In the 1980s, a pair of American researchers named Kristen Hawkes and James O’Connell went to visit a small village called Hadza in the Eastern Rift Valley in northern Tanzania to spend time with hunter-gatherers. They noticed that the grandmothers in the community were an integral part of the family dynamic and their contributions were highly valued. Even at ages considered too old in the U.S., Hadza grandmothers were still going strong, working just as hard or even harder than their younger counterparts to provide food and security for the family. Grandmothers in this tribe were a necessity, not an option.
Inspired by their observation, Hawkes thought of this cultural aesthetic as the “grandmother hypothesis,” a theory that says grandmas are the reason we live so long. Natalie Angier expresses a similar sentiment in her book, Woman: An Intimate Geography: “In the United States, demographers worry about the aging of the population and the potential drain of the elderly on the wealth and patience of the rest of us. The Hadza might worry about the opposite, what would happen if they didn’t have their corps of old ladies.”
La canción, the new musical at Repertorio Español in New York City has an everlasting life force outfitted by the one and only abuelita played by Cuban actress Zulema Clares. While La canción is based around an orphan named Rafa whose passion for a song he wants to sing at a talent show in the Bronx leads him to discover his true origins, the grandmother consistently carries the story. During the play you’ll experience the power and importance of an older woman and after the play you’ll never forget it.
In the beginning of the story, we find out the grandmother raised her grandson alone. She gives him advice on his singing career and tries to protect him from a secret that would hurt him. (Don’t worry, I won’t reveal what the secret is!) Throughout the play she seems angry, but, in a deeper more complex outlook, she is actually passionate about what she knows and about sharing it with others. You could clearly understand la abuelita was a wise and resilient woman who had corazón and much to offer to everyone around her.
Then in the second half of the play, we see her other side. The side where she’s vulnerable and understands she was wrong in keeping something very important from her grandson, seeking forgiveness of herself and all parties involved. A reflection of the potential of humanity and contrary to what we think in the United States, abuelitas and older women are continuously capable of expanding their minds and are useful in all areas of life. They are necessary. The grandmother is the matriarch throughout the play—the glue that holds everything together.