The Los Angeles Theater Center and the Latino Theater Company are housed in the same retired bank building on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. For the last 30 years, this organization has been producing plays to impact the public pedagogy of what it means to be Latino. Earlier this month, a six-hour play called A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story opened to the public. It is directed by the Artistic Director of the Latino Theater Company, José Luis Valenzuela and it was written by Evelina Fernández. I watched a preview before it opened and I will single out the rich performances of three women featured in the play, Esperanza América, Olivia Cristina Delgado and Ella Saldaña North.
Few people understand the intellectual precursors to the Mexican Revolution because in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem to matter much. Why worry about what happened in a foreign country over 120 years ago? But, if you understand that there was an exodus during that time to the United States and that many of the Chicano stories in Los Angeles originated as Mexican stories during the Revolution, it might pay to understand the historical importance of what transpired. The following is my interpretation of what I know from what I read:
Mexico was conflicted in many ways before the pinche Spaniards invaded in the 1500s. The indigenous people were developing phenomenal societies but they also had tremendous liabilities that the European savages were able to exploit. Once they did so, the Spaniards, the French, the British and the Gringos created absolute chaos in the country. This chaos lasted until a Zapoteco named Benito Juárez led México for five consecutive terms. Brother Benito attempted to establish some semblance of law and order into the society when the population was at about 8 million. This was in 1858. The Europeans were still very much present at this time jostling for power and in 1871, Brother Benito died at his desk and his former protégé began to negotiate for the position. His name was Porfirio Díaz and he was a fellow Zapoteco from Oaxaca. By 1876, homeboy Porfis began a 34-year dictatorship that marked both México and the United States forever.
Don Porfis wanted desperately to elevate México into a first world nation and to do so, he needed to invest in the infrastructure of the country. He ordered magnificent buildings, impressive national railroad networks and improved the sewage systems of Mexico City. However, México was missing one crucial element to make all of this possible: money. So, don Porfis farmed that investment out to the gringos up north. Primarily, he bedded the Guggenheims of New York and basically sold a fifth of the land mass in México to these speculators who then proceeded to “legally” rob México of 70% of the natural resources that were transferred up the gulf. This does not include the trillions that was robbed by the Europeans to prop up their societies.
For the first 25 years of Porfirismo, the country experienced solid economic progress. An extensive railroad was developed and the bureaucracy got leaner and more efficient. But labor conditions among the working class and the middle class became miserable. Strikes began happening in Sonora and Veracruz. The response from the Díaz was brutal. So brutal that the Mexican public began to have second thoughts about the state of affairs. In 1908, in what would be the final pivot of hypocrisy, Díaz leased Magdalena Bay to the United States for a period of two years and a magazine in New York labeled Porfi as the “Hero of the Americas.” This article, written by James Creelman, would become the beginning of the end for Porfis but the end would not come until 1911 when Francisco Madero would be nominated as President. Porfis would be exiled to Paris and then a few months later, Madero would be executed on February 22, 1913 and México would be thrown into its next chaotic period that would continue until 1924 with the election of Plutarco Elías Calles. This does not mean that the chaos ended, it just means that a new chaos ensued after Calles.
I won’t go into what happened next but I’ll use that historical background to segue back to the play, A Mexican Trilogy: An American Story. A priest and a young woman decide to leave México at the time of the Revolution to be together in a company mining town in Arizona. They raise their three daughters in the shadow of this mining activity that is sacrificing the lungs and lives of the Mexican workers. The father begins to get political with the seeds of the unionization of the mines and the mother develops an enormously bitter resentment to him, life and their three daughters. Before too long, the mother will actually leave the family unit and the daughters will begin their own lives in their own way.
This first act is followed by a second act in Arizona and then a third act in Los Angeles. The major milestones of American history are documented through the perspective of this once Mexican family that seemingly, in the second act, has their Mexican culture vanish almost completely out of the narrative. The three sisters are no longer Mexican in the second act. Rather, they have become Americans in one fast generation. They respond to American culture with episodes of attempted suicide, extended poverty and hallucinations of dialogues with characters like John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro. The third act ties the first two acts together.
Joining us at Intelatin is the director of the play and the artistic director of the Latino Theater Company, José Luis Valenzuela. Enjoy my dialogue with José Luis and thank you for listening to Intelatin.
Music performed by A Tribe Called Red, The Czars, Down, Elvira Rios, Finley Quaye, DJ Sun, Meta Meta, Nick Hoppner and Medicine for the People. The next Intelatin episode will be released on the supermoon of October 2016.
Intelatin is a monthly radio broadcast hosted by Sergio C. Muñoz in Los Angeles, California. The radio broadcast for Intelatin was started in 2012 at California State University Long Beach as outreach for their majority Latinx campus. The broadcast aired on KBeach Global and KKJZ 88.1 FM. Connect on Twitter @Intelatin.