‘En el Nombre de Raquel’ (In the Name of Raquel) is a one-woman play that aims to combat human trafficking through the telling of the story of Raquel Liberman, a Polish-jewish immigrant turned prostitute. She was known as the first woman to stand up to the “white slave trade” in Buenos Aires in the 1930s. The play is inspired on the novel ‘La Polaca‘ by Mirtha Schalom.
Mariel Rosciano plays Raquel. Rosciano worked many years as an actress exploring the theme of women’s rights, and was compelled to create this version of the story because she feels it is still very relevant to what happens today. She felt that it would be interesting to tell the story of Raquel on the stage because it gives her a “better voice than she has in the book … and gives the story more body, more real form.”
Raquel Liberman emigrated to Argentina with two small children to follow her husband, who died within months of her arrival. Left alone to support her family in a unfamiliar country, she was led into becoming a prostitute – an agent of Zwi Migdal, an organisation of jewish “white slave traders” which trafficked women from Eastern Europe. Generally the organisation would approach young girls of poor families and offer them opportunities for work or marriage abroad, but instead bring them to brothels. Zwi Migdal operated from the 1860s to 1930, and at its height, had 430 pimps controlling 2,000 brothels with 30,000 women in Argentina. The largest brothels housed up to 80 sex slaves.
After years of working as a prostitute, Liberman was able to save enough money to open an antique shop, but before long local pimps from the organisation raided her business, stealing her earnings and forcing her back into prostitution. Although most officials and police were in the hands of the organisation by way of bribes or participation, Liberman contacted a police superintendent who she had heard would not take bribes. From there she was able to give a testimony and assist in the investigation, which eventually led to the downfall of the organisation.
The play tells Raquel’s story but also conveys the suffering and lives of countless young women who were promised jobs or marriages and immigrated only to be tricked into the sex trade. The “white slave trade” still exists, says Rosciano. However, it has no colour designation today; people now recognise that the same trade affects those of all colours.
Travelling far and wide to perform, Rosciano and her team particularly focus on areas with high incidences of human trafficking. One of the most vulnerable areas is the “triple frontier” of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, and the respective border cities of Puerto Iguazú (in Misiones), Foz do Iguaçu, and Ciudad del Este, where the lack of security at the crossing points makes its easy to move young women across borders. The team has also traveled to Colombia, Costa Rica, and hopes to make it to the United States.
The show has a very strong impact. People are affected both by the history and the staging, says Rosciano. The sex slaves never left the house, they were locked in a room. The staging is crude, “no more than a body, a bed and a chair,” to reflect the crudeness of the story. Everything happens through the body of Raquel. Many people are very moved by the story, especially because it challenges the common misconception that prostitution is always a choice.
Rosciano is happy to say they have also been “fortunate enough” to perform the play for many young women who have recently escaped prostitution and those who are still trying to leave the business. She feels the play has a strong impact on them, as “it shows what happens to a body in this situation,” and gives them hope, with the idea that “if this woman was able to get out, I could too.”
“One of the most difficult places we went was Colombia,” says Rosciano. “We were working one on one with a young girl who had been a victim of this. We sat and drank a coffee with her, and she was telling us stories about her experiences. Her way of telling the stories – she had an attitude that was almost humorous – was very hard to hear, because the stories she was telling us were very similar to the things that happen in the play.”
Performing this play all over and coming into contact with these victims “puts you in touch with a very brutal reality,” adds Rosciano.
The team wants to continue performing if they can raise the funds to travel. They plan to go to the high-risk area of the triple frontier, to Misiones, and to Paraguay, if their funding will allow. They need to raise $8,000 by 22nd July to fund the trips, and have so far only reached 15% of their goal.
More information and details on how to support the project can be found here.