If We Knew Now, What We Knew Then...

The Chicano play Drive My Coche

By Frankie Firme
Published on LatinoLA: April 9, 2006

If We Knew Now, What We Knew Then...

As the weather slowly gets better, we're all planning something...a party, dance or concert to attend...a new movie we just gotta see...a quincea?era, a wedding, or divorce party...a new relationship, apartment, car, job, or if we're lucky, a house...spring makes us feel better about something new without the commercial pressure we sometimes feel right after New Years.

These freedoms are the benefit of living in a free country, painfully aquired through life experiences, struggle & strife, survival...but mostly by the sacrifice of our brave Men & Women serving in uniform.

While the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on, the Government and American media have successfuly distracted the attention of the majority of Amricans from this woeful fact by keeping in our faces the high and rising price of gas, the high and rising price of homes, the immigration issue,the astronomical costs of college education, middle east terrorists, and other domestic problems that makes me wonder why EVERYBODY isn't on some drug or medication.

These types of times and situations makes me think of....yesterday....

By yesterday, I mean the times of my youth, and the times of the youth of others who never made it to adulthood because of another war....Viet Nam.

The Viet Nam War era...a time of social protest, a time of the Chicano Movimiento, the walkouts, the Chicano Moratorium against the Viet Nam war , hippies, new rock music, long hair, lowriding before mandatory insurance and unleaded gas , lots of pot smoking and the ever constant fear and uncertainty of young Chicanos and their future...and of course, music playing all the while...

The Viet Nam war era...roughly circa 1960 - 1975. Where does time go? Who talks about it now? Where did we all go?

Popular TV sitcoms portray life in America. "Happy Days" brought the 1950's. "That 70's show" roughly hangs around 1977 and beyond. "The George Lopez Show" hits on the now.

Movies like "Platoon", "Full Metal Jacket", "Too late the hero", and TV Shows like "Tour of Duty", "China Beach", and others give up the combat version of the time. A lot of 1940 and 1950 movies portraying life in America during WW II were patriotic and supportive of middle class white America making it through the times.

...but what was it like for young, first or second generation Chicanos and Chicanas during Viet Nam in the 1960's? Despite having over 20,000 dead and the most combat medals for valor & bravery during the Viet Nam conflict, who told the Chicano story of life on the homefront during that time?

Like a lot of Chicano Veteranos, I just figured I had to move on with life after surviving and coming back, needing to focus on "making it" and taking care of the family, and no need or time to snivel about an American experience that was either too painful or embarassing to talk about...despite my contribution that zapped my youth, and took the youth of others I had known.

Like veterans of the Korean War, a whole generation of Men & Women were basically forgotten, or minimized by the general public or segments of the generation who wrongly turned on their peers, while they either protested or ran away to Canada or Mexico.

Fast forward 33 years...life in the Land of 1000 Dances has helped me survive and keep my sanity. The appreciation of my culture, and the Arts that reflect it, have more than enriched my life, and the life of my children and grandchildren.

Now, I write about it, hoping that readers and listeners can appreciate the lifestyle & culture of my people without having to face a life threatening situation to do so.

...and it's ever so gratifying to know that I'm not alone.

So it was, that despite some of L.A.'s heaviest Chicano music action happening all around me on a Friday night at spots like The Montebello Inn, The Ramada Inn, The Lakewood Hop, and The quiet Cannon, and despite my dedication to promoting and keeping it alive, my good friend and agent, music producer and brother Viet Nam Vet Steven Chavez and I stepped out with our beautiful Brown Ladies for a night of Chicano Avant-Garde Theater in, suprisingly, our home neighborhood of East L.A.

On Cesar Chavez Avenue, (formerly Brooklyn Avenue), 2 blocks from King Taco, around the corner from the Eastside Boy's Club, and across the street from the legendary El Gallo Bakery (home of the best bolillos and pan dulce in the World!), we fought the Friday night traffic that has quadrupled since the 1960's, and arrived at the new El Gallo Plaza Cultural Coffee House and Theater.

A quaint, pleasantly LATINO flavored atmosphere, with a traditional decorated theme (reminds me of my grandmother's house in Juarez, Mexico), with the smell of freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked postres in the air, Steven, our Ladies, and I were warmly greeted by East L.A. Repertory Company Theater Director Jesus A. Reyes and members of his staff, welcoming us to the premier of Roy Conboy's new play about Chicano life in East L.A. during the Viet Nam Era, "Drive my Coche".

Graciously invited after wishing him well before the premier, "Drive my Coche" was an emotionally touching experience in Avant-garde theater by the 2 man team of brothers Tom and Danny Sandoval, directed by Jesus Reyes, that I would invite my generation to check out and taste the production ...and tastefully done it was!

With Tom Sandoval as the protagonist "Bill", and Danny Sandoval smoothly and hauntingly playing original music in the background during the play with cunning, the production comes at you in the true Bard style of colorful storytelling, in a manner that needs no stage props to entice the audience. The play also features 2 live original songs by the Brothers Sandoval that at one point, almost choked me in reminicence.

"Bill's" descriptions of the times, the moods, the happenings, and his love for his ranfla "La Bamba" and Kathy Escovedo, brought out long lost feelings of youth in me. Forgotten fun like cruising from East L.A., to the beach to the high desert (when gas was only 22 cents a gallon) came back to me in "Bill's" colorful storytelling.

In the true spirit of the thespian, Tom Sandoval (who is also a Viet Nam vet having served with the Air Cavalry) allows his role as "Bill" to engulf him, becoming tearful and almost choking in mid sentence as he describes the all too well known adolescent feeling of lost first love, and the uncertainty & fear of dangers in the street that most young Chicanos are too macho to admit. His performance was well received by all in the audience, as he did his job in drawing the audience into the state of magical make believe visualization .

How "Bill" goes back into 1970 from today, if he was ever drafted and went to Viet Nam, if Kathy became the mother of his 2 children, whatever happened to Kathy's brother Carlos, if "Bill" ever wins his draft appeal or survives a confrontation with Kathy's gangster boyfriend...and what became of life in East L.A. for this young Chicano of the Viet Nam era ...

...is something you have to see and feel for yourself.The standing ovation was well deserved!

"Drive my coche", a play written by Roy Conboy and directed by Jesus A. Reyes plays until the end of April. Don't miss this one, mi Gente!

I implore you!

note: for more info on "Drive my Coche":
(323) 788-3880

And tell 'em you heard it from Frankie Firme & LatinoLA.com

About Frankie Firme:
Frankie Firme's website: www.frankiefirme.50megs.com

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