By Antonio Sacre
A director tells Antonio that he would produce his play if only he was Mexican. This makes Antonio reflect on the importance of listening to stories outside our own ethnic groups. Antonio travels to Mexico and learns Mexican folktales to share with the community.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: If-Only-You-Were-Mexican
- It’s important for communities such as Mexican-Americans to see plays written, directed and acted by Mexican-Americans. However, it’s important to hear stories from other cultures as well. How does a teachers, parents and community theater directors balance both concerns?
- Do you know the folktales and history of your family’s cultures? Did you hear them in school? From the adults around you? From books?
- How did knowing and learning the stories that have existed in your culture for hundreds of years affect you? Does it make you curious about other groups’ stories?
- Mexican Folk Tales by Anthony John Campos
- Momentos Magicos/Magic Moments by Olga Loya
- Mexican American Theatre Then and Now by Nicolas Kanellos
- Crossing Cultures
- Latino American/Latinos
- Living and Traveling Abroad
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
“We might be able to produce the play if you were Mexican.” The artistic director of a medium sized theater in Los Angeles told me this recently. As an actor and a playwright faced with the tantalizing possibility of actually getting a play that I’d written produced in an established theater, my first reaction was… I can be Mexican! Just as in the past being rejected from numerous acting jobs, I have said, I can play tougher! I can be shorter! I can grow my hair! I can shave it off! I can buy a wig! I can be a woman! I can be older! I can be younger! I can be anything you need; I’m an actor, that’s what I do!
But I found myself constantly wrong, as an actor in Chicago. I found I was too ethnic looking for many of the parts I would audition for, and not ethnic enough for others.
But instead of being angry with that artistic director, I asked him gentle questions. “Why couldn’t you produce a play about a Cuban-American?” He told me he went to the local organizations, the churches, and libraries, and school, and they told him they wanted a Mexican production.
Even though it angered me, it made sense to me. I thought of my relatives in Little Havana. They are much more likely to see a play by one of their own, too.
I thought, good for the community, to state what they want, to finally say your theater’s been in our neighborhood for 10 years, and you’ve rarely presented what we want to see. We can fill a house, we can make you some money, we can sell you some tickets, just listen to what we want right now.
And good for the director, to listen to them. It’s not so common yet for artistic directors of English-speaking theaters to reach out to their Spanish-speaking audiences unless they are after some grant. For all their talk of outreach, theater in the places I see theater in (Chicago, New York, LA and San Francisco) and the size of theater I usually see (small) remains as segregated as many of the Churches I’ve been to across the country.
So I said, “If you are going to work in a community, it seems that you should listen to what they want.”
I thought, “How does anybody learn anything? How can these walls be broken down or at least scaled for a moment to view the other side?” The only small answer that I have found is learning and listening and sharing each other’s stories.
As a storyteller, I listened, I read, I traveled to Mexico, I learned the amazing stories they grow up with there. The Nahautl creation and war stories, La Malinche and her daughter, La Llorona, La Mano Peluda, Alacrán de Durango, Callejón de Beso, and the snake girl from the hills of Guanajuata, Las Momias, Perfecto Luna, tales of wonder in Oaxaca and I walked the pyramids of Teotihuacan.
I travel between these worlds Cuban and American, Mexican and American, Spanish and English, and report what I hear, what I see.
So, instead I offered to the director my talents as a bilingual storyteller, offering to do community outreach for him, to serve as a bridge between the cultures.
I said, I’ll go to their churches, their schools, their meeting places and then share their stories with them, and then listen. Listen to them tell me, “No, that’s not how La Llorona sounds, she sounds like this, AAAIIIIIEEeeeeeee.” Hear them tell me, I heard that one too, but it goes like this…watch them tell their children and each other old Pepito jokes, thankful that they listened, grateful to be included, to be trusted with their story.
The director got excited. He went back to the community, and they got excited. So, I’ll probably have to wait a little longer to get my play out here, but I’m patient. But, in the meantime, did you hear the one about the Cuban-American that tried to be Mexican?
He asked for Congi y Picadillo with his burrito, and they just haven’t stopped laughing.