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Arizona dreamer’s life story inspires Phoenix Theatre musical

(Photo courtesy of Tony Valdovinos)

PHOENIX — Tony Valdovinos’ dream of serving in the U.S. Marine Corps was crushed when he found out he was undocumented.

“I believed in the Marine Corps for so many years,” he said. “I studied them. I truly honored them.”

Now, his life story is being told in a musical called “¡Americano!” at The Phoenix Theatre Company. It opened on Wednesday and runs through Feb. 23.

Valdovinos, who was 2 years old when he and his family came to Arizona from Mexico, said his desire to be a Marine started soon after he saw the World Trade Center towers collapse on September 11, 2001. He was in sixth grade at the time.

“By the time I was 17, I was ready to take that step,” he said. “I met with a recruitment officer, and it was at that moment when a lot of questions were asked from me.”

The recruiter asked Valdovinos where he was from and if he was a U.S. citizen.

His parents had told him they were in the process of legalizing their immigration status. That wasn’t true, and the recruiter told him he couldn’t join the Marines.

“I talked to my parents that same day,” he said. “I was very hurt, and I felt very rejected for something that I believed in so deeply.”

But he found a different way to serve.

Valdovinos started working on election campaigns, including being the field director for Ruben Gallego’s run for Congress. Gallego, a former Marine, won the election, fueling Valdovinos to start a political organization called La Machine.

“We were called La Machine because we were able to talk to so many voters at the time, far greater than other groups that were out there,” he said.

Five years later, his group now known as La Machine Consulting recently helped elect Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and several Phoenix city councilmembers.

The group also has helped numerous other candidates get elected throughout the years, including Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone and Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes.

“I was very defeated for so many years and had to continually fight in the political spectrum to get representation – and we were successful,” he said. “I think for myself, I found a different way to serve.”

Valdovinos said he was surprised when he found out his story was going to be told through the “¡Americano!” musical.

“What I hope people take away from “¡Americano!” is that this is about contributing,” he said. “Immigrants have always contributed, have always fought for this country.”

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