Luis Valdez, born June 26, 1940, is an American director, screenwriter and writer. He is considered to be the "Father of Chicano Theatre" in America. He is most noted for his works Zoot Suit (play and film) and La Bamba (film).
Valdez was born to migrant farm working parents in Delano, California. As a child, he became interested in puppet shows and created paper-mache masks for a theater production. In his teen years, he appeared on a local television program. These early experiences helped to mold him into the writer and director he would become later in life.
Valdez went on to study at San Jose State University and graduated with a degree in English in 1964. Following graduation, Valdez worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a theater of political satire based in San Francisco, California. In 1965, Valdez founded the El Teatro Campesino, a theatrical group where farm workers were the actors. The early performances were inspired by events of their real-life audiences. Valdez was a pioneer in the use of actos, which are short realistic sketches addressing political, social and economic issues. The El Teatro Campesino's productions highlighted the struggles of Chicano farmworkers and educated the general public about their plight. By 1967, the theater troupe delved into additional aspects of Chicano culture, which included education, racism and their aboriginal roots.
Valdez spoke openly about his views of how Chicanos were treated in America. He was quoted as follows: "The Mexican in the United States has been, and continues to be, no less a victim of American imperialism than his impoverished brothers in Latin America. In the words of the Second Declaration of Havana, tell him of 'misery; feudal exploitation, illiteracy; starvation wages,' and he will tell you that you speak of Texas; tell him of 'unemployment, the policy of repression against the workers, discrimination...oppression by the oligarchies,' and he will tell you that you speak of California; tell him of U.S. domination in Latin America, and he will tell you that he knows that Shark and what he devours, because he has lived in its very entrails."
In 1967, Valdez created what he called a "mito," which was entitled Dark Root of a Scream. The play revolved around a dead Chicano soldier of the Vietnam war who, as portrayed, should have stayed home in the "barrio" and fought the "war" there. It has been said that this play was symbolic of all Chicanos who fought in a war that Valdez objected to. Twenty years later, Valdez was quoted as saying: "I refused to go to Vietnam but I encountered all the violence I needed on the home front: people were killed by the farmworkers' strike." A second "mito", Bernabe, was written in 1970, which foreshadowed what would be one of Valdez's most triumphant works, Zoot Suit. In 1971, El Teatro Campesino relocated to its permanent home in San Juan Bautista.
Zoot Suit is based on the "Sleepy Lagoon Trial," which revolved around the murder of Jose Diaz in 1942. A group of innocent Chicano youngsters were charged with the murder and it is said to be the "precursor to the Zoot Suit Riots." This was the first Chicano-based play to be staged on Broadway. Valdez went on to direct a film version of Zoot Suit in 1981.
Valdez is also well known for his film La Bamba, released in 1987. La Bamba was based on the life of Richie Valens, a Mexican-American singer, songwriter and guitarist.
In 1985, the University of California at Santa Barbara, with the cooperation of Luis Valdez, established an archival collection of El Teatro Campesino and Luis Valdez. It contains scripts, dissertations, books, reviews, interviews, slides, audio recordings, film, photographs, costumes, props, promotional movie posters and the private papers of Valdez. From it has been published an anthology entitled Luis Valdez -- Early Works: Actos, Bernabe and Penamiento Serpentino.