Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theatre and Drama

By Marc Maufort | Go to book overview

Looking for a Third Space:
El Pachuco and Chicano Nationalism in Luis Valdez's Zoot Suit

Granger Babcock

In Zoot Suit: An American Play ( 1978), Luis Valdez emphatically reasserts the figure of the pachuco, which, as Jorge Huerta, Marcos Sanchez- Tranquilino, John Tagg, and Angie Chabram-Dernersesian have all theorized, marks the limit of the first stage, or wave, of Chicano cultural nationalism. As an outgrowth of Valdez's work with El Teatro Campesino ( The Farmworker's Theater), Zoot Suit also represents the culmination of what is generally recognized as the first stage of his work ( 1965- 1978), which, not coincidentally, parallels the initial period of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement in the Southwest.

Valdez began his "professional" writing and directing career in 1965 when he founded the Teatro Campesino during the Delano Grape Strike as a way to gain support for the United Farm Workers of California (UFWOC), then under the leadership of Caesar Chavez. At this time, Valdez's writing and directing focused on what he called actos; collectively created, actos were highly improvised skits that focused on the multiple oppressions experienced by the Chicano huelguistas (strikers) at the hands of the growers and esquiroles (scabs). According to Valdez, "The actos were born quite matter of factly in Delano. Nacieron hambrientos de la realidad [They were born of the hunger for reality. Everything and anything that pertained to the daily life, la vida cotidiana, of the huelguistas, became food for thought, material for actos" ( Early Works11; italics added).

In 1967, in an effort to form a permanent theater company and thereby expand its political base, Valdez and the Teatro Campesino left the sponsorship of the United Farm Workers. According to Jorge Huerta, "It was not an ideological difference that motivated the separation, but the need to become a full-time theater, unencumbered by the daily demands of a struggling labor union. Valdez had to ask himself if he could really accomplish his goals with a sometime troupe, or if the Teatro Campesino could become a major force in the wider spectrum of the burgeoning Chicano Movement" (61). Valdez located the theater permanently in San Juan Bautista, California. Writing in 1970, Valdez explained the decision to leave the union: "El Teatro Campesino was born in the huelga [strike], but the very huelga would have killed it. . . . A struggle like the huelga needs every person it can get to serve

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