The Immigrant Song: Inua Ellams and His Long Journey to OKC Rep
9:18 AM EST on January 24, 2022
I really wasn’t sure what to expect as I nervously shuffled into the Te Ata Theater at Oklahoma Contemporary last Saturday night to see the first show of OKC Rep’s reboot season. I was invited to see poet and playwright Inua Ellams tell his story of displaced living in An Evening with an Immigrant, as he is a Nigerian by birth and a European by choice.
I figured that, while his story might have peculiar similarities to those trying to live a life hidden from view here in the United States, I wasn’t prepared for it to be so incredibly universal, As he told his tale, oftentimes mixed with his poetry, it became clearer that some Europeans hate immigrants just as much as some Americans do theirs.
For any minority in the audience, his story was hard to hear. As Ellams relayed his story of leaving school after school to the roving gangs of thugs that threatened—and even worse—his family and others like him, he lived in constant fear and persistent danger, one that, even as he achieves success, still haunts him to this day. It probably always will.
It made me think about this country as he told his story. It made me think about Oklahoma and how much a message like his needs to be told. To think that, as a child, Ellams was made to live in abject fear while, right now—probably down the block from your house—there’s a kid feeling the same fear, be it from criminals or cops or, often times, both.
None of it seems right.
Despite being Latino, I was born in America. That’s like always having a dollar in your pocket, for the most part. To come across the border and hide in between the shadows doesn’t seem like much of a life to me. I’m sure it wasn’t for Ellams either, though he’s managed to draw out unstifled laughs in-between stifling tears as he continued on in his story.
As he read from his works onstage, I sat in the back, watching the crowd and desperately wondering: was this a night of entertainment for them, or will they be inspired to actually help an immigrant fight these evil injustices that contuse to this day?
Though my eyes filled with tears a few times, I’m glad I was able to experience this ordeal from another person’s life. And while he’s doing pretty good for himself—he’s won numerous awards for his plays, poetry, and other assorted art—that’s just one story, from someone that stepped into the light to bravely tell his story, especially when no one else wanted him to.
I would like to recommend you see him the next time he’s speaking in town, but I don’t know when that is, if it is. So, instead, if you can find some books that look intriguing, support him and, especially, his work; it’s the least you can do.