Both of my parents are from Ghana. I was born and raised in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. I’m the youngest of three. One of my siblings is a doctor. One of my siblings works in administrative social work. I am an actor and a writer. Both of my siblings and I have master’s degrees or higher from Ivy League and/or extremely competitive universities. We are Africans. We are Americans. We are not descendants of “shithole countries.”
A doctor, MARY, dressed in her white coat, SIMON, a lawyer, dressed in a nice suit, and DANIEL, a schoolteacher and dressed as such, all sit in a waiting room. It could be a doctor’s office or the D.M.V. – suffice to say it’s a boring office where some version of important work is getting done. MARY and SIMON are in the middle of catching up like old friends.
MARY (Laughing.) Oh my God, she didn’t!!
SIMON She did! She marched right back in there and told that maître d’, “Listen, and you can tell that piece of crap you call a chef that I have been to the Caspian Sea and know what good caviar tastes like! Whatever that trash was that you just served us is not even good enough for my dogs!” And then she stomped out in the way that only Lexi can.
MARY Wow. You see, this is why I miss working with her. She was never afraid to tell it like it is.
MARY Well, please tell her I said hello. Actually, let me put in my reminders to call her. We are long overdue for a lunch.
SIMON Yeah, I bet. How are things going with the new hospital? It’s a women’s center right?
MARY Yes, right downtown, and it’s going great, thank you. We just hired a great team, an amazing group of doctors, and it’s a public center, which has been great for the community.
SIMON O.K., “New Amsterdam.”
MARY Ha! Not quite, but we’re trying. That first day we opened, we had so many people flooding in.
MARY – Yeah, for like two weeks and then going to see my mom since she retired and moved back.
SIMON Ugh, I know. But Lexi has a friend who had her meeting last week and she told me the wait was long but the meeting itself took only a few minutes and she was done – she was back at work by the end of the day.
MARY That’s good to hear. Though my only pressing engagement today is my 6 p.m. mani-pedi.
MARY – Soooo stupid. But what should we expect? This place has been upside down for so long, I don’t even remember what it was like on the other side.
SIMON The good ol’ days.
MARY Exactly. Well, hopefully this will be quick. I’ve heard it’s hard to tell who they are targeting.
MARY Oh, Si, you have to go. It’s incredible. Carl and I took the kids on a yacht through there last year, it was amazing. And so cheap! Only 25 for two weeks.
Just then, a WOMAN IN A DARK SUIT with an official-looking government badge on her lapel opens the door, holding a clipboard. She crosses a name off her list and then moves on to the next one.
DARK-SUITED WOMAN Do you have all of your paperwork filled out and appropriate IDs as requested?
SIMON hands her the paperwork. She quickly thumbs through it and seems satisfied with everything.
MARY Yeah, I’ll see you in a few minutes, or if not, then when Carl and I come over for dinner or something.
MARY I used to love English class. All the short stories and novels we got to read. All the essays we had to write. I was pretty good at writing, actually – if I do say so myself.
DANIEL Uh, yeah. Some personal essays. Responding to something or someone that’s weighing on their hearts and minds.
MARY (Laughs.) Are they all about their boyfriends and girlfriends? How their little hearts are broken from unrequited love?
DANIEL (Not amused.) No, actually. They are personal narratives about what it has been like seeing their families and communities torn apart by the BCR Act.
DANIEL (Is she serious?) Ummm … I don’t know what that has to do with it. I’m a teacher. You’re a doctor. And I don’t know what your little richie-rich friend who just went in there does, but none of that matters. We’re all still sitting here waiting to see if we’ve contributed enough to this country to keep our constitutional right to our citizenship. So I don’t know what my students’ social status matters.
MARY Whoa … O.K. I wasn’t trying to start anything. I’m just saying, there have been tons of articles written that show that the Birthright Citizenship Reform has mainly affected people who come from lower … income households. You know, people who, they … you know, deem as not the biggest contributors to the country. You and I and my dear friend Simon in there – who is a lawyer, by the way – we clearly are not in that category. But we have to go through the motions. It can’t look that rigged. It would just be unfair.
DANIEL Oh, that’s what you think? You think these people are not worried about the four million children born to black and brown immigrant parents every year? You think these people want me to be their kid’s teacher? Or you their doctor? Or Simon defending them in court? Wake up, sis. It’s real out here. And your little women’s hospital and your $20,000 yachts ain’t saving you from a damn thing! This is the America we were born into. Whether you’re just discovering its ugly side or not.
DANIEL rolls his eyes and tries to return to grading his papers, but he’s clearly very annoyed at everything – especially MARY. They both sit in silence for an uncomfortable beat.
MARY And for the record – this is not the America I was born into. I was raised to see this as a land of opportunity and that if you work and study hard, you can be anything you want to be. That there are endless possibilities out there for you … I’m sorry you don’t see things that way.
DANIEL Well, let me borrow your rose-colored glasses and I might.
The DARK-SUITED WOMAN opens the door with her clipboard, with the same menacing yet bored attitude she had moments ago.
DARK-SUITED WOMAN (Reading and butchering the name.) Add – Add – Ebola? Whatisthis? Ugh, whatever, something Mary something Johnson?
DARK-SUITED WOMAN Sure. Do you have all of your paperwork filled out and appropriate IDs as requested?
MARY hands her the paperwork. She quickly thumbs through it as before and seems satisfied with everything.
DARK-SUITED WOMAN Listen, I can’t give you any more information unless you are related to him. Now, step inside, ma’am.
MARY I want to know why he’s been detained. I need to call his wife and let her know.
MARY is shocked but for the first time looks scared. She looks back to DANIEL, who also looks terrified, then turns back to the DARK-SUITED WOMAN and nods as she slowly walks into the room. The DARK-SUITED WOMAN slams the door again, startling DANIEL a bit. He sits there alone in the silence. He looks around, unsure of what to do. After a moment, he wipes a tear that has escaped from his eye as he picks up the next paper in his stack.
McKENZIE FRYE wears a Boss coat, $695, and top, $895, hugoboss.com, and Alice & Olivia pants, $245, saks.com. JUAN CASTANO wears an Ermenegildo Zegna cardigan, $1,995, and pants, price on request, (212) 421-4488, Vince shirt, $195, vince.com, and stylist’s own belt. MICHAEL OLOYEDE wears a Z Zegna suit, $1,545, Ermenegildo Zegna shirt, $495, and Brunello Cucinelli tie, $225, brunellocucinelli.com. ANGELINA IMPELLIZZERI wears a Paul Smith jacket, $750, and pants, $395, paulsmith.com, and Boglioli polo, $400, (646) 870-8250.
Cover photograph by Todd Hido. Styled by Tracey Nicholson. Hair by Marki Shkreli using Marki. Grooming by Yui Ishibashi using MAC Cosmetics. Set design by Colin King. Photographed at United Palace Theater.
Digital tech: Michael O’Shea. Photo assistants: Jonathan Bumble and Paul Storey. Hair assistants: Yasu Nakamura, Natasha Taylor and Jenny Wimmerstedt. Makeup assistant: Evyta Soendoro. Stylist’s assistants: Sergio Mejia, Gabe Gutierrez and Susan Walsh. Tailoring: Martin Keen and Angie Bilotti.