NEW YORK — Canadian choreographer Sergio (SIR’-jee-OH) Trujillo (tru-HEE’-oh) says he couldn’t let his Tony Award win go by without speaking out against a recent crackdown on illegal immigrants in the United States.
The Colombian-born, Toronto-raised performer fought back tears during Sunday night’s acceptance speech, in which he addressed “dreamers” and said he was proof that “the American dream is still alive.”
Reached Monday in New York, Trujillo says he arrived in Canada at age 12 and later moved to the United States illegally to pursue a dance career at age 24.
He thanked friends who believed in his talent and powerful industry players who hired him, including choreographer Debbie Allen and singer/dancer Paula Abdul who he says were among the first to get him his earliest U.S. work visas.
On Sunday, Trujillo won the choreography prize for “Ain’t Too Proud — The Life and Times of the Temptations.”
In his acceptance speech, Trujillo thanked his Colombian family, and “Ain’t Too Proud” director and fellow Torontonian Des McAnuff for being “a true visionary, my mentor my friend.”
“I arrived in New York City over 30 years ago as an illegal immigrant (and) I stand here as proof that the American dream is still alive, you just have to keep on fighting because change will come,” Trujillo said to cheers from the audience, which included his mother and sister.
A day later, Trujillo said he had never spoken publicly about his own illegal history but felt it was important to speak now.
“I had been thinking about it this weekend … because you use those 90 seconds, you have to be able to use them for something that has to have some incredible meaning,” he said, taking special issue with efforts to remove protections for people who arrived to the U.S. illegally as children.
“Part of it was because I was talking to my mom and it really brought up a lot of stuff that you don’t talk about because you think it’s a bad thing…. I didn’t want to share it, but it was important for me to voice it, especially today in our country’s political history.”
Trujillo says he came illegally to Canada in 1976 after his aunts and uncles and older brother and sister had already arrived. He and his parents were the last of his immediate family to make the trek, settling in North York.
He became a Canadian citizen when he was 26, after already having worked a few years illegally in the United States.
“I am so grateful to Canada for all of the wonderful things that it gave me and that it allowed me to have an upstart in my career, in my life,” he said.
“I came because I was looking for a better life. We’re looking for a better life and that’s all we’re seeking. There is no malice in an immigrant coming to a country, all we’re doing is seeking, really, richness and a better life.”
His first few years in the United States were tough, but he said that started to change when Allen sponsored him for a work visa allowing him to dance on an Academy Awards show in 1992. That was followed by a gig as a dancer with “Guys and Dolls” on Broadway and a job dancing in Abdul’s “Vibeology” video and tour.
“It took real specific people, real heroes for me to be able to, not only believe in me — forget about being illegal, forget about being a landed immigrant, forget about any of that — just talk about the journey of getting here and having other people that believe in you and are going to give you the opportunities that can help you move forward and achieve things.”
From there he began to apply for his green card, which took “about 6 to 8 years.” Trujillo became a US citizen 10 years ago.
Now, he admits to being mired in paperwork again — as he and husband Jack Noseworthy apply for Canadian citizenship for their 14-month-old son Lucas Alejandro Truworthy.
Trujillo says Noseworthy is American but received his Canadian citizenship last year while working on ”Come From Away” in Toronto.
“Canada was a big part of my life, it’s still a big part of my life,” he said.
“Canada has offered me, from the ages of 12 to 24, probably one of the most valuable foundations for who I am today. And Canada continues to show me, has shown me, incredible amount of kindness and support and allowed me to be able to take the risk that I’ve been able to take in my career and in my life.”