The Use of Theatre in Mexican-American Culture

Topics: Chicano, Zoot suit, Pachuco Pages: 6 (2164 words) Published: July 9, 2008
Latinos are currently the largest minority group in the United States, and Mexican-Americans are the largest group within the Latino population. It may be unfathomable for the younger generations to think of the Mexican population in the United States as a silent minority group; however, it was not until after World War II that we see a rise in Chicano nationality and identity movements. What was the role of the theatre in this discovery of identity, and how did the theatre give social voice to this formerly unheard group? The clearest answer to this question can be found through the Teatro Chicano movement, Luis Valdez’s character El Pachuco in Zoot Suit and the performance art pieces and writings of Luis Alfaro. The name El Teatro Chicano is actually a blanket term used to describe an entire theatrical movement by the Mexican-American population in the United States. Established in 1965, Luis Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino (literally, Farmworkers’ Theatre) was the most famous of the Chicano Theatres; however it was hardly the only participant within the movement. In 1971 there were over 25 groups that defined themselves as Chicano Theatres (Huerta 15). The basic guidelines of El Teatro Chicano were simply to be a community-based movement committed to exposing social issues and injustices within the barrios, or hyper-segregated Mexican neighborhoods. The mission of Teatro Chicano was based on the understanding of the ancestral Mayan concept of “In Lak’ech”, which states “you are my other me, so I must respect you as I do myself.” The foundation of Teatro Chicano not only traced back to the Native American ancestors of the Mexican-American community, but it also sought to use this ancestry to restore a sense of identity and to encourage Mexicans in the United States to hold onto their roots (Huerta 16). Unlike other theatre and social change movements, El Teatro Chicano was not really interested in injustice as a whole, but rather injustice from the vantage point of the Mexican-American. The specificity of the movement also helped to distinguish the Mexican identity from a general marginalized group identified by the blanked term of ‘Hispanic’ or ‘Latino’ to a unique faction with a personalized perspective (Huerta 15). There has been little research done on teatros other than Teatro Campesino, most likely due to the fact that El Teatro Chicano was not a very organized or professional movement. Pieces were often performed outdoors, on street corners or in other high traffic areas. Little concern was given to production quality because the content of the message was the primary focus (Kanellos 65). Valdez felt there was a want for more unity and communication between participants as well as a need for more training of Chicano performers in El Teatro Chicano, so in the summer 1971 he held the first meeting of El Teatro Nacional de Aztlán, or TENAZ. The workshop was considered a “success”, and 15 participants were taught different Teatro ‘techniques’ and swapped ideas for topics and themes for new performance art pieces (Huerto 14). Ironically Valdez, the founder of TENAZ, was eventually excluded from the workshop because he was criticized for creating works that were too ‘spiritual’ and that avoided the real issues of poverty, employment and discrimination (Elam 116 – 117). The fundamental performance utilized by El Teatro Chicano was the acto, a term coined by Luis Valdez. Actos are performance are pieces that are used to “inspire the audience to social action” and put emphasis on the social vision (Broyles-Gonzalez 25). While they were usually scripted, they were never actually written down and performers often took a lot of artistic license with the pieces (Broyles-Gonzalez 22). The actos performed by various Teatros Chicanos often faced serious opposition, even by members of the Mexican community. In an effort to remain ‘true to reality’ the actos often contained extreme profanity, coarse subject matters and graphic...
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