ENCINITAS — In “Petunia,” a play written by San Dieguito Academy sophomore Ana Cabrera, a bespeckled flower with roots on both sides of the Mexico and United States border struggles to find her place in the world.
It’s a story that is very personal to Cabrera.
“It’s the story of a flower that has spent most of her life focusing on one half of her heritage so much that when she is reminded that she pertains to another culture she has a really hard time finding her identity and she doesn’t know what to make of it,” Cabrera told The Coast News.
Coming from a mixed background herself — Cabrera’s father is from Puerto Rico and her mother is White — Cabrera used the opportunity of writing Petunia to express some of the feelings and emotions she has felt going to a predominantly white school.
“My mixed heritage has taught me a lot about identity growing,” Cabera said. “I’m White-presenting so I blend in at my school. But it’s difficult sometimes because I’m so proud that I speak Spanish and have Puerto Rican heritage and I want that to come through to others.”
However, Cabrera said it goes both ways. For example, when she has visited Puerto Rico, there is a language barrier that can make fitting in difficult as well.
“And that’s kind of how Petunia struggles throughout the play too,” Cabrera said.
From nearly 300 submissions, Petunia was recently chosen as one of four winners of the Playwright Project’s California Young Playwrights Contest for students age 18 and under.
The play will be featured as part of the 37th annual festival, Plays by Young Writers. “Petunia” is one of three plays that will receive a full professional production. Playwrights Project’s Executive Director Cecelia Kouma says the opportunity for both the playwrights and the audiences is a special one.
“Plays by Young Writers offers young playwrights a rewarding opportunity to work alongside professional theatre artists to bring their writing to life in creative ways,” Kouma said. “These young writers have words of wisdom for all of us, regardless of our age. It is an honor to hear their insights and amplify the voices of these inspiring young leaders.”
“Petunia” was Cabrera’s third submission to the Playwrights Project since she first began writing plays in fifth grade. She was previously named as a semi-finalist for her work.
The festival begins on January 22 of next year and runs through February 13 consisting of both in-person and online screenings of the taped performances.
Cabrera has enjoyed the revision process of her play for the performance just as much as writing.
“In terms of length, I’ve had to change my play a lot which I think was a great thing for me because whenever you publish something it has to meet the time constraints,” Cabrera said. “That has been great because it’s taught me a lot about the revision process.
When audiences are finally able to view her play in full next year, Cabrera hopes they walk away knowing there is more to your personal identity than what those around you perceive.
“At the same time, if you have insecurities surrounding how you present yourself ethnically or your social identity, those insecurities are valid too. I really wanted to capture the two sides of the story in my play because it’s very complex,” Cabrera said.