The Theatrical Politics of Chicana/Chicano Identity: from Valdez to Moraga

Elizabeth Jacobs

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Abstract

Critical opinion over the role of popular culture in relation to ethnic and cultural identity is deeply divided. In this essay, Elizabeth Jacobs explores the dynamics of this relationship in the works of two leading Mexican American playwrights. Luis Valdez was a founding member of El Teatro Campesino (Farmworkers' Theatre) in California during the 1960s. Originally formed as a resistance theatre, its purpose was to support the Farmworkers' Union in its unionization struggle. By the early 1970s Valdez and the Teatro Campesino were moving in a different direction, and with Zoot Suit (1974) he offered a critique of the race riots that erupted in East Los Angeles during the summer of 1943, the subsequent lack of reasonable judicial process, and the media misrepresentation of events. Valdez used setting, music, slang, and dress code among other devices to construct a sense of identity and ethnic solidarity. This provided a strong voice for the Chicano group, but at the same time a particular gendered hierarchy also distinguished his aesthetic. Cherríe Moraga's work provides a balanced opposition to that of Valdez. Giving up the Ghost (1984) helped to change the direction of Chicano theatre both in terms of its performativity and its strategies of representation. Elizabeth Jacobs explores how Moraga redefines both the culturally determined characterization of identity presented by Valdez and the media representation of women. She also utilizes theatrical space as a platform for a reassertion of ethnicity, allowing for the innovation of a split subjectivity and radical lesbian desire. Giving up the Ghost, Jacobs argues, provides a trenchant critique of communal and popular culture discourses as well as a redefinition of existing identity politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-35
Number of pages11
JournalNew Theatre Quarterly
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2007

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