In my community college English course, sub-titled Activism, Arts and Social Change, students explore techniques of social struggle through the arts. One potent example is Valdez's agitprop theater (collected in Luis Valdez--Early Works: Actos, Bernabe, Pensamiento Serpentino, Arte Publico Press, 1990).
A friend of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino (The Farmworkers' Theater) which expresses Chicano identity as separate from "assimilated" Mexican-Americans. For Valdez, Mexican-Americans are burdened by an unconscious internalized racism and accept their socially constructed status as immigrants. Chicano identity, in contrast, embraces indigenous roots and rejects arbitrary geographical lines imposed by military might. Such consciousness defines pride in La Raza, the race. Since Chicanos in California and the Southwest are in or near their ancestral lands, an explicit goal within Los Actos is to reclaim "Aztlan"--a geographical and/or spiritual pre-colonial space in the Americas.
While reading, enacting, and discussing the plays, students--many of them children of Diasporas--are quick to recognize nationalistic discourse on immigration and the dehumanizing rhetoric of globalization. Often they will share stories of what they or their parents endured, not as Chicanos, but as Latinos, West Indians, African Americans, and West Africans, to name a few. While emphasizing that Los Actos are site-specific--street theater performed to address specific issues in specific public spaces--I help them draw out their individual stories, preparation for a project which they later will undertake.
Here I will briefly discuss three actos, which open up discussions of identity, displacement, and stereotypes. "Los Dos Caras del Patroncito" ("The Two Faces of the Little Boss") was originally produced at the site of the Delano grape strike, where farmworkers were uncertain if they should strike or scab. In the acto, the Boss, or Patron, tries to convince an exploited Farmworker that he "has it good," while the Patron has to suffer taxation, maintain a sprawling ranch house, safeguard expensive cars, and take care of the needs of "the blond in the mink bikini." The boss's face is hidden behind a pig mask until the end, when, on a whim, he decides to change identities with the Farmworker for a day. When he removes the mask we see he is not Anglo, but Mexican-American. The arbitrary hierarchy of social class is underscored as the...