July 7, 2005
Spectator - Sephardia Secrets
Elaine Romero experienced "a cool fusion of art and life" when she wrote the play "Secret Things."
The play tells the story of Delia, a Latino journalist, who goes to New Mexico to investigate the origins of an anonymous package she received postmarked from there containing articles about Crypto-Jews (that is, descendants of the "Marrano" Jews of the Spanish Inquisition, who openly practiced Catholicism but conducted Jewish rituals in secret to escape persecution). In New Mexico, Delia finds herself mysteriously drawn to the world of Crypto-Jews, and reluctantly comes to terms with her own Crypto-Jewish roots.
When Romero, also a Latino, was writing the play, the same thing happened.
"I found out when researching the play that there was this piece about me," said Romero who spoke to The Journal from Tucson, where she lives.
"An actor friend of mine whose name was also Sanchez [Romero's mother's maiden name, thought to be of Jewish origin] figured out we were fourth cousins. Her mother gave me a document that was 500 pages of family history, tracing us back to Spain. [In the document,] I found five family names, that I was directly descended from them, and they were persecuted for being Jewish."
The "fusion" between Romero's art and life did not stop there. While writing the play, Romero dreamed of a secret place called "Sephardia," a parallel world where "Texas, New Mexico and California" all meet, and where the mystical realms of the Sephardic and Kkabbalistic traditions unfold.
In the play, which operates on a literal and metaphysical level, "Sephardia" is a place that Delia dreams of, where her questions about her estranged family are answered, and where clarity descends on her tumultuous love life.
Romero said that she wrote the play to honor the Crypto-Jews that she met. Many of these Jews have little connection to formal Judaism, because, even after all these centuries, they still carry with them the irrational fear that openly practicing Judaism will result in a death sentence.
But Romero believes that despite the persecution and the fear, Judaism stays alive within someone.
"Maybe subconsciously I did know [I was Jewish,] even if my mother didn't say anything [about it]," she said. "On some level people know who they are, even if it is not explained to them."
A reading of "Secret Things" by Elaine Romero will take place July 9 at 1 p.m. at the Ford Amphitheatre, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, as part of the Latino Play Reading Series. $5. For more information, call (323) 461-3673 or visit www.FordAmphitheatre.org.