Chicano theatre



  • Drama by and for US citizens of Mexican origin. Plays may bein Spanish, English, or a mixture of both. The plots focus on theexperiences of Mexican-Americans, especially their problems in adjustingto a White English-speaking country. Issues dealt with include racialdiscrimination, unemployment, drug abuse, education, and housing.The troupes are often made up of students from colleges and universities.

    Spanish-language drama in North America can be traced backto the arrival of the conquistadors, who staged religious plays forthe natives. Such a performance took place in 1598 in present-dayEl paso, Texas, during an expedition led by Juan de Oñate.After the United States was established, the Spanish-language theatercontinued in the southwest, with centres in California (Los Angelesand San Francisco) and Texas (San Antonio, El Paso, and Laredo). ByWorld War II it had spread to New York, Chicago, and other major cities,where specialist venues presented Spanish plays and zarzuelas.

    The current Chicano theater was a product of the 1960s civilrights movement. The director and playwright Luis Valdéz(1940 - ) is credited with its foundation. A studentactivist and a member of the San Francisco mime Troupe, Valdézjoined César Chávez during his nationally publicizedmigrant farmworkers' strike in the vineyards of Delano, California,in 1965. Valdéz used improvised political theater to supportthe cause, presenting a series of one-act revolutionary works calledactos. He went on to establish the company El Teatro Campesino(Farmworkers' Theatre). In 1978 his Zoot Suit was premieredin Los Angeles and became the first Chicano offering to transfer toBroadway.

    El Teatro Campesino provided a model for other troupes, suchas Adrian Vargas's Teatro de la Gente in San Jose, California (1967),the Teatro de los Barrios in San Antonio, Texas (1969), and Joe Rosenberg'sTeatro Bilingue in Kingsville, Texas (1972). In 1971 a national Chicanotheater organization called TENAZ (El Teatro Nacional de Aztlán)was created to sponsor annual festivals for companies from the USand Latin America.

    Chicano theater is a part of the broader category of HispanicAmerican theater, which has expanded rapidly since the 1960s.There are now over 100 Hispanic companies active in the United States;some 30 of these are Chicano, the rest being mainly Puerto Rican orCuban. The best known New York companies include the Puerto RicanTraveling Theatre, INTAR, and Repertorio Espagnol.