¡Americano!, a politically charged musical that follows the challenges and triumphs experienced by a DREAMer determined to serve in the military, just had its first preview Off-Broadway.
It’s based on the real-life story of Tony Valdovinos, who, at the age of 18, attempted to enlist in the Marines and was shocked to discover he was being rejected because of his status as an undocumented immigrant. Valdovinos believed he was an American citizen. His immigrant status was a secret his parents had kept from him.
The show goes on to chart Valdovinos’ real-life trajectory: He threw himself into getting involved in political advocacy on behalf of DREAMers and kids in the DACA program. The show’s major players hope it prompts viewers to consider the needs and rights of DREAMers, the acronym assigned to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children.
However, ¡Americano!’s lead producer and other co-producers have a history of donating to the campaigns of Republican candidates, some of whom have backed anti-immigration and anti-DACA policies, The Daily Beast has learned.
Jason Rose, the lead producer of ¡Americano!, owns the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Rose & Allyn Public Relations firm, and has earned a reputation as one of the most pugnacious crisis PR executives in the state. Rose has managed major dustups involving clients like Nestle, Whole Foods, the University of Phoenix and ESPN, and has been referred to as a “bomb-lobbing go-to guy” in Arizona politics.
“I’ve donated to Democratic candidates and Republican candidates,” Rose told The Daily Beast. “The strength of this show is that you have a bipartisan approach to [the DREAMer issue] to get people to think about it in a different way.”
“Without my political engagement over the years in Arizona, the musical wouldn’t have happened,” Rose added. “What became ¡Americano! did not start as this story. It started as a fictitious Arizona immigration story about a rock musician and it evolved over the years through 90, 92 scripts to what the story is today. It’s a terrific, beautiful piece of art.”
As recently as last December, Rose & Allyn made a donation to WinRed, a fundraising PAC for the Republican Party. Rose has also made private donations to Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who, in 2021, filed a lawsuit in favor of reinstating Trump immigration policies due to “pollution and stress on natural resources” caused by immigrants migrating to the U.S.
Rose told The Daily Beast that he’d known Brnovich for many years, and considered him a friend. “Since he became attorney general we have agreed on some things and disagreed on others,” Rose said. “[The lawsuit] is another. I profoundly disagree with his litigation and hope it fails. Indeed, I am working against this notion by supporting a critical measure to reinstate in-state tuition for DREAMers that will be on November’s ballot here in Arizona.”
“As for any donations to Brnovich, it is dwarfed by the 7 years and $700,000 I have plowed into this show to help make it a reality with many others,” Rose said.
Lynn Londen, one of ¡Americano!’s co-producers, has been the president of the Londen Land development company in Phoenix since 2000. Londen has also been the CEO of the locally-operated TV station AZTV7, which has served as a platform for such program titles as “Democrats Invite Illegal Immigration for the Votes,” since 2002. In 2017, Londen Land LLC donated $2,700 to Martha McSally, a Republican Arizona state senator who served from 2019 to 2020.
McSally opposed defunding DACA in 2015 and had previously supported the GOP's Recognizing America’s Children Act, a bill that would open up a path to citizenship for DREAMers. During the Trump presidency in 2018, McSally withdrew her name from the bill.
According to public records, neither Londen nor her businesses have made any political donations since 2017, but in previous years, she contributed privately to the candidacies of Mitt Romney and John McCain.
“I’m hoping that [the show] starts a lot of conversations,” Londen said. “The whole idea begins with the kind of range of opinions among the group that Jason has assembled to pull this off. I love being involved with people and doing this kind of thing [with people] that I don’t agree with. And you have to be okay with it, because we are all interested in putting this story forward. So, no, I don’t think that's a contradiction.”
George Weisz, another co-producer, is the president of Weisz Ventures, the Chairman of Scottsdale Community Bank and a former member of the Arizona House of Representatives. Weisz is also a former investigative journalist and became the special agent in charge of the case at the Arizona Attorney General’s office when his friend, hard-charging investigative reporter Don Bolles, was murdered in a car bombing.
Weisz also served as a pallbearer at John McCain's memorial service. In recent years, Weisz has donated to the campaigns of Democratic Arizona congressional candidate Daniel Hernandez, Republican representative Andy Biggs and Republican U.S. Representative David Schweikert.
Biggs was elected to Congress in 2016, and has supported many anti-immigrant initiatives. In 2018, Biggs partnered with the Immigration Reform Law Institute to file an amicus brief in support of a Texas lawsuit attempting to eliminate DACA.
“No one agrees with everything that every elected official does or says,” Weisz said. “I’ve supported various individuals across the political spectrum for various reasons. I’ve known Andy for 20 years and worked alongside him in the state legislature. I would disagree with those who do not want to resolve the DACA system or the DACA issue, and to ensure that this issue is resolved in a productive way for these kids whose only country is the United States.”
“My position on illegal immigration is clear: No more excuses about the failure to secure Arizona’s border,” Schweikert’s website reads. “We must have real border security and no amnesty for illegal immigrants.” Schweikert also co-sponsored the Birthright Citizenship Act, a bill which would eliminate birthright citizenship for children born to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Schweikert also opposes the release of “low-risk” illegal immigrants by the Department of Homeland Security.
“When it comes to border security, that’s first and foremost,” Weisz said. “The federal government has done a terrible job of securing our border. I would say we have outstanding men and women in law enforcement working so hard to secure our border and keep the community safe, yet they are lacking the necessary resources. We need to ensure our borders keep the community safe, and keep people from being victims of vicious criminal cartels and border bandits.”
Musical co-writer Fernanda Santos has had many conversations with Rose about his political affiliations.
“I think there are two ways to look at this,” Santos said. “First of all, I could say the hell with this. You know, I’m not going to work for a man who has donated $2,500 or whatever it was to someone who is fundamentally against something that I am so passionate about. Or I can say, okay, are you willing to put your money into it? Are you going to stick with it to the end? Are you going to work on bringing the best possible team on board? You are risking losing everything that you’ve invested simply without any reservation because you believe in this show and the importance of this story. And the answer to all of that from [Rose’s] part was yes.”
“You know, I think that I wished that the kind of political awakening that this show has allowed Jason Rose and one or two other producers to experience is one that we see others have, who may in the past have supported friends politically without stopping to think much about the consequences of their politics on the lives of real Americans,” Santos said. “I hope that this kind of awakening happens to people who come to see this show.”
“I was never in any moment made to think that my contributions were not important,” Santos added. “There is a level of collaboration and respect for who I am as a woman, as a Latina, as an immigrant, as a professional that I never before experienced in my life.”
“We are now working with the people we worked against, and I think there’s a fundamentally different experience when these people respect you,” Valdovinos said. “Being part of this production has taught me that people can change and evolve.”
The musical, which was co-written by Santos, Michael Barnard, and Jonathan Rosenberg, also takes creative liberties with some elements of Valdovinos’s story. In real life, after Valdovinos was rejected by the Marines, a few friends and his then-girlfriend were able to enlist. In the musical, his ex-girlfriend dies in Afghanistan on a tour of duty.
In reality, Valdovinos’s ex was deployed to Japan, where she served for her entire career. When she returned to the United States, she married a woman. “I was never supportive of it, but I did understand the intent to represent the sacrifice that men and women have in the armed services,” Valdovinos said of the creative choice to kill off a woman who isn’t actually dead. “But was I comfortable with it? Did I want it? Absolutely fucking not.”
One of the other main characters in the show represents Valdovinos’s real life best friend, who is gay. Santos, a longtime journalist and award-winning author, said that in an earlier draft of the show, the best friend character, Javi, was in love with Tony’s character. The unrequited love element was ultimately edited out, because the writers deemed it to be stereotypical. (The Daily Beast reached out to Rosenberg for comment.)
“The role of Javi was kind of a combination of a couple of different people Tony knew,” Barnard said. As the character developed over several drafts, Javi’s attraction to Tony transformed into something different: in the version that's now onstage, Tony is desperate to protect Javi from gangs.
“Javi was born into a family where his father walked out on them, his mother was working three jobs to try to keep a roof over their heads and his older brother was a gang member,” Barnard explained. “And this character of Javi—who’s based on two or three people—ended up being [his brother’s] dupe. He was in the world of gangs, and Tony was desperately trying to help him get out of that too, which in our story he does.”
Valdovinos harbored dreams of joining the Marines since the 6th grade and believed wholeheartedly in a life devoted to defending the United States. When the Marines turned him down and he discovered he was undocumented, his patriotism wasn’t tarnished.
“It actually left me absolutely hungry,” Valdovinos said. “The only time I believe my patriotism took a dent was when I realized that people who called themselves patriots were literally attacking people of color in legislation, in law, the sheriff’s office and then the next thing you know, kids were being asked to pay 600% more for their classes.”
Valdovinos is referring to Proposition 300, an Arizona state statue introduced and approved in 2006 that prohibits undocumented immigrants and people without legal residential status from receiving in-state college tuition, financial aid, or state-subsidized childcare assistance. Prop 300 prompted Valdovinos’s departure from college in 2011, and his pivot to politics.
He founded La Machine, a consulting firm dedicated to transforming public policy, at the age of 24. But, Valdovinos said, “we simply weren’t winning.”
“I spent my entire 20s electioneering and we never got the DREAM act passed, we never got a Democrat elected to governor and we don’t even hold the State House,” Valdovinos said. “For me, what I’ve learned is that between advocacy, organizing and the arts, none of it is enough to achieve the agenda. But ultimately the purpose [of ¡Americano!] is to have a human conversation between both sides about the experience of what American pride is.”
¡Americano!’s music was composed by singer-songwriter Carrie Rodriguez, who’s put out several albums but had never written a musical before. In addition to Tony’s story, Rodriguez drew from “my own bicultural upbringing here in Texas, my neighbors who fire up their diesel engine trucks at 5 a.m. in the summertime to go work construction so that they can provide more for their families and more opportunities for their children and grandchildren.”
In the opening number that Rodriguez wrote for the musical, “We Paved the Way,” a singing construction crew somersaults joyfully through window frames onstage. “It was so powerful to witness that,” Rodriguez said. “‘We clear the land, lay your cables / work as strong as we’re able’—there’s such pride in watching the people who build our country and work their asses off being celebrated.”
“I think Tony’s story is the story of millions of people, not all of whom I know, but certainly I know hundreds of Tonys who are unable to pursue their highest ambitions because of not just a broken immigration system, but an inhumane immigration system,” Sayu Bhojwani, a co-producer and New York City’s first commissioner of immigrant affairs who was appointed by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg after 9/11, said. “I don’t like to say broken because I think that most of our systems are working exactly the way that they were designed to work.”
Valdovinos says he’s already seen shifts in perspective, prompted by the show, take place.
“When somebody comes out and you can still see some of the fresh tears in their eyes, saying ‘I had no idea this country was doing this, that DACA existed, that DREAMers existed,’ that’s part of the other side of the coin that I didn’t know about, how unaware a lot of folks are about this issue,” he said. “We have hundreds of thousands of young people who cannot enter the economy because they are in a different status.”
The show “does have a political message, but I think the primary thing I want to make sure the focus is on is the human message,” said Sean Ewing, who’s starring as Valdovinos in ¡Americano! “The one thing I’m recognizing from audiences coming to see it is it’s not just directed towards Mexican immigration or individuals who come from it—it could go to every individual who’s part of the United States we live in now. It’s a human story first and foremost.”
After catching workshop performances of ¡Americano! in New York City, board members of Chicano Por La Causa, an anti-discrimination nonprofit, decided to get involved, positing that the musical had the potential to be the next In The Heights. Heights, a musical written by Hamilton scribe Lin-Manuel Miranda, follows the journey of a Washington Heights bodega owner named Usnavi de la Vega who harbors dreams of moving to the Dominican Republic.
“[¡Americano!] really puts a human story behind the story of DREAMers, and it does it in a way that’s as entertaining as possible,” Max Gonzales, the Executive Vice President of Chicanos Por La Causa, said. “Part of what we really insisted on is that it be authentic to the Southwest and Mexican-American culture in this area, and I think they accomplished that.”
The message Gonzales most wants audiences to take away from ¡Americano!, “is that here’s a group of people, these DREAMers, who want to maximize their utility, to be the most productive they can that ends up impacting this country in the most positive way possible.”
“DACA kids need to have the issue resolved,” Weisz said. “For those who fit into that specific definition, that’s the issue. To ensure that they are brought into our society and that includes service, and I hope, service in our military.”
For Valdovinos, the process of watching his life being adapted into a theatrical production hasn’t been easy.
“To this day, I find it very tough to wake up in the morning and realize, wow, there’s this goddamn production about my life, and it destroys me,” he said. “I wake up every day to literally do it over and over again and represent myself and the political uphill battles that we’ve had. I think that’s why I fully went through with this. None of this is comfortable. None of this is exciting for me. I don’t get paid for any of this stuff. But I do believe in representing the work that we did and the experiences that we’ve had.”
“Ultimately, this show follows a young man, myself, through his twenties and through the closed doors and what we did about that, and how we were never successful in passing the DREAM Act so that DREAMers could join the military or go back to college,” Valdovinos said. “So that’s the whole purpose here, is that we want to revive the conversation about DREAMers in the United States and how they can contribute in the United States. That’s ultimately the purpose, I think.”