When Xiomara Torres crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into California at age 9 as an undocumented immigrant, she wasn't scared.
"I was too young to know what was going on," says Torres, 47, who was born in El Salvador. "I don't think I really understood I was coming to a completely different country and that we were leaving our country."
It was a transformative event in Torres' life—the conclusion of one astonishing journey and the beginning of another. In the years after her arrival, Torres became a U.S. citizen, survived the difficulties of foster care and attended the University of California, Berkeley as well as Lewis & Clark Law School before eventually being appointed to the Multnomah County Circuit Court by Gov. Kate Brown in 2017.
Torres' life is chronicled in Milta Ortiz's new play, Judge Torres, which will have its world premiere at Milagro Theatre. Allowing her story to be portrayed onstage wasn't an easy decision for the very private Torres, but she recognized the opportunity to share her experience as a Salvadoran immigrant who finds success in America was too important to turn down.
While developing the script, Ortiz realized that to mold Torres' life into a work of art, she would need to make some creative departures. "I think the most important piece for me where it had to be as accurate as possible was my involvement with the governor's office, obviously, because of the vetting and the selection process," Torres says. "But the childhood jokes, a lot of the things that happened and the college years, I really let them put it together the way they needed to put it together to tell a story."
Ortiz also added an unexpected character to the play—La Siguanaba, a famous figure in Salvadoran mythology who, in the play, is Torres' mentor, mother and fairy godmother. "She embodies Xiomara's grit, her light, the thing that got her through the adversity that she faced," Ortiz explains. "I believe in magic. That's what I kept thinking about when I interviewed her: divine intervention."
Among the most traumatic parts of Torres' life that the play addresses is the sexual abuse she endured as a child. When Torres was 13, she told her middle school counselor she was being mistreated, which resulted in her and her siblings being separated and placed in foster care. It's a topic Torres isn't eager to delve into, but she was willing to trust Ortiz—who, like Torres, is both a Salvadoran immigrant and a survivor of abuse.
"It's always been a fine balance for me—how much I share as a judge and how much I want to give to the community," Torres says. "If I can reach one kid who is, perhaps, experiencing some kind of sexual abuse in the home and that kid reaches out to someone and speaks out, then being so public will have been worth it to me."
Ortiz has also thought about the immense impact Judge Torres could have on audiences when it premieres. "I think there's a young Salvadoran out there or a young Latina who needs to see this type of role model," she says. "When I was growing up, I never heard about my people. I never saw myself reflected in the media. There was this longing to see myself represented, so how awesome for a young Latina to see someone like this."
SEE IT: Judge Torres is at Milagro Theatre, 525 SE Stark St., milagro.org. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, Jan. 10-19. $10-$27.