literature reading response

ZOOT SUIT and Other Plays


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This volume is made possbile through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, and the Ford Foundation.

The following people and institutions were instrumental in the development of this collection of plays:

El Teatro Campesino

Zoot Suit The Mark Taper Forum. The Rockefeller Foundation, The Shubert Organization, Alice McGrath, George Shibly, Ben Margolis, The Leyvas Family, The 38th St. Club.

Bandido! NEA Theater Program, AT&T On Stage.

I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation, Charles Duggan, Los Angeles Theatre Center.


For reprint rights contact: Arte Público Press

Recovering the past, creating the future

Arte Público Press University of Houston

452 Cullen Performance Hall Houston, TX 77204-2004

Cover design by Mark Piñón Cover illustration by Ignacio Gómez

Zoot Suit & Other Plays / Luis Valdez p. cm.

Contents: Zoot Suit-Bandido!-I don’t have to show you no stinking badges! ISBN 978-1-55885-048-4 1. Mexican Americans-Drama. I. Title

PS3572.A387Z6 1992 91-4z1789 812’.54-dc20 CIP

The paper used in the publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials Z39.48-1984

Copyright © 1992 by Luis Valdez Printed in the United States of America

10 11 12 13 14 15 16 18 17 16 15 14 13 12


To my lovely wife and co-worker, Lupe Trujillo Valdez


All rights reserved. All materials in Zoot Suit and Other Plays are the sole property of Luis Valdez. All dramatic, motion picture, radio, television and videotape rights are strictly reserved. No performances, professional or amateur, nor any broadcast, nor any public reading or recitation may be given without expressed written permission in advance. All inquiries should be addressed to:

El Teatro Campesino P.O.Box 1240 San Juan Bautista, CA 95045 (408) 623-2444 FAX (408) 623-4127



Introduction, Jorge Huerta Zoot Suit Bandido! I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!



It is a pleasure to introduce the reader to Zoot Suit, Bandido! and I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!, as well as to their celebrated creator, Luis Miguel Valdez. These plays have never been published before and are an important addition to the growing corpus of Valdez’s writings that have been preserved for future theater artists, students, scholars and the general reader. These three plays represent only a fraction of Valdez’s astounding output since he first began writing plays in college.

For some, Luis Valdez needs no introduction; for others, his name may only be associated with his more widely seen films and television programs. No other individual has made as important an impact on Chicano theater as Luis Valdez. He is widely recognized as the leading Chicano director and playwright who, as the founder of El Teatro Campesino (Farmworker’s Theatre) in 1965, inspired a national movement of theater troupes dedicated to the exposure of socio-political problems within the Chicano communities of the United States. His output includes plays, poems, books, essays, films and videos, all of which deal with the Chicano and Mexican experience in the U.S. Before discussing the plays in this collection, I would like to briefly trace the director/playwright’s development, placing him and these plays in their historical context.

From Flatbed Trucks to Hollywood Sound Stages: The Evolution of Luis Valdez

Luis Valdez was born to migrant farmworker parents in Delano, California, on June 26, 1940, the second in a family of ten children. Although his early schooling was constantly interrupted as his family followed the crops, he managed to do well in school. By the age of twelve, he had developed an interest in puppet shows, which he would stage for neighbors and friends. While still in high school he appeared regularly on a local television program, foreshadowing the work in film and video which would later give him his widest audience. After high school, Valdez entered San Jose State College where his interest in theater fully developed.

Valdez’s first full-length play, The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, was produced by San Jose State College in 1964, setting the young artist’s feet firmly in the theater. Following graduation in 1964, Valdez worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe before founding El Teatro Campesino. Valdez became the Artistic Director as well as resident playwright for this raggle-taggle troupe of striking farmworkers, creating and performing brief comedia-like sketches called “actos” about the need for a farmworker’s union. The acto became the signature style for the Teatro and Valdez, inspiring many other teatros to emulate this type of broad, farcical and presentational political theater based on improvisations of socio-political issues.

Within a matter of months El Teatro Campesino was performing away from the fields, educating the general public about the farmworkers’ struggle and earning revenue for the Union. By 1967 Valdez decided to leave the ranks of the union in order to focus on his theater rather than on the demands of a struggling labor organization. As a playwright, Valdez could now explore issues relevant to the Chicano beyond the fields; as a director, he could begin to develop a core of actors no longer committed to one cause and one style alone.

Although he and his troupe were working collectively from the beginning, the individual playwright in Valdez was anxious to emerge. Discussing the process of writing plays outside of the group, Valdez recalled: “I used to work on them with a sense of longing, wanting more time to be able to sit down and write.” In 1967, the playwright did sit down and write, creating what he termed a “mito,” or myth, that condemned the Vietnam war, titled Dark Root


of a Scream. This contemporary myth takes place during a wake for a Chicano who died in Vietnam, an ex-community leader who should have stayed home and fought the battle in the barrio. The dead soldier becomes symbolic of all Chicanos who fought in a war that the playwright himself objected to. “I refused to go to Vietnam,” Valdez said twenty years later, “but I encountered all the violence I needed on the home front: people were killed by the farmworkers’ strike.”

In 1968 the Teatro was awarded an Obie, off-Broadway’s highest honor, and the following year Valdez and his troupe gained international exposure at the Theatre des Nations at Nancy, France. In 1970 Valdez wrote his second mito, Bernabé. This one act play is the tale of a loquito del pueblo (village idiot), Bernabé, who is in love with La Tierra (The Earth) and wants to marry her. La Tierra is portrayed as a soldadera, one of the women who followed and supported the troops during the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

Bernabé is a wonderfully written play that brings together myth and history, contemporary figures and historical icons. The allegorical figure of La Luna, brother to La Tierra, is portrayed as a Zoot Suiter. This is Valdez’s first theatrical exploration of this 1940’s Chicano renegade, foreshadowing one of his most powerful characters, El Pachuco, in Zoot Suit. Bernabé tells its audience that Chicanos not only have a history of struggle but are that struggle. Bernabé “marries” La Tierra and becomes a whole person; he symbolically represents all men who love and respect the earth.

Also in 1970, even as Valdez, the playwright, was scripting his individual statement about the Chicano and his relationship to the earth, Valdez, the director, was guiding the collective creation of an acto dealing with the war in Vietnam: Soldado Razo (Buck Private). Soldado Razo carefully explored some of the reasons young Chicanos were willing to go fight in Vietnam. Reflecting the influences of Bertholt Brecht’s theories, the playwright uses the allegorical figure of La Muerte (Death) as a constant presence narrating the action, continually reminding his audience that this is theater and that the soldier’s death is inevitable.

Soldado Razo complemented and expanded the earlier mito, Dark Root of a Scream, looking at the same issue but from a different viewpoint and in a distinct style. In Valdez’s words, the acto “is the Chicano through the eyes of man,” whereas the mito “is the Chicano through the eyes of God,” exploring the Chicanos’ roots in Mayan philosophy, science, religion and art. While Soldado Razo methodically demonstrates the eventual death of its central figure, Dark Root of a Scream begins after a soldier’s death, exploring the cause from a mythical distance.

In 1971 the troupe moved to its permanent home base in the rural village of San Juan Bautista, California, where the Teatro established itself as a resident company. During this period Valdez began to explore the idea of adapting the traditional Mexican corridos, or ballads, to the stage. A singer would sing the songs and the actors would act them out, adding dialogue from the corridos’ texts. Sometimes the singer/narrator would verbalize the text while the actors mimed the physical actions indicated by the song. These simple movements were stylized, enhancing the musical rhythms and adding to the unique combination of elements. The corrido style was to appear again, altered to suit the needs of a broader theatrical piece, La Carpa de los Rasquachis (The Tent of the Underdogs).

Developed over a period of years, La carpa de los Rasquachis stunned the audience at the Fourth Annual Chicano Theater Festival in San Jose, California in 1973. This production became the hallmark of the Teatro for several years, touring the United States and Europe many times to great critical acclaim. This piece is epic in scope, following a Cantinflas-like (read “Mexico’s Charlie Chaplin”) Mexican character from his crossing the border into the U.S. and the subsequent indignities to which he is exposed until his death.

La carpa de los Rasquachis brought together a Valdezian aesthetic that could be defined as


raucous, lively street theater with deep socio-political and spiritual roots. The style combined elements of the acto, mito and corrido with an almost constant musical background as a handful of actors revealed the action in multiple roles with minimal costumes, props and set changes. This was the apogee of Valdez’s “poor theater,” purposely based on the early twentieth-century Mexican tent shows, otherwise known as “carpas.”

In an effort to define his neo-Mayan philosophy, Valdez wrote a poem, Pensamiento Serpentino, in 1973. The poem describes a way of thinking that was determining the content of Valdez’s evolving dramaturgy. The poem begins:

Teatro eres el mundo y las paredes de los buildings más grandes son nothing but scenery.

Later in the poem Valdez describes and revives the Mayan philosophy of “In Lak Ech” which translates as “Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me.” The phrase represents the following philosophy:

Tú eres mi otro yo / You are my other me. Si te hago daño a ti / If I do harm to you, Me hago daño a mí mismo /I do harm to myself; Si te amo y respeto / If I love and respect you, Me amo y respeto yo / I love and respect myself.

In the opening lines Valdez describes Chicano theater as a reflection of the world; a universal statement about what it is to be a Chicano in the United States. Recognizing the many injustices the Chicano has suffered in this country, the poet nonetheless attempts to revive a non-violent response. Valdez creates a distinct vision of a “cosmic people” whose destiny is finally being realized as Chicanos who are capable of love rather than hate, action rather than words.

While La carpa de los Rasquachis continued to tour, Valdez made another crucial change in his development by writing Zoot Suit and co-producing it with the Center Theatre Group of Los Angeles. Once again at the vanguard, Valdez began the mainstreaming of Chicano theater, or, for some observers, “the infiltration of the regional theaters.”

The director/playwright did not abandon El Teatro Campesino by getting involved with a major regional theater. The Teatro was still touring and Zoot Suit was co-produced by both theater organizations, thus including the Teatro in all negotiations and contracts. But this was a first step towards an individual identity that Valdez had previously rejected by working in a collective.

As advertised in the Los Angeles press, “On July 30, 1978, the Second Zoot Suit Riot begins,” and it did. Zoot Suit played to sold-out houses for eleven months—breaking all previous records for Los Angeles theater. While the Los Angeles production continued to run, another production opened in New York on March 25, 1979, the first (and only) Chicano play to open on Broadway. Although audiences were enthusiastic, the New York critics were not, and the play was closed after a four-week run. Hurt, but undaunted, Valdez could have the satisfaction that the play continued to be the biggest hit ever in Los Angeles and a motion picture contract had been signed.

Zoot Suit marked an important turning point in Valdez’s relationship with El Teatro Campesino as he began to write for actors outside the group. This experience introduced


Valdez to the Hollywood Latino and non-Latino talent pool, suddenly bringing him into contact with a different breed of artist. With a large population of professionals at his disposal, Valdez’s vision had to expand. No longer surrounded by sincere, but sometimes limited talent, Valdez could explore any avenue of theater he desired. The success of the Los Angeles run of Zoot Suit enabled our playwright/director to move more seriously into filmmaking. Valdez adapted and directed Zoot Suit as a motion picture in 1981.

The collaboration with a non-Hispanic theater company and subsequent move into Hollywood film making was inevitable for Valdez; the natural course for a man determined to reach as many people as possible with his message and with his art. Theater was his life’s work, it was in his blood, but so was the fascinating world of film and video.

With the financial success of Zoot Suit, Valdez purchased an old packing house in San Juan Bautista and had it converted into a theater for the company. This new playhouse and administrative complex was inaugurated in 1981 with a production of David Belasco’s 1905 melodrama Rose of the Rancho, adapted by Valdez. This old fashioned melodrama was an ideal play for San Juan Bautista, because it was based on actual historical figures and events that had occurred in that town in the nineteenth century. Played as a revival of the melodrama genre, the play could be taken for face value, a tongue-in-cheek taste of history replete with stereotypes and misconceptions.

The experiment with Rose of the Rancho served as a kind of motivation for Valdez, inspiring him to write the second play in this collection, Bandido! which he then directed in 1982 in the Teatro’s theater. This was Valdez’s personal adaptation of the melodrama genre but with a distinctly Valdezian touch as we will see later.

Valdez wrote and directed Corridos for the 1983 season, producing this elaboration of the earlier exercises in San Francisco’s Marine’s Memorial Theater, a large house that was filled to capacity for six months. The San Francisco production garnered eleven awards from the Bay Area Theater Critics Circle before moving on to residencies in San Diego and Los Angeles.

All of his interaction in Hollywood and his own sense of history inspired Valdez to write the final play in this collection, I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!, first produced by El Teatro Campesino and the Los Angeles Theatre Center in 1986. This production represented the beginning of yet another phase for Valdez and his company. El Teatro Campesino was no longer a full-time core of artists, living and creating collectively under Valdez’s direction. Instead, the company began to contract talent only for the rehearsal and performance period. El Teatro Campesino became a producing company with Valdez at the helm as Artistic Director and writer. After great success in Los Angeles, Badges! was co- produced with the San Diego Repertory Theater and the Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre in Jupiter, Florida. While the Teatro continued to produce, Valdez began to focus his efforts more on writing and directing films.

Valdez directed “La Bamba,” the sleeper hit of the summer of 1987, finally opening up the doors that had been so difficult to penetrate for so many years. “When I drove up to the studio gate,” Valdez related, following the success of his film, “the guard at the gate told me that the pastries were taken to a certain door. The only other Mexican he ever saw delivered the pastries.” That same year our playwright adapted and directed the earlier Corridos into a PBS version titled “Corridos: Tales of Passion and Revolution,” starring Linda Rondstadt and featuring himself as narrator. This production won the Peabody Award, the Pulitzer Prize of broadcasting.

Following the success of “La Bamba” and “Corridos,” Valdez continued to work on other projects for television and film as he also took his position as the leading Chicano filmmaker in Hollywood. Ever the activist, Valdez helped form the Latino Writers Group, which he


hoped would pressure the studios to produce films written by Latinos. “The embryo is the screenplay,” he said. “The embryo, in fact, is what is written on the page. This is where you begin to tell the difference between a stereotype and reality.”

In 1991, Valdez adapted and directed La Pastorela, or Shepherd’s Play for a great performances segment on PBS. This television production is based on the traditional Christmas play, which El Teatro Campesino has produced in the mission at San Juan Bautista for many years. That same year, Valdez and his wife, Lupe, co-scripted a motion picture based on the life of Frida Kahlo, for production in 1992. Plans were also underway for a revival of Bandido! in San Juan Bautista during the 1992 season as well as a re-mounting of Zoot Suit for a national tour.To continue with the answer check on

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