Tell Me About Chicanos
August 29 makes sense of complex issues with wit and comedy
Hyun Joo Chung
August 29, written by The Latino Theater Company, achieves as a fantastic play about a professor in Chicano Studies and the spirit of deceased journalist Ruben Salazar. The title refers to the Los Angeles Times columnist's untimely death in 1970.
Published on LatinoLA: September 15, 2003
Professor Lucero Trevi?o, played by Maricella Ibarra, is likeable as a tough, cynical, honest person of color who has made it. Her obstacle is a combination of the glass ceiling for women and/or Chicanos.
The play starts with Ruben Salazar, a role shared by actors Alex Miramontes and Ciro Suarez. He has a dark suit and approaches the audience confidently, ?Who is a Chicano??
?Chicano? is ?difficult to define,? he asserts. But one aspect is certain about Chicanos: ?They want to affect change?.now.?
A woman with a bounce in her walk, creating waves in her long, expansive skirts, comes on stage with a cheerful smile, almost ripping her face. The folkloric dancing faculty member, played by Teresa-Michelle Ruiz, raises her fist: ?Chicano!? She then pumps her fist high above her head.
?Oh, Molly,? says Lucero, a bit aghast, but mostly amused at the unabashed display. Lucero and Molly happily plan a night in time away from academic duties. Suddenly Molly snaps, ?I told you to not use that H-word around me.? Professor Lucero lets down her hair in preparation for a good night out.
At the bar, a man with a blemish-free white jacket and slick hair greets Molly.
?Get involved, please.? Molly?s eyes and lips get nearly set on fire looking at the so-called Ricky.
The charlatan asks for Professor Lucero?s help to set justice against an incident involving a student of her's in a racist incident with the police.
?You?re a great writer!? Molly bursts. ?The Hispanic Educator of the Year!" forgetting her previous prejudice against the H-word. But Professor Trevi?o does not want to get involved in the recent incident of police brutality against a student in her class.
Alone, Lucero Trevi?o gloomily slumps to her desk with a keyboard.
?I passed out the fliers,? she furiously insists. ?There?s no justice in this world,? she concludes. Where were they when I needed a loan, a ride?a hug??
?So this it,? Ruben appears, ?the last chapter??
The last chapter of Professor Lucero?s biography will feature the journalist?s death; Ruben is joyously prepared with a bottle of champagne and glasses. ?You should celebrate the end,? he insists.
Lucero asks Ruben, ?How did you feel when people called you a sellout? Were you a T?o Taco?? She continues, ?Lived in the Orange County, lived in a middle class neighborhood, married a white woman.?
?Tell me about Chicanos,? Ruben incites.
Lucero lets loose with the ?Me generation? until she stumbles on the H-word.
?Hispanic,? jovial Ruben chuckles as though tickled on the belly, ?that?s a funny term.?
But seriously, Ruben asks Lucero, what is the dropout rate?
The play then alters in flashbacks of young Lucy before her ?Hispanic Educator of the Year? and Ruben before his untimely murder.
Young Lucy, played by Jacqueline Calderon-Guido, tries on a dress over a shirt and jeans. ?Benny?s gonna be here in any minute.? The mother Trini Trevi?o, played by Maria G. Martinez, fusses around. The exuberant Lucy smiles radiantly calling herself ?An Azteca princess?wearing a crown of feathers with a Chicano prince Aztlan.?
The transformation of the hopeful young Lucero to the cynical smart-alecky Professor Trevi?o is even wittier because the transformation is told backwards.
?Brown is beautiful? Lucy swings her arms.
?You look like a?? the mother examines her daughter. ?....a hippie,? the father Frank Trevi?o played by Esquiel Ruelas, finishes Trini?s sentence. He opens the newspaper, hiding his face, ?Bunch of radicals,? he denounces. The time is Vietnam War and the brother, Jessi is absent, away in the service.
Other than demonstrating how solidarity helped the Chicano movement against police brutality, the other aspect is: What kind of responsibility does an individual have to the community? Is the responsibility more of a burden than duty?
In a flashback featuring Salazar, Rodolfo Mu?oz, played by Ricardo Molina, and Ruben drink beer. ?You have a responsibility to your gente,? Rodolfo looks to his Ruben?s eyes. The Vietnam War is still going on. There are about 5% Chicanos in the Southwest with an unheard of mortality rate of 20% in Vietnam.
Rodolfo pleads with Ruben that Salazar is the ?most visible Chicano journalist.?
But Ruben, at first, refuses the call of mission, ?There are East LAs all over the country.? But Rodolfo never relents: ?We must be in solidarity.?
The flashbacks effectively maintain suspense and drama, so is the banter between cynical Professor Lucero and idealist spirit of Ruben Salazar. ?When we went to college,? Ruben slowly explains after Professor Lucero attacks him for marrying a white woman, ?there weren?t a lot of Mexican girls.? He boyishly shrugs.
Professor Lucero and Ruben compete ?Who gave up more to the movement?? That's the ultimate contest for who was the more pathetic victim of life?s cruelties.
?My favorite game,? Ruben gets ready to fire away. So is Professor Lucero.
?I gave up my virginity,? Lucero suavely fires, introducing the best flashback of August 29.
Comedy and wit are the strongest elements to make sense of complex issues: the sellout, the suffering litmus test, and necessary solidarity, individual versus community, and even love like young Lucy said: ?Who cares if we get in trouble? We?re revolucionarios and like Che said, ?A true revolucionario is guided by great feelings of love.??
August 29 is playing through September 21, 2003 at the Casa 0101 Theatre in Boyle Heights, 2009 E. First sStreet, Los Angeles, CA 90033. Show times are: Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm, and Sunday 7pm. Reservations are required. (213) 810-9097. http://www.geocities.com/august29s