In 2009, a book was published called “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which was a mashup of the Jane Austin’s classic 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice” with elements of modern zombie fiction. It was a creative weaving of a Victorian theme with an apocalyptic adventure, and a prophetic example of inserting modern words into historical text.
Growing up with family stories about the Holocaust and hearing how Jews hid across Occupied Europe, I was very familiar with the “Diary of Anne Frank.” I thought of her especially in the year we shared the same age of 15 when she died. Also, being a student of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and being alive in the year 1984, and having spent a good portion of my life overseas under an oppressive Communist government, I naturally saw some worrisome parallels after the 2016 election.
Hispanics have been targeted in a way that I only ever saw in documentary films about Jews in Germany in the early 1930s. I thought such tales were dismissed to the dusty vaults of history, not the fresh headlines from this morning. Latinos have been criminalized and demonized, much in the same way that American culture has always used racist propaganda to distort the perception of every non-Caucasian population.
It has gotten to the point where the word “Jew” could be exchanged for the word “Latino” in a newspaper clipping from pre-Kristallnacht Germany in 1936 and read like any news article published now in America.
The best way to illustrate this is to present a passage from Ann Frank’s Diary and transpose it. Here is an original passage written by the young Frank, with a version that merely replaced proper nouns using the search-and-replace function of a Microsoft Word.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (Original)
October 9, 1942
Today I have nothing but dismal and depressing news to report. Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they’re sending all the Jews. Miep told us about someone who’d managed to escape from there. It must be terrible in Westerbork. The people get almost nothing to eat, much less to drink, as water is available only one hour a day, and there’s only one toilet and sink for several thousand people.
Anna Franco: The Diary of a Young Latina in America (Transposed)
October 9, 2019
Today I have nothing but dismal and depressing news to report. Our many Mexican friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are treating them very roughly and transporting them in school buses to Tornillo, the mass detention facility in Texas to which they’re sending all the Hispanics. Maribel told us about someone who’d managed to escape from there. It must be terrible in Tornillo. The people get almost nothing to eat, much less to drink, as water is available only one hour a day, and there’s only one toilet and sink for several thousand people.
For a long time I thought such a search-and-replace conversion, Jewish to Hispanic, would ring a warning bell by modernizing a historic tragedy. Such an example would help people to better understand current events and be empathetic to the plight of Latinos. However, I have since seen there are no limits to cruelty, indifference, and denial, and such a satire would just be another log on the fire that burns away America’s humanity.
People watch the TV news and see what is happening in our hometowns, and they simply do not care or do not believe it. Instead of fulfilling their mission as journalists to inform and educate, some popular national TV networks simply package stimulants of anger and hate to deliver the confirmation bias of their audience for a profit.
And the transposition effort has already been made, with little public awareness. The Anne Frank parallel was expressed on stage last year, when the former writer of the TV show “Roseanne” directed a modernized theatrical production of “The Diary of Anne Frank” in Los Angeles. Stan Zimmerman re-imagined the classic play about the Jewish Frank family hiding from Nazis with Latino immigrants hiding from ICE officials. The play was inspired by the true story of a Jewish woman in Los Angeles who created a “Safe House” for a Latina mother and her two daughters, after her husband was deported by ICE.
I never imagined I’d be directing work that confronted the devastating realities of the Holocaust. But feeling dejected after the 2016 presidential election, I found a way to use my art to make a statement. I turned to Anne Frank’s story, and thought – what if I cast everyone in the attic with Latinx actors?” – Stan Zimmerman
There are many idioms about history repeating itself, and not learning from the past. And Milwaukee is a long way from the border with Mexico, so it is easy for most people in the area to think the problem is a local issue. But southeastern Wisconsin has a large Latino population, with hispanics being the fastest growing demographic and economic workforce in the region. So it is a departure from reality to think that no one here is unaffected. Literally every Latino who I have met in the past year tells a personal story, or directly knows someone affected by ICE and their draconian policies.
For the public to harbor such an unquenchable hate and believe that privilege allows them to withdraw from situations that do not involve them personally says a lot about who we are as a nation and community. We find ourselves living in an era where wacky and outlandish headlines originally classified as material for “The Onion” are now a true reality.