Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Review: Teatro Chicana

Michael Sedano

Teatro Chicana

A Collective Memoir and Selected Plays.
Edited by Laura E. Garcia, Sandra M. Gutierrez, and Felicitas Nuñez
Foreword by Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez
Austin: UTexas Press, 2008.
ISBN: 978-0-292-71743-5 (hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0-292-71744-2 (paper)

When my daughter was five years old, she became an honorary member of Teatro A La Brava when she accompanied me to many a rehearsal as the teatro rehearsed a controversial but popular acto about a local injustice. My years with the teatro, and my daughter's involvement with us, remain among our warm memories of her childhood and my good fortune to be dad to one of the world's greatest kids.

Most likely my thirty-year old memories of that time color my reading of Garcia, Gutierrez, and Nuñez' well-edited memoir of a teatro group from the same era, the 1970s. Even if a reader has never been in a teatro, Teatro Chicana will be worthwhile reading to learn from its seventeen voices how membership in teatro contributes to a person's political, cultural, and individual growth.

There also are some beautiful stories. And sadness. The collection opens with an endearing essay by Delia Ravelo that captures most of the themes that emerge from the other speakers: a chicana is trapped in her culture's antifeminist mores. She rebels, adopting dysfunctional behaviors that place her future and happiness in jeopardy. She escapes into higher education where she discovers teatro, and as a result she blossoms politically, socially, personally, making lifelong friendships and has a lot of fun in the process.

Ravelo's joy at her teatro experience takes on a somber note as she winds her essay to a close. Early on, the reader is pulling for the abused child, sharing humorous events and artistic satisfaction. Then in the final paragraph she writes how her "earthly journey eventually will end and then my body will disappear and my brain will follow." The next essay, by Peggy Garcia, acknowledges Ravelo's leadership and inspirational friendship--as do most other writers--reveals that Delia Ravelo died before this book came to press.

Sic transit gloria mundi would be a good subtitle for the collection. From hardship to teatro to hardship becomes one of the themes that emerge. One of the ugliest hardships several writers acknowledge is sexual abuse by family members. Helplessness is not the only way the subject is discussed. Guadalupe Beltran found a way to defeat her exploiter, and helped another little girl do the same. Beltran's essay is one of the best organized pieces. She begins in blank verse with intense recollections that serve as previews of the expository prose paragraphs that follow. Similarly, Teresa Oyos composes her entire essay in the verse format for an interesting diversion from the prose of her fellow teatro memoirists.

The most comprehensive historical memoir is the final piece by Felicitas Nuñez. Nuñez' work was the heart of the three teatro groups that the writers joined. Initially it was Teatro de las Chicanas. The group segued to become Teatro Laboral as its themes matured with the maturation of el movimiento. The final incarnation as Teatro Raices comes in 1979 and winds down in 1983.

The most touching essay comes from Sandra M. Gutierrez, who composes a letter, a benediction really, as a tía addressing a high school girl about to enter her own college career. Gutierrez' essay suggests the importance of this collection as one part of a full circle. Just as Gutierrez and the other women left home to start their own careers as student actors, wives, mothers, divorcées, professionals, just as the teatro found successive cycles of new members as established members graduated out of the college milieu, so too can today's women find satisfaction, expressiveness, individual direction by finding their own teatro to nurture their spirits through that transition from girl to woman, from a past of imposed limitations to a future limited only by the bounds of a woman's imagination.

The final third of the volume presents actos and artifacts of the various teatros. Several writers extol the power and wonder of a countersexism acto called "Bronca" whose impact comes from a chant blending "cabron" to the title, as in Broncabronbroncabronbroncabron. The acto deliberately affronted menso machos of the movimiento whose insecurities and priggishness demanded that men take spotlight roles and women did the cooking. After such a big buildup, finding the acto itself is but an outline--the teatro worked a la brava through much of its career--is disappointing. But then, among the pleasures of chicana chicano teatro, and our actos, is the paradox of time and place; "you have to be there." That the compilers can present the outline, and a few more fully fleshed scripts, along with several pages of photographs, is tantalizing consolation that at least we can remember what was.

Gente! Here comes Independence Day, the United States' Fourth of July. Need I ask, "How many other countries have a fourth of July?"

See you next week.


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1 comment:

Ann Hagman Cardinal said...

Michael this is a great piece. A wonderful combination of literary review, personal experience and great writing. Nicely done!