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The Immigrants— the Unforgettable Struggle by Chris Dai

Posted by on Friday, February 12, 2016 in Blog posts, , , .


The first act of Alien: the Musical narrates the life of Irish immigrants in New York in the late 1800s, particularly the life of Dolan family. By vividly portraying the harsh working conditions and the unfair treatment they received during this time, the musical shows the hostility and discrimination that the Irish immigrants faced after the migration. The second act of the play opens up in present-day California, where Mexican immigrants work in the kitchen at “O’Neils’s Irish Pub and Restaurant” and encounter the old Irish man, Grandpa O’Neil, who is the descendant of the Dolan family that has now moved to California. Deeply worried that his own children might have lost the “spirit” of their Irish tradition, Grandpa O’Neil quickly finds comfort and joy in the company of the Mexican immigrants, despite the fact that he can do nothing but to witness the discrimination that Mexican immigrants are receiving in their life. Through the depiction of two distinctive racial groups in their best effort to adapt to the American society despite all the obstacles, the musical demonstrates the idea that all men should be treated equally and given the same opportunity despite their distinctive identities and roots; at the same time, people should never forgot where they come from, along with their valuable traditions.

Mistreatment and discrimination are the major themes of the first act. The scene was deeply touching when all the bare-footed Irish workers either scrub the floor or wave the hammer while wiping the sweat off their brows, only to receive the news that they will be working for 15 hours the next day as the boss essentially calls them non-humans. From the workplace we can see that these Irish workers are overworked, poorly-paid, insulted, abused, and taken advantage of. Shockingly, although badly mistreated at the workplace, the Irish people show great optimism towards their lives in the nighttime as they dance, joke and sing with beer and describe themselves as “building the future.” They maintain their morale high amidst hardship, and aspire to achieve their dreams despite all the discrimination and mistreatment. The future seems so promising and bright when the act ends abruptly with the death of Jimmy Dolan, who is shot by the owner of the workplace brutally because he thinks Jimmy is stealing things from his home. Irish immigrant workers are deeply dehumanized in the society as they are exploited, insulted, abused, and even killed without any attention or justice, leaving their beloved family struggle in the poverty and loneliness.

The musical suddenly switches to the modern age, where the Irish immigrants are replaced with Mexicans. The Mexicans workers seem to fit well into the new society meanwhile maintaining a tradition among themselves, although they still sometimes make jokes about themselves being immigrants. The grandson of Jimmy Dolan, “Grandpa O’Neil”, who is dissatisfied with his Irish children because they seem to forget about the struggle in the past and their Irish roots, finds joy when he is invited to share a weekend with the Mexican immigrants. The Mexican immigrants, who are hard-working, optimistic, and share the laughter with friends, remind Grandpa of his old Irish “Spirit” that is missed in his Irish children.  Although the discrimination and mistreatment shows up again as the O’Neil family wrongfully accused the Mexicans of kidnapping their grandpa and the local police beat up the immigrants with force for no reason, Grandpa is able to teach his Irish children a lesson and remind them that the history and the struggle should not be forgotten.

Gregg Garner, the writer and the director of the musical, has commented that: “This isn’t a political piece. This is a human piece.” By making a direct connection between the Irish immigrants in the 1800s and the Mexican immigrants in the modern world, the musical is trying to promote the idea that humans are all the same and anyone, despite his roots and identity, should be treated equally and given the same opportunity to join the community. At the same time, as people blend right in and fully incorporate into the society, they should always remember the past and the struggle they have had and hold on to their valuable traditions.


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One Comment on “The Immigrants— the Unforgettable Struggle by Chris Dai”

I also found the musical’s parallel of the Irish and Mexican immigrant plight an interesting and fresh way to tell the story of what it means to be an “alien.” The optimism both groups shared in spite of their hardships is telling of the devotion these people had to the generations that would come after them. They were able to remain optimistic because of the hope they had that their work would pay off in a brighter future for themselves and their families. What I found more compelling, however, was the irony in how the now established Irish family treated their workers in spite of having shared their struggle. What I wished would’ve been emphasized more is the fact that O’Neil’s are kind of a symbol for the people of the United States. This is a country of immigrants- the Alien Nation (unless Native American)- and yet there is this cycle of abusing people who want the exact same things we all do. A better future. I agree with Garner in that this story isn’t a political one, but painfully human: flawed, sometimes violent and ugly, and yet, ever hopeful.

Asha Bynum on February 12th, 2016 at 4:53 pm

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