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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Teatro Chicana Speaks with the dead

“We dared to speak out,” wrote Laura E. Garcia of Teatro Chicana, “as women who were fighting for Las Chicanas, for something bigger than ourselves: justice and equality.”
This week Teatro Chicana, a group of Hispanic activist women formed in the late 1970s, came to Grinnell College to orchestrate a number of events.

Three members of the original group and two long-term friendsRosa Marta Zárate Macias, Laura Garcia, Maria Elena Ramirez, Hilda Rodriguez and Felicitas Nuñez, came to Grinnell to share their history, theater, and vision. The women of Teatro Chicana met as first generation students at California State San Diego and were from relatively traditional Mexican families. Once on their own, they banded together through Guerilla/street Theater in support of feminism, workers rights, ecological awareness and peace.

“We’re not professional but we have a big heart,” Nuñez said.

Teatro Chicana was brought to Grinnell through the Spanish department and SOL.
“The beauty of their work lies in its simplicity and its impact. In very short one-act plays, the women drive home messages that transcend generations,” Professor Nasser said. “Street theater gives voice to the people and creates avenues of expression that would otherwise not exist.”

This past Tuesday, Teatro Chicana performed skits and songs from their theater. On Wednesday, they constructed an altar to honor the dead in accordance with Dia De Los Muertos, and on Thusday they read excerpts from and signed copies of their book Teatro Chicana: A Collective Memoir and Selected Plays.

Teatro Chicana’s performance Tuesday evening coincided with All Saint’s Day, which also marks the beginning of the Mexcian celebration of Dia De Los Muertos.

As part of Tuesday’s performance, the visiting members of Teatro Chicana performed their own version of “The View,” in which Nuñez explained that The Day of the Dead is about celebrating death as opposed to fearing it.

“We invite the dead to come back and join us,” Nuñez said.

Inspired by this, the women began their performance by honoring Jean Seberg, an activist and the star of the movie “Breathless,” who was born in Marshalltown, IA. Seberg supported the NAACP and American Indian tribes such as the Sac and Fox living in the Tama settlement near Marshalltown.

Teatro Chicana encouraged students to attend The Wild Rose Independent Film Festival, between November 3rd and 10th  in Des Moines, and which will celebrate Jean Seberg’s life and work.
In addition to honoring their dead, Nuñez and Ramirez performed an excerpt from “Salt of the Earth.” The skit discussed a New Mexican strike for better working conditions in which women played a pivotal role to organize and help the men. Nuñez, playing the wife, expressed her excitement to be involved with politics despite her husband’s (played by Ramirez) desire to return things back to the way they were when he did not have to help with the cooking, cleaning or child rearing.

“Can you only have dignity if I have none?” Nuñez asked as the wife.

In between skits, Zárate Macias played beautiful songs on her guitar singing lyrics in Spanish.

“I am the Senora de la Canción,” Zárate Macias, said. Or, I am the woman of song. Zárate Maciassang “Woman is Standing on the Front Line,” a feminist revolutionary ballad of her own composition. At the end of every verse, Zárate Macias knocked percussively against her guitar’s body and shook her fist in the air. Her reverberating, lamentful and expressive voice captivated the attention of the audience.

The performance continued with “ET” in which Rodriguez played an impoverished Mexican woman, driven to immigrate ‘illegally’ with the help of an exploitative agent, or ‘cayote,’ to the United States in order to support her sick mother. Teatro Chicana asserts that no person is undocumented and no person is illegal.

“We are all members of the human race and should live as brothers and sisters,” Ramirez said after the skit.

Teatro Chicana also aims to tell history from the side of the marginalized, taking on the role of people that seem to have run out of options and showing how they can survive and flourish.
“We make her-story, not history,” Garcia said.

Maria Elena Ramirez, did just this— she explained the last 500 hundred years of history from the perspective of the Aztecs and Mayans in the Chicana’s own style of rap. She impressed upon the audience that we are about to embark on a new and more egalitarian cycle, according to the Mayan calendar.

“The prophecy of the Rainbow Warriors will come to pass,” Ramirez said, “when all the sacred colors of the human race: black, red, brown, yellow, and white, will coexist at one time.”
Ramirez stressed that an ecological balance must be found.

“The way that the earth is treated is the way that women have been treated,” Ramirez said, “as something you take up, use, and discard.”  In the future, Garcia hopes our generation will learn to respect the Earth as opposed to seeing it as a commodity.

The final act of Teatro Chicana was “The View a la Chicana” in which, in honor of Día de Muertos, the ladies conducted an upbeat interview with Death.

“In the West, the fear of death is right up there with public speaking,” Garcia said.
“La Muerta is the only thing which does not discriminate,” Ramirez said.

Teatro Chicana ended their performance by advocating that the natural balance between life and death is not something to fear, but instead something to respect.

These grey-haired revolutionaries put on a captivating performance. Although much of their work was created thirty years ago, the issues they discussed still ring true today. Teatro Chicana spoke honestly and engagingly from the perspective of the subaltern; the migrant worker, the silenced woman, and those marginalized by race, when the ‘writers’ of history would not. They imagine a world with permeable borders in which the environment is respected and diversity is cherished. They leave it up to us to make that happen.

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