this dream to be the first to open the tortilleria and distributor in Rhode Island. And Marta is basically this shy and timid, but very loving and nurturing woman who is the backbone of Fernando’s success. However, a lot of people don't see it. Because, you know, Fernando once said that he wants to but he just, he really is very ambitious. And through the course we just see, you know, a lot of family issues like machismo and Marta trying to gain a sense of power and respect, as, you know, someone that actually is making that dream come to life. Yeah, it's basically, Marta tells the story looking back to their granddaughter.

ANA: Can you explain a little bit about how it was presented?

JENNY: So, it basically was presented into, it was streamed through YouTube. And it was pre-recorded. So we recorded the scenes before and we just compiled them together into like, Act One, and Act Two, just like a normal play.

ANA: When you were staging Abue! for the Zoom, right? For the virtual experience. I mean, it just connects so well with the audience. I feel like the actor's portrayals and their emotions really connected with me and I can feel it even though they weren't on the same stage or in the same room even, and I wasn't there. How were you so successful in doing that?

JENNY: Honestly, it was all them. It was all them. And we had similar experiences. Most of them are first generation. And they’re the first generation to follow and pursue a career of acting, theatre. So we can all relate. So I'm very blessed because of that. And, and I think because they get where I'm where I'm coming from, and we all get where we're coming from. They can channel that it's like you said it's real life.


ANA: One of the main things that was striking to me and my experiences is the gender roles, and the machismo, and of the role of husband and wife and child and daughter, and how much guilt is laced in that. And especially in an immigrant family, right, like, “I sacrificed so much.” And the relationships between Fernando and everybody else, as the father figure who kind of, he's a little hot headed, he's so focused on his business. Was that something that you consciously decided, like, I'm going to explore this? Or was it just like, this is somebody I know? And I need to put him in this work?

JENNY: That's a really good question there. Originally, it was like, kind of like a flow, just create, like, just, it just needs to come out. But I'm noticing that it's kind of like, I was discovering that it was something I think I was trying to understand in my personal life. It’s something that yeah, it's personal to me, but other people can relate to it. They don't have to have a business, but I'm sure there's families where there is machismo. And fortunately you know, the new generation, it's, they're trying to make it better. So there, there's respect for both women and men. Now as the person that's looking at the show, when I got to see the show. It was kind of therapeutical [sic] because I was like, oh, wow, everything starts to make sense in my life, I'm like, Oh, wait, these things do exist. And hopefully, families that watch it can kind of say, How can I do better and in my family, how to balance between following your passion, but at the same time making time to be there for your family. And I think everyone struggles with that, right? Like, especially here in this country, like where you, there's still this idea of the American dream, you want to follow your dreams. But sometimes we get so carried away that we probably forget to call our loved ones, maybe our grandparents.

ANA: The character of Marta shows that gender dynamic play out, and I know it's a cross cultural thing. And we all experience like, like what we would call toxic masculinity and sexism, but in the Latinx communities, like machismo. Marta is the grandmother that I think so many of us that next people have where it's like, she held things together, she was dealing with so many different types of abuse, really, and holding the family as one and sticking with it, because she either had to or, you know, she, she kept the family afloat. And I think it's interesting that you tell the story through her as that she's a daughter, she's a mother, and she's a grandmother, she is Abue. At the end, you realize, “Oh, this is Marta telling this whole story to her granddaughter.” Why are those stories so important to hear? For like younger generations, but also audiences?

JENNY: It definitely, in my opinion, it's like you're learning from their experiences, and also, too, you're holding memories, whether it's good or bad that you can share to your kids. So that way they won't forget where they're from. Again, don't forget the good and the bad.

ANA: Yeah, I can relate to that. So much.

JENNY: Just recently, I found out from my uncles, because my family all saw my play, and they were so happy that they're like, oh, wow, that's something that like, this is like our culture, embracing our culture. And, and I guess, my uncle was telling me that my grandmother wanted to ... she was an actress, I guess, or she was very talented or something like that, creative. Mind you, this is a place where, this is like Mexico, but back in a day when it was just, like, cattle and cows. But they still made time for the arts in some way. Like they had like their festivals. So she was very involved in that too. Like, she was dancing. But you know, at some point, like you had to, again, survival or art? Which one was it?

ANA: But what did it feel like when you heard that?

JENNY: When I heard that it was just like, “That probably explains why I like to be creative.”

ANA: Yeah. And I get this to like learning about your family's history. I mean, you learn more about yourself too.

JENNY: Yes, that is true.

ANA: You're less like, you're less of a mystery to yourself.

JENNY: Yeah, we learn, we learn a lot about ourselves and, and just like, things that we didn't know. And, like, certain habits that we do. Where do we get them like, oh, like, you got it from your dad. You got it from a grandfather. You got it from your grandmother. So yeah,


ANA: Today on Mosaic, I’m talking with Jenny Sanchez, an artist, educator and writer of the play Abue!, which is loosely based on her family’s story of immigrating from Mexico to Providence and running an intergenerational business. Here’s the rest of our conversation.

ANA: Something that I've noticed in my family and like in my work, too, is that sometimes it can be really difficult in real life to get people and older generations, especially immigrants, and older generations to open up about their stories and about their, their emotions, because sometimes they're like so focused on just survival mode. Yep. That they're like, why do you want to hear my story? And that was like at the beginning of the at the beginning of the play like what do you want to talk to me for your grandma and the grandchild try to convince them – so have you experienced that in in your family?

JENNY: Ana, many times, many times, you have no idea how many people have wanted to interview my parents. And I'm like, "Hey, te quiero entrevistar!" And they're like, "No pero what do I have to say? Like, what if I say something wrong?" And? Yes, many times many times. But I'm gonna tell you something. And man, this is crazy. So, for Casa Mexico, originally, it was “Sánchez Mexican Store.” My grandfather was the one that founded it and then passed on to my uncle. So one day I asked my uncle like, “Hey, can I interview you? I want to, like interview your story about the store.” And and I had a camera and I was like, “Can I interview you?” My uncle's like, “Whoa, don't interview me. You should interview your grandfather. He's the one that you should be interviewing.” So at the time, my grandfather was upstairs living and so I went upstairs and I said, "Hey, grandfather, you think crees que te puedo entrevistar? Es para un proyecto que estoy haciendo." And, and he's like, "No, no, I don't feel comfortable you know. No quiero, no está bien." And I was like, "Please, grandfather, please do it." And I don't know what happened. But he said yes. So I'm recording and I'm, he's showing me all these pictures of him when he was young. And I learned new things about him.

ANA: Like what?

JENNY: Like, like, you know, he was a police officer in Mexico. I didn't know that. I was like, What Really? So he showed me a picture. He was a police officer in Mexico in the city of Mexico. And then he told me how he came here. He first came to New York, New York City because of his brother. And then I didn't know but his brother too, opened a tortilleria in New York City and Brooklyn. So they founded that and then my grandfather, I don't know if he worked there. He was just helping out in the beginning. But while he was there, too, he was also a chef at the Met Opera.

ANA: Wow.

JENNY: Yeah. He was there for a long time. And he told me he would make the food for people that were watching the shows at the Met Opera. And I was like, “What? You used to work at the Met Opera? That's crazy.” And then he, he told me, he just happened to drive by and escape with friends to this side of the East Coast. And then he was like, “Oh, I like Providence. It’s so quiet. It's different from New York City.” And, yeah, and then he decided to come here to Providence.

ANA: Well, yeah, and I feel like your family and the like, from the conversations we've had too like, are so key to the neighborhood of Olneyville and like growing it as a Latino neighborhood. Like, now that you've written Abue!, and you like, yeah, now that you've written Abue! and the neighborhood might be changing a little bit, like Santa Teresa is abandoned. Right? And, but it's still very much a thriving community. What do you see as the future for plays like this, like artistic works that are in Spanish? Theater that's in Spanish or bilingual, do you see that having a future here in Rhode Island?

JENNY: Oh, yeah, most definitely. I have a gut feeling that there's gonna be more female playwrights, or just more Latino playwrights, Latinx playwrights that are just gonna start booming. Like, I just know, that's gonna happen. And I'm really excited when I start seeing shows, but in what I mean by happening, I've just don't mean like, Oh, they wrote a play. No, like, like, you're gonna start seeing them at festivals, you're gonna start seeing them and festivals, that they probably weren't gonna be in those spaces. But I have a gut feeling that's, it's just gonna continue to grow from here, especially with everything that happened. I think a lot of people are more aware of things like, okay, there needs to be more change. And so I'm very optimistic that that's going to happen, and then I'll be sure that happens.

ANA: You also work with the Manton Avenue Project, right? Yes,

JENNY: Yeah.

ANA: Can you tell people a little bit about that?

JENNY: Yeah. So Manton Avenue project is an amazing after school playwriting program for kids that go to William D’Abate elementary school. So yeah, it's a great place where the kids write plays, and, and because of that, I'm very optimistic that you know, they will continue on and doing the same thing, to, you know, give back in any way capacity, which is playwriting, or I don't know, I'm making sure that there's more change in the world because most of the plays there are focused - there’s like social change, or environmental issues. Having more peace in the world, which I think we all need. Absolutely.

ANA: Well, what's next for you and Abue?

JENNY: I will love it in the future for Abue! to be a musical just because I've always wanted to be in musicals and have a deep appreciation for musical theater. So yeah, I would love for Abue! in the future to be a musical

ANA: A totally Spanish musical?

JENNY: Yeah, Mariachi, Mexican, Cumbia. I think that I would love to see Cumbia on the stage.

ANA: Absolutely.

JENNY: Give it a twist

ANA: Yeah, the world can't just be Coco and In The Heights because they feel like those are the only two musicals where there's but … then they're like kind of Spanglishy.

JENNY: But I love In the Heights like I'm, I'm really excited.

ANA: For the movie?

JENNY: For the movie. I'm very excited. In fact, In The Heights, if it wasn't for In The Heights, I would not – That's what I'm saying. Like, you need people that just give you that hope that “Yeah, there's gonna be that change.” So In The Heights told me, “Okay, this is gonna happen. It's gonna happen.” When it will happen, it will happen. I don't care if it'll take me 80 years. Maybe I'll play the grandmother in the musical but but yes, yes, I will love a way for it to be a musical and, and I would love to see in, in Times Square someday, I joke around with my friends that that I met through Abue!. And they're like, “Oh, look! There's a flyer on on the east side. This is a sign that it'll be on theaters pretty soon.”

ANA: It's gonna be on a marquee before you know it.

JENNY: Yes, a marquee. Yeah.

ANA: Well, it's really cool that you're able to explore all of these things and try to bring them to life for other people through Abue!

JENNY: Yeah, no, definitely. That's the goal.

ANA: Cool. Well, Jenny Sanchez, thank you so much for talking with us today.

JENNY: Gosh, thank you so much, Ana.

MUSIC - intermission song

ANA: That was my conversation with actor, educator and playwright Jenny Sanchez. You can find her play Abue! on our website, mosaicpodcast.org. And now, we hear from a community essayist this week. Henri Flickier is a psychoanalyst living in Barrington, RI. And he wrote to us about his experience as “The Other”. Here’s Henri: HENRI ESSAY

ANA: That’s it for this week. Thank you so much for listening.

Mosaic is a production of The Public’s Radio. Edited by Sally Eisele. Produced by James Baumgartner and Pearl Marvell. Our theme music is by Bryn Bliska. Thanks to our essayist Henri Flickier. Torey malatia is the General Manager of The Public’s Radio. I’m Ana González. See you next week!

Support for this podcast comes from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, supporting innovations in democratic engagement and international peace and security at carnegie.org.


Writing in Spanish

“I would do shows, and most of the time, my parents couldn’t understand. They were happy for me, but they just couldn’t understand. And I just wanted to make sure that there was a space where my family, my community, can be part of it, too.”

About Abue!

“It’s a play that follows the journey of Mexican immigrant family that, you know, they want to follow the American dream.”

First-gen cast

“We had similar experiences. Most of [the actors] are first generation. And they’re the first generation to follow and pursue a career of acting, theatre. So we can all relate.”


“It was something I think I was trying to understand in my personal life. It’s something that yeah, it’s personal to me, but other people can relate to it. They don’t have to have a business, but I’m sure there’s families where there is machismo.”


“You have no idea how many people have wanted to interview my parents. And I’m like, ‘Hey, te quiero entrevistar!’ And they’re like, ‘No pero what do I have to say? Like, what if I say something wrong?'”


“I have a gut feeling that there’s gonna be more female playwrights, or just more latino playwrights, latinx playwrights that are just gonna start booming.”


Keep up to date with everything Mosaic

Follow Mosaic on Instagram