“Dulces y Amargos Sueños”: Petrona de la Cruz Cruz’s transformation and healing through a one-woman performance

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Doris Difarnecio (left), Petrona de la Cruz Cruz (center), and professor Shanna Lorenz (right), during the question and answer portion of the one-woman show in Choi Auditorium at Occidental College. Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Grace Pozen/The Occidental

In the one-woman theatrical performance, “Dulces y Amargos Sueños” (Bittersweet Dreams), Petrona de la Cruz Cruz shares in vivid detail — at times gentle, harsh, tender and excruciating — the story of her life as an indigenous Mayan woman. De la Cruz Cruz’s show is one of several events put together this school year in partnership with the Latino/a and Latin American studies (LLAS) department and was made possible through the work of professor Shanna Lorenz, according to professor Raul Villa, LLAS department chair.

De la Cruz Cruz has received acclaim across Mexico and won the Rosario Castellanos Prize in Literature in 1992, a prestigious award which recognizes masterful literature. She co-founded Fortaleza de la Mujer Maya (FOMMA), meaning “Strength of the Mayan Woman,” a collective of Mayan women who gathered to share their stories through theater.

De la Cruz Cruz’s performance was told in the first-person in Spanish with approximate English translations projected on a screen behind her. It followed the critical moments in her life as an indigenous Mayan woman who was born in Zinacantán, Chiapas, Mexico.

Through her performance, de la Cruz Cruz shared her experience with sexual assault, which at times kept her from attending school. She was forced out of her community after she was kidnapped and raped. De la Cruz Cruz entwined the presence of her mother throughout the show, ending the performance with a tribute to her mother, laying out candles and colorful garments.

When she performed “Dulces y Amargos Sueños” for students, community members and professors in Choi Feb. 13, the audience cried and laughed along with de la Cruz Cruz as she told her story. It took many years of healing for de la Cruz Cruz until she reached a place where she was ready to share her story with others, a year and a half for de la Cruz Cruz to create the show, and nine months of organizing to bring this one-woman show to Occidental.

De la Cruz Cruz said she hoped that those in the audience would see in her an example of an ability to heal from trauma.

“For young people and men and women, and also even older people who have traumas that they have not yet been able to heal, it is a way of passing onto them the hope that healing is possible or the knowledge that healing is possible,” de la Cruz Cruz said via Lorenz, who translated for her. “[I] lived with pain for so long. It was like [I] was in this darkness, and then suddenly [I] got it out, and it was like [I] emerged into the light.”

For Roxanne Valle (senior), it reminded her of the weight that intergenerational trauma can have on families and the impact that sharing that trauma can have.

“I found this show very powerful considering how applicable it is to many of our lives, especially the generations before me. Knowing their story and just hearing their story through Petrona is so moving, to see the strength,” Valle said. “That’s what inspired me the most, and it really moved me to see someone talking about it and bringing it forward.”

De la Cruz Cruz and the play’s director, Doris Difarnecio, have worked together since 1999. Difarnecio — who helped create the play’s monologue — explained that she and de la Cruz Cruz share a connection grown from shared trauma. The two women discussed their love for one another and respect for the weight of their work, both on themselves and on the audience. Difarnecio also acknowledged that Lorenz, who was a crucial element in bringing de la Cruz Cruz to Occidental, created a safe space for de la Cruz Cruz to share her story.

“There’s a trust and a love here between [Petrona and I] now, but I’ve never seen her detail her story like that without me. Publicly, I think it’s Shanna [Lorenz] creating a safe space for us to do it,” Difarnecio said. “She was able to perform with that depth because of the trust that Shanna created.”

Difarnecio shared some details of the difficulty that accompanied the journey in creating “Dulces y Amargos Sueños.”

“There were times here where we just held each other,” Difarnecio said. “Petrona talks about transformation. She’s transforming, and she’s transforming us all.”

Parts of the show have evolved over de la Cruz Cruz’s time presenting it. The first time she performed “Dulces y Amargos Sueños,” de la Cruz Cruz spoke about her kidnapping and rape but did not reenact it. During subsequent performances, she acted out the scene with her back to the audience. In the show at Occidental, de la Cruz Cruz turned to face the audience for the first time — making for a difficult and vivid reckoning of a traumatic moment in de la Cruz Cruz’s life decades earlier.

While Difarnecio and de la Cruz Cruz persisted through the difficult work of healing through and creating a story that reflected de la Cruz Cruz’s hardship and joy, Lorenz spent hours translating the play to English, which she said gave her a closer look into the depth and difficulty of the piece.

[Translating the piece] I’m sure, was nothing like writing it, but I also had that experience of — I would get through one of these hard scenes and then I just had to leave it for a while. You have to sit with it so intimately as you’re trying to translate it.”

Lorenz also set up a performance in her class for students to experience the music of Chamula, and de la Cruz Cruz showed a dance from her community.

“It was so deeply moving and political, through the comprehension and through the understanding of other cultures through music,” Difarnecio said.

Difarnecio shared that during her time on campus, de la Cruz Cruz garnered attention from students — on the way back from breakfast at Delia’s restaurant Feb. 16, a group of Occidental students recognized de la Cruz Cruz from her performance and stopped to give her words of praise and gratitude, thanking her for her time and for sharing her story with the Occidental community.

For Villa, the strong impact of de la Cruz Cruz’s performance was clear.

“When she offered the explicit experience of her rape and her kidnapping, which was so horrible, you could sense how much it took for her to do it, even though she’s represented this before,” Villa said. “I was moved by her strength to be able to offer this to us.”

This article was revised March 12, 2019 to correct Doris Difarnecio’s title. She was the director of “Dulces y Amargos Sueños,” not stage manager, and helped de la Cruz Cruz create the monologue.