HARLINGEN — Enrique handed Maria Elena a note.

“Truthfully? We’re going?” said a young Maria Elena played by Samantha Lopez in the play “Tracks,” which opens tonight at the Harlingen Performing Arts Center.

The young couple, full of love and hope, is preparing for a bright future, which will turn into the worst kind of nightmare.

The play “Tracks” by Magda Irazarry-Mirelez and Stan K Standly is being presented by the Harlingen High School Theater Arts Department. It tells the story of 13 immigrants who are heading to the United States in a train boxcar.

Enrique and Maria Elena are so excited. Enrique, played by Riley Sauceda, beams with pride as he tells Maria Elena he’s found a way for them to cross from Mexico to the United States.

“I talked to your Tio Dino and he said he knows someone that can get us across,” he says.

Harlingen High School students have been preparing for the show for more than a month, said Courtney MacNeil, director.

“It felt like the right time because of the message,” she said. “It just highlights on these issues that we’re dealing with all the time.”

She gestured toward the students on stage.

“They are doing great,” she said.

Co-director Christopher Esparza helped with last week’s production of the Wizard of Oz and is now helping with “Tracks.”

“It’s been a great experience,” he said.

Rick De Leon plays Antonio, who begins the play with a powerful monologue about seeing the immigrants jump from the train six years earlier — and the others who’d died. It had occurred near his home.

“Who would want to see it with their own eyes?” he asks the audience. “It is easier to read about, leerlo, en el newspaper. It is easier to imagine it happened somewhere else, no en tu patio.”

De Leon, a senior at Harlingen High School, spoke at length about his character who’d grown up in the United States and had been used to seeing trains pass him home.

“He would always see immigrants jump from the train,” he said. “It made him very appreciative.”

Riley and Samantha, also HHS seniors, spoke with great passion about their characters and how their dreams turned tragic.

“They have been planning to go to America to build a life for themselves,” she said. “They don’t have the necessities they need.”

They make it across the border. Horror strikes before they even enter the boxcar when one of the traffickers sexually assaults Maria Elena. Enrique is badly beaten when he tries to defend her. They finally make it to the boxcar where he tries to comfort her.

The young couple, so full of hope, perishes with the others, their American dream becoming the thing of nightmares.

What it’s about

“Tracks” is based on a tragedy in May 2003 in which 19 immigrants died in a tractor-trailer on their way to Houston. More than 70 immigrants from Mexico, Honduras and other parts of Latin America had been locked in the back of the trailer without water, air-conditioning or fresh air.

When the driver opened the trailer and discovered 17 had asphyxiated, he fled the scene. Two others died at the hospital. Jorge Ramos, anchor for Noticiero Univision, wrote about the tragedy in the book “Dying to Cross.” A large part of the book is based on accounts of survivors who talked about their four hours trapped inside the trailer.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Tracks

WHEN: Today at 7 p.m., Nov. 4 at 7 p.m.

WHERE: Harlingen CISD Performing Arts Center

3217 W. Wilson Rd.

ADMISSION:

General Admission: $5

Senior Discount: $3.

For more information call, (956) 427-3571.