On the surface, Lyvia Martinez’s play, “Así Es,” appears to be a simple account of an international student attempting to work through culture shock, as he tries to adjust to his new life at Brigham Young University. For Javier, the protagonist of the play, going from Puerto Rico to the USA is culture shock enough, but he further finds that the special sub-culture of a predominantly LDS community is another shock in itself.
Were there no more to the play than this, it would not be an especially deep or compelling story. However, the "Mormon" elements mentioned in this play are more than curios to provide greater detail; rather, these small details expose a "Mormon" issue that much of the world seems to believe our faith represses.
Javier confides in his cousin, Monserrate, that adjusting to the strangeness of BYU has been taxing on his faith and religious life. Practices such as “ward prayer,” institutions like “young single adult wards,” or “ward callings” with bizarre job descriptions (“The sum total of your duty in this congregation is to hand out these slips of paper every week.”) may seem strange to a non-LDS audience, but they are hardly less bizarre to the LDS community outside of Utah.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a global church; it transcends national borders and cultures.
…But not entirely, it seems.
Through the conversations of Monserrate and Javier, Martinez reveals an issue seldom considered by members of the Church, unless they are abroad as full-time missionaries: The Church teaches the same universal doctrine throughout the world – at least in theory. However, odd cultural quirks sometimes develop among Mormons. These quirks are not a part of the religion itself, but they develop within its people all the same. Many of the prejudices, cruelties, and hypocrisies that Latter-day Saints are thought to adhere to are in fact not in accordance with what the Church teaches, but rather the product of the “Church culture” meshing with the local culture of its people.
Or as I have personally termed it, there is a difference between the restored gospel of Jesus Christ – the doctrine of our church – and that peculiar culture which is called “Mormonism.”
Martinez has brought to light an issue that deserves just as much recognition from Latter-day Saints as it does from everyone else. It’s not that we can ignore these inconsistencies and the trouble they cause, but that these inconsistencies are something we should acknowledge and overcome.