EDINBURG, July 1 - Which play? “Zoot Suit.” Now showing, Edinburg High School, Ciro Treviño Auditorium, last performance today, 2:00 p.m., this glorious Sunday, July 1st.
Why attend? Why, with Sunday barbeques beckoning, presidential elections in Mexico threatening, work or play or rest on—finally—a cooler day awaiting?
Why? Because it’s art--dance and music and commendable acting—together with history, politics and social commentary appropriate for our times. Oh, and because it’s fun. The appreciative audience included, professors, students, and families of the hard-working actors of the Rio Grande Valley.
Newly elected Edinburg City Councilman, J.R. Betancourt and his lovely wife, Renee, a fine lawyer from Edinburg, were present, supporting the arts with other luminaries. They were exposed to a high quality production of the famous Luis Valdez play. It was the first Chicano play on Broadway in 1979. It was re-presented with many of the original cast members as an acclaimed film in 1981 featuring Edward James Olmos as “El Pachuco.”
Other film stars included Lupe Ontiveros, beloved character actress who has charmed fans in the past when a guest of the University of Texas—Pan American. Others will recall Tyne Daly as the lawyer for the Mexican American young men wrongfully charged with murder in the infamous Sleepy Lagoon trial in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Why the need to refresh our memories?
We need to remember the prejudices of the 1940s, the “racial profiling” in the barrios of East LA. They are not too far removed from current stereotypes and media sensationalizing that occurs today. That previous era was super-charged with World War II as a background, leading to an exacerbation of old tensions and vendettas against perceived “foreigners.” Nisei or third generation Japanese Americans were put into concentration camps. Mexican Americans—especially youth, who sported loud colored clothes and macho attitudes — were targeted by the press, police, and judges for harassment and even cruel and unusual punishment.
The producer, Brisa Areli Muñoz, and directors of this Edinburg performance—Charlie Palacios and Luis Moreno—are to be commended for bringing this play to south Texas. The entire cast and technical support are worthy of support. Their Thirteen O’Clock Theatre has many plays to its credit. Recall the magnificent “Urine-town,” reviewed in the Rio Grande Guardian, presented at South Texas College, McAllen.
It is hard to think again of the divisiveness and deliberate injustices of racism of Los Angeles in the 1940s. But, thankfully, it is softened somewhat through art. Our own Valley artists have recreated for us enjoyable sessions of bi-lingual humor and intense psychological and sociological drama. They accomplished this formidable task through channeling swing, jitter-bug, exciting choreography, song and exuberant acting,
These fellow citizens have, fundamentally, left us with heart-tugging reminders of an important time and place. The message was, gracias a Diós, that bitter legacy ought to stay in the past. But, a sage warning comes to mind: “A nation that does not remember its past is doomed to repeat it.” What better way to remember than through a very American musical romp. Through this pleasurable recounting of a very bitter-sweet set of personal, true stories, many senses of yours are satisfied. So, get lost in the love of music and dance; feel the stimulation of mind and soul. Viva Zoot!
Dr. Gary Mounce is a professor of politics at the University of Texas-Pan American. He is a regular guest contributor and advisor to the Guardian.