News & Articles

Wonder Woman

by Jessica Thebus & Melinda Lopez

JT: Hey! ML: Hi, how are you? JT: I am well. I am having pancakes with my daughter right now. While watching Wonder Woman. ML: Wonder Woman!? JT: (to daughter) I am talking to someone else, actually. A friend named Melinda. You’ll meet her, I suppose. (back on the phone) Melinda, could you talk a little about the incident that sparked your desire to write Sonia Flew? ML: There were two events that were serendipitous. One was the birth of my daughter. In addition, I met a cousin of mine, let’s call her Lauren, who I had never really known. Lauren had been a Pedro Pan child, that is to say one of the14,000 Cuban refugee children who had been flown unaccompanied to the United States in the very early 1960’s, triggered by their parents' fears that the Fidel Castro government would take possession of their children and indoctrinate them. Her mother, my great aunt, whom I adore, had sent her out of Cuba when she was ten years old and Lauren spent two years in an orphanage in Boulder, Colorado. My parents tried to get her out but they couldn’t. They had driven to Boulder from Massachusetts but the people who ran the home wouldn’t let her out without written permission from her parents – which they obviously couldn’t get. It was a very difficult time. In any case, Lauren is now a grown woman and has her own business. She has this incredible life force; she said to me at one point, “I’m not afraid of anything because of what I’ve gone through. It made me strong and successful.” You know, she seems to have everything. And I thought, we see the story but also, what are we not seeing? What are the hidden costs of getting that kind of life experience so young? And so I started learning more about the Pedro Pan children. My daughter was born at this time and suddenly, the idea of decisions you make to keep your kids safe, the sacrifices and choices you are going to make, became terrifically real to me. The play is a fiction – not any one person’s story. But the history surrounding it is all real. JT: Well, it’s fascinating. Both of us are talking on the phone with our daughters in the background. My daughter will be two in August. You describe beautifully my first experience with your play. I remember hearing it read aloud by the actors sitting at the table and being so moved by it. ML: Well, what’s interesting about this question of parenting is that children grow up. They are supposed to leave you. I am going to put my daughter on a school bus for the first time in September. They are supposed to grow up and leave you. That’s what we do as parents. We get them ready to leave us. We try to give them all the skills they need to survive. It’s normal and healthy. And yet, during this fascinating piece of history, a ten year old gets sent away, literally, to a different world. And this has been repeated throughout history. It happened in Europe during World War II. JT: And that moment of decision, that is one of the moments in the play I love. I think the writing is so specific and it is easy to follow. It’s just a question, what’s going to be better for the child? What’s going to be safer? And we have to decide now. ML: And you can’t know what is best. You have no idea what’s going to happen. JT: Your whole world is out of control and you have no idea. ML: So you can only do your best with the information you have. Also, for these particular parents, there were rumors and talk of things that might happen though no one knew for sure. There was a feeling that there are no rules and regulations. Then suddenly, you can’t trust your government, you don’t believe what the government is telling you. So that is the other “mother” in our lives, our country. The Great Mother - Country. The land you are born to and the values that you cherish and you think, “Oh God, do I have to leave this ‘mother’?” That is a choice that many people have made; they can’t stay with their mother land. That’s also torrential. When I started writing, we had just ‘finished’ the engagement in Iraq and there were people everywhere sending their kids to a war. So that’s another reason to leave your country - to keep the country safe. It’s a trade-off we make. It is a question of patriotism. What are you willing to sacrifice for your country? Who you are going to be? Your country says, “We need you,” and you go willingly. Later you think, “Oh God, what did I do to myself?” For me, a lot of the play is about reinventing - reinventing your life and yourself, which is something we view constantly as Americans. Creating a family is a huge leap of faith. We bring together personalities, different races, different traditions, languages and histories. JT: Yes, exactly. ML: Thinking about the play, I realize that I wrote it because of my daughter. But this story is not tied to a particular culture or history. Someone is going through it all the time, which leads us to ask, “What did we do with our past? How did we arrive here?” Our history is always a part of us. We all have a story. This is what being an American is.