What kind of role model should a mother be to her daughter? This question, in all its richness and complexity, is at the heart of the new musical Miss You Like Hell, by Quiara Alegría Hudes (book and lyrics) and Erin McKeown (music and lyrics), now playing at the Public Theater. The story follows Beatriz and her estranged teenager (Daphne Rubin-Vega and Gizel Jiménez, respectively) who are reunited on a road trip across America. Beatriz is an undocumented immigrant, a fact that looms large over their journey. The question lingers: Will this be their last?
Part of Hudes’ interest in telling a mother-daughter story is to show women, specifically mothers, as healers. Beatriz, though imperfect, is teaching her daughter the value of courage and independence at a crucial time in her life.
“I come from a very matriarchal family,” says Hudes, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her play Water By the Spoonful, and a Tony Award nominee for the book of In the Heights. “And I think I always felt a disconnect between the stories I saw in contemporary culture and the stories that I experienced with the women in my family. The story that I felt growing up is that women—and especially women from indigenous communities—have this profound ancestral memory of healing. That in times of crisis, we have the means of self-care and fortitude. That was vital to my childhood, and a story that I felt was under told.”
Inspired by a play Hudes wrote in 2007 called 26 Miles, it’s possible that the idea for Miss You Like Hell actually came long before, instilled in her by a mother who fought for women’s health rights in underserved communities. So while the struggles of undocumented immigrants may seen more relevant today than ever before, they have been present in America for some time—something Hudes, thanks to her mother, witnessed first hand.
“When I think about what motherhood means most to me, I think about how my mother was with me,” says Hudes, who is now the mother of two children—including an 11-year-old daughter. “It’s important to me as a mom to not only respond to all of her needs, but to equally show her what my needs are and how I can take care of myself. I want to show her a model of what an independent woman is, as my mom did.”