Fil-Am caregivers portrayed on stage

Fil-Am caregivers portrayed on stage

/ 12:00 PM January 22, 2020

From left: Playwright Thelma de Castro, director Yari Cervas, and composer Emily Rutherford. CONTRIBUTED

SAN DIEGO, California — Filipino American playwright Thelma Virata de Castro is collaborating with theater group Asian Story Theater to craft a play about intergenerational caregiving in San Diego’s Asian Pacific Islander community.

Her work “Hand Under Hand,” where isolated and overwhelmed Jenna struggles to care for her sick aunt, will have staged readings at the San Diego Central Library. It will be performed by professional actors and musicians, which include members of the Fil-Am theater group MaArte Theater Collective.


Every performance will be followed by a panel discussion about the impact of caregiving in immigrant communities.

“Everyone is a caregiver or will be one. We may not use that label, but many in our cast and team are currently caring for family members or have done so in the past,” says De Castro.


“Our director, Yari Cervas, brings a fierce energy, assembled a vibrant team and makes bold choices. I love that a young director is working on this project.”

Not statistics

De Castro wrote “Hand Under Hand” inspired by interviews with diverse community members. “I was approached by volunteers from American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to examine caregiving issues in the Asian Pacific Islander community.”

This is De Castro’s first time to work with this organization that promotes the interests of senior citizens. Rather than looking at statistics, she approached this project with a “story collection” approach.

“In general, though, our community tends to keep up the appearance that everything is fine and is reluctant to ask for help.”

Real people

She explains, “Family is a primary value in Asian American cultures. This often conflicts with the American value of independence. Someone I spoke with left her job in order to care for her mother. Another person graduated from college and moved back home to take care of her grandfather.


“Many are taking care of elderly parents and children at the same time. Siblings care for developmentally disabled siblings.”

She interviewed 11 individuals and attended workshops. She also spoke with other community members about their caregiving experiences.

“In the play, caregiving impacts the protagonist’s ability to work and it socially isolates her. She feels as if she has no time, yet is simultaneously stuck in time. One of her first actions in the play is to scream. I think that’s an accurate statement for the emotional toil of caregiving.”

Music therapy

De Castro acknowledges that she and her collaborators are not therapists. “But we are theater artists. And theater can be a therapeutic experience in the release and validation of stories and emotions.

“When I learned about music therapy, I wanted to use it to help tell the story. Music therapy can take many forms. It can involve singing, playing an instrument, and listening.

“It’s for the patient but it can be therapeutic for the caregiver as well. Music can connect people to memories and improve mood. It’s powerful.

“Composer Emily Rutherford took my ideas for the songs and communicated the themes beautifully in her original music and lyrics. Working with her was a creative dream.”

De Castro previously collaborated with Asian Story Theater on “Halo-Halo: Mixed-together Stories from San Diego’s Filipino American Community.”

Cast includes Ciarlene Coleman, Aaron Ding, Jescel “May” Esteban and Claudette Santiago.

Free admission. “Hand Under Hand” on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1 at Neil Morgan Auditorium, San Diego Central Library, 330 Park Blvd., San Diego. Visit


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TAGS: Fil-Am caregivers, Filipino caregiving, Filipino elderly in US, play, stage production
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