Los-Angeles based playwright Bernardo Cubría is fresh off the heels of his most recent accomplishment, being awarded the 2021/2022 Smith Prize for Political Theatre by the National New Play Network, to further his newest project focusing on the nuanced “Latino Vote.” With that focus in mind, part of Cubría’s writing process for this new play involves a funded collaboration with Sarasota’s Florida Studio Theatre (FST) and Portland, OR’s Milagro Theatre where he will be in residence conducting interviews with local Hispanic and Latinx voters. His goal is to extend the perspective on his community’s experience with voting and unpack why the politically charged phrase “Latino Vote”, from 2016, is a misguided, monolithic myth, but also the name of his new play.

SRQ | PLEASE tell US ABOUT YOURSELF BERNARDO CUBRIA: I am originally from Mexico City, but grew up  in Houston, Texas. I lived in New York for 10 years of my life where I met my wife and have been in Los Angeles for the last seven years. I was an actor who became a playwright. Now I'm mostly a screenwriter which is how I make my living.

What led you to Florida Studio Theatre as one of the two ORGANIZATIONS to facilitate this project? CUBRIá: A friend of mine, Rachel Moulton, who works at the Florida Studio Theatre, introduced me and my work to Catherine Randazzo who works at the theater. I knew they were looking for playwrights, specifically playwrights of color to commission to write plays about issues that affect the communities around the theater. She and I had a Zoom meeting and I told her that I've been thinking a lot about this so-called mythical “Latino Vote” that people are currently obsessed with. I gave her a very rough idea of something I wanted to write, and she was like, “We'll pay you to do that,” which is amazing and I'm very grateful for. To be frank, I was really, really excited that it was a theater that was in Florida since it’s a swing state, and that makes it a much more exciting place to put on this play.

The timing of your new project is a point of interest since the midterm elections are coming up and early voting has already begun. CUBRIá: Sadly, I don't think I'll have this play done, or that we will have done the necessary research for it to be out in time for the midterms, but I sure hope that we put it on leading up to the next presidential election. In 2016 when Trump got elected, I obviously had very strong feelings about what had just happened, and I was going through my emotional process of all of that. But then I started getting all these text messages from friends of mine, most of whom were white Americans, and they were like, “Dude, how could 30% of Latinos or Hispanic people vote for Trump? Explain this to me.” I got offended by their question because I thought, “Why do they expect every single Latino or Hispanic person to be the exact same? Why do they think we're monoliths?” And that feels deeply misguided and hurtful as an understanding of every single person from Tijuana to Buenos Aires that we should all be the exact same person. So honestly, I'm more interested in attacking that than any specific political issue, because I think that once we attack that [the Latino Vote] we can understand why so many people don't even feel like they want to participate in voting.

Having seen the effects of the 2016 election on the Hispanic and Latino communities within the U.S., how has your inspiration evolved? CUBRIá: I hope this play is a necessary piece of art (says the playwright, right?) I think that right now the two political parties in this country are obsessed with trying to understand Latinos, and I think they are confused that we're not all the same, that we don't have the same views or values. What's funny to me is I sit around the dinner table during Christmas in Mexico, and there are conservatives and there are deeply progressive people—I have tíos who say deeply offensive things and tías who say really dope, open-minded things that I can't believe a 60-year-old Mexican woman is saying, right? So, we are not a monolith. We're humans. We're people with nuance. 

HOW HAS YOUR EXPERIENCE IN SARASOTA BEEN IN RESEARCHING FOR THE PROJECT?  CUBRIá: The Florida Studio Theatre clearly has given money to a Mexican writer to write a play for this community. I made it very clear that I was excited by how genuinely and aggressively Florida Studio Theatre wants to reach their Latino audience that is around this theater. I can say that the theater has set me up with so many interviews with wonderful community members this week. I texted my wife last night, “God, I love Latino people,”  because I've gotten to spend so much time with them this week. Every theater in America has failed underrepresented communities. The classical theater of Harlem, of course, has not failed because they are within a Black, Indigenous and People of Color community, and they have always known there is racism in America. The larger American theaters needs to do better. I think some institutions like Florida Studio Theatre are actively putting in money (which is the most important thing) and resources to do better. So I want to applaud those actions.

You've mentioned that the notion that “Everyone within Latin America thinks the same thing or has the same opinions politically,” is misguided at its core. What are some ways you're unpacking this concept in your work. CUBRIá: The premise of the play (as of today, which may change), is that a professor of Latinx studies, a woman named Paola, is called to a secret meeting in a hotel conference room. She doesn't know where she is, but there is a political party present—we never say Republican or Democrat because to be frank, I'm interested in making fun of both parties for their lack of understanding of my community. The political party calls her into this conference room, and they ask her to explain how to reach the “Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx/Latine Vote”, which they keep saying throughout the play because they're confused about which word to use. That's the premise of the play. She is going to try to explain the nuances to them. And it's a comedy, it's a farce, and so hopefully it leads to funny jabs that punch at people in power.

What are  A FEW PIECES OF literature written by Latino authors that have inspired you as a writer? CUBRIá: One book that I just love is by this reporter named Paola Ramos called Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices (2020). She’s why I named the lead character in my play Paola. And to be honest, this book had a major effect on how I'm approaching this play because she just went all around this country and interviewed varying different Latinx, Latino people about their identity, their humanity and you just see how varying and nuanced it is. I cried so many times reading that book. It is a really, really beautiful piece of literature. In terms of plays, I just want people to produce more Latino plays and to read them. There are so many good Latinx playwrights: Fernanda Coppel, Mando Alvarado, Frankie Gonzalez, Guadalis Del Carmen, and Juan Villa are all great. Jasmine Rosario is an amazing Afro-Latina playwright in Houston, Texas. People should go support Latino plays.