“Born to Illegal Immigrants, Henry Cejudo Wins Gold for U.S.”
This 2008 Wall Street Journal headline has captured Guillermo Reyes’ attention for the past five years.
Reyes is one of the founders of local theatre company Teatro Bravo, and he has worked with scriptwriter Jose Zarate to turn the moving headline he read five years ago into the company’s latest play, titled “American Victory.”
The play focuses on the story of Henry Cejudo, who grew up with his mother working multiple jobs while his father was in and out of prison. He used wrestling as an outlet and achieved national recognition for his wrestling ability while attending Maryvale High School in Phoenix.
Cejudo then trained full time at the Olympic Training Center in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He went on to win gold in Beijing, becoming the youngest American wrestler to ever accomplish this feat.
“It’s kind of a classic rags to riches story,” says Reyes, who directs “American Victory.” “I can’t think of a family that’s been through more hardships.”
While “American Victory” touches on the themes of immigration, Reyes says that it is a decidedly more inspirational story than the tales of border violence and drug cartels that Teatro Bravo is used to performing.
“Henry’s story is a good story,” says Reyes. “(The Wall Street Journal headline) ran counter to the argument of what was happening even back then in Arizona, how people were framing this (immigrant) community in a very negative light, that all their children were drug dealers….I felt that we needed a counter-narrative that was more positive, that was real and that went beyond those issues.”
Reyes says that Cejudo has been very involved with the production of the show. He worked with the writers to make sure his story was depicted accurately, and he even taught the actors some basic wrestling techniques so they could authentically perform his gold-medal match.
Reyes says that the visual aspect of the wrestling scenes, along with the themes of struggle and survival, create a gripping narrative.
“It’s exciting,” says Reyes. “It’s kind of a non-stop type of story.”
If you go
What: A play based on the true story of former Maryvale High School student and Olympic gold medalist in wrestling Henry Cejudo.
When: 8 p.m. Friday, March 8, and Saturday, March 9
Where: Black Theatre Troupe Center for the Performing Arts, 1333 E. Washington St., Phoenix
Information: (602) 258-1800 or TeatroBravo.org
• Ellen, a junior studying journalism at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.