Thursday, July 16, 2020

Chicanonautica: José Torres-Tama, Part Three: Unsecure Phone Chatter

Some of my paranoid--or should I say socially aware?--friends warn me that “they” can listen to you through your phone, even if you’re not talking to somebody. If anybody were listening in they would probably be confused, unless they have been studying me for a long time. What a strange idea . . . 

This was in the back of my mind when I was talking on the phone with José Torres-Tama.

I mentioned Maricopa County's former sheriff, Joe Arpiao, who's reign of terror, Tent City Jail, and defense of a border that’s over a hundred miles out of his jurisdiction was tax-supported performance art designed to keep his voters happy. That got us off and running, with Torres-Tama riffing on questions I had sent him. The conversation was freeform.

We then touched on defining Sci-Fi Latino Noir, and got into the whole images vs. word Latinoid vs. Anglo conundrum. The term “Gringo Sci-Fi” popped up--as a myopic, monolithic vision. This led us into the subject of his Taco Truck Theater performance, light, color, the images he had sent . . . A hybrid experience. He used the word "hybrid" a lot . .  . A mestizo/latino/chicano/rasquache thing . . .why not go stark, raving science fiction while we're at it?

This was  beyond words; you need images, light, colors. Special lighting is set up for the Taco Truck Theater performances that are usually done outdoors in church parking lots. The lights are ready before sundown, so they are invisible. As it gets dark, the special effects appear.

So what influenced him?

The first thing he mentioned was The Twilight Zone. Not the current manifestation or the reboot from a couple generations ago. He meant the original, black&white show created by Rod Serling, that was a fixture in reruns for decades after the original run. He was impressed by Serling's narrative subtlety. How he would “tweak what we know and take it a little more into the future,” making an allegory that comments on the present. How “our realities are sci-fi” and “science fiction is being able to see the surreality of reality.”

He also mentioned Ralph Ellison, The Time Tunnel, Ray Bradbury, James Baldwin, Land of the Giants, the movie of Fahrenheit 451, 2001, and Flash Gordon. Quite a mix. Material that allows his performances to invent a characteristically Latinoid complexity of images.

His sons, Darius, and Diego, perform with him. They are also fans of the current pop culture centered around Star Wars, and superheroes. “We all have superpowers,” he tells them. “Being bilingual is a superpower.”

We all need to recognize and use our superpowers--that include humor, as in “No Guacamole for Immigrant Haters” in these times when the United States of Amnesia wants us to forget everything, and the COVID-19 pandemic has caused devastating shutdowns in Mexico City and New Orleans. Artists’ incomes are being wiped out. The “pandemic pause” he calls it. 

Only he’s not pausing. He’s charging full-speed ahead even though the economy is crashing. Besides releasing and updating Los Cortaditos on YouTube, he has participated in Dreamocracy in America’s events on Zoom with the likes of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, writing op-ed pieces, and even writing a novel that’s sure to cause a sensation.

Because we need alternatives to the United States of Amnesia’s “plantation news” and have to decide “what normal do we want to go back to?”

While people are braving the pandemic to protest racial injustice, violence, and murder, José Torres-Tama, in the tradition of Luis Valdez’s Teatro Campesino, and Garcia Lorca bringing actors to perform for workers in the fields, is bringing the Taco Truck to the people in new ways. 

So even though the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities perpetrated a brutal cultural deportation and disappearance of immigrants in post-Katrina New Orleans in their 2018 Tricentennial history book, José Torres-Tama and his sci-fi Latino noir will bring back the forgotten past, and make way for a better future.


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