'The Cuban Swimmer' by Milcha Sanchez-Scott

Young woman floating upright in water with eyes closed.

Lola Russian / Pexels

"The Cuban Swimmer" is a one-act family drama with spiritual and surrealistic overtones by the American playwright Milcha Sanchez-Scott. This experimental play can be a creative challenge to stage because of its unusual setting and bilingual script. However, it also presents actors and directors with an opportunity to explore identity and relationships in modern California culture.


As the play begins, 19-year-old Margarita Suarez is swimming from Long Beach to Catalina Island. Her Cuban-American family follows along in a boat. Throughout the competition (the Wrigley Invitational Women’s Swim), her father coaches, her brother cracks jokes to hide his jealousy, her mother frets, and her grandmother yells at the news helicopters. All the while, Margarita pushes herself onward. She battles the currents, the oil slicks, the exhaustion, and her family’s constant distractions. Most of all, she battles herself.


Most of the dialogue within “The Cuban Swimmer” is written in English. Some of the lines, however, are delivered in Spanish. The grandmother, in particular, speaks mostly in her native tongue. The switching back and forth between the two languages exemplifies the two worlds which Margarita belongs to, the Latino and the American.

As she struggles to win the competition, Margarita tries to fulfill the expectations of her father as well as the crass American media (the news anchormen and the television viewers). However, by the play’s end, she drifts beneath the surface. When her family and the newscasters believe that she has drowned, Margarita separates herself from all outside influences. She discovers who she is, and she saves her life (and wins the race) independently. By almost losing herself in the ocean, she discovers who she truly is.

The themes of cultural identity, especially Latino culture in Southern California, are common in all of Sanchez-Scott's works. As she told an interviewer in 1989:

My parents came to California to settle, and the Chicano culture there was so different to me, very, very different from Mexico or where I came from [in Colombia]. Yet there were similarities: we spoke the same language; we had the same skin color; we had the same interaction with culture.

Staging Challenges

As mentioned in the overview, there are many complicated, almost cinematic elements within Sanchez-Scott’s "The Cuban Swimmer."

  • The main character is swimming the entire time. How would you, as a director, portray this action on stage?
  • Margarita’s family pulls along on a boat. How would you convey this? With a set? Pantomime?
  • Helicopters and news commentators interfere with the characters. In what ways could sound effects enhance or sully the play?

The Playwright

Milcha Sanchez-Scott was born in Bali, Indonesia in 1953, to a Colombian-Mexican father and an Indonesian-Chinese mother. Her father, a botanist, later took the family to Mexico and Great Britain before settling in San Diego when Sanchez-Scott was 14. After attending the University of California-San Diego, where she majored in drama, Sanchez-Scott moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.

Frustrated by a dearth of roles for Hispanic and Chicano actors, she turned to playwriting. In 1980, she published her first play, "Latina." Sanchez-Scott followed the success of "Latina" with several other plays in the 1980s. "The Cuban Swimmer" was first performed in 1984 with another one-act play of hers, "Dog Lady." "Roosters" followed in 1987 and "Stone Wedding" in 1988. In the 1990s, Milcha Sanchez-Scott largely withdrew from the public eye, and little is known of her activities in recent years.


  • Bouknight, Jon. "Language as a Cure: An Interview with Milcha Sanchez-Scott." Vol. 23, No. 2, Latin American Theatre Review, University of Kansas Libraries, 1990.
  • Mitgang, Herbert. "Theater: 'Dog Lady' and 'Swimmer.'" The New York Times, 10 May 1984, NY.
  • "The Cuban Swimmer by Milcha Sanchez-Scott." Napa Valley College, 2020, Napa, CA.
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Bradford, Wade. "'The Cuban Swimmer' by Milcha Sanchez-Scott." ThoughtCo, Aug. 29, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-cuban-swimmer-overview-2713479. Bradford, Wade. (2020, August 29). 'The Cuban Swimmer' by Milcha Sanchez-Scott. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-cuban-swimmer-overview-2713479 Bradford, Wade. "'The Cuban Swimmer' by Milcha Sanchez-Scott." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-cuban-swimmer-overview-2713479 (accessed June 5, 2023).