‘Zoot Suit’ author goes digital

A line of admirers filed into the reception room after Luis Valdez’s lecture “The Role of Political Theatre in a Digital Age” Feb. 9 in the Seaver Theatre at Pomona College in Claremont. The playwright and director signed copies of his script “Zoot Suit,” which was performed as a play and later made into a movie, both of which he directed. / photo by Christina Carter
A line of admirers filed into the reception room after Luis Valdez’s lecture “The Role of Political Theatre in a Digital Age” Feb. 9 in the Seaver Theatre at Pomona College in Claremont. The playwright and director signed copies of his script “Zoot Suit,” which was performed as a play and later made into a movie, both of which he directed. / photo by Christina Carter

Locals and visitors gathered at Pomona College to discover the correlation between the nature of human beings and political theater.

Luis Valdez, renowned Chicano playwright, spoke at the Seaver Theatre on Friday about the role of political theater in a digital age.

“I have a theory…a negative turns into a positive,” said Valdez, who is also founder of El Teatro Campesino. Valdez transformed his childhood injustices into something positive—his passion for theater.

Coming from a poor migrant family, Valdez recalled the day his back was severely burned. After the skin on his back fell off, he was rushed to the hospital but was released that same day.

Valdez considered the heart and human stories as critical bases for all plays.

“It empowered me to sleep chest to chest with my mom, it turned out to be a blessing,” said Valdez, remembering that he slept with his mom during his recuperation.

Although Valdez was a bright student, especially in math, he admitted that his interest for theatre arose from a paper lunch bag. He only had one lunch bag that was to last him for the whole year.

“Man I took care of it,” Valdez said. “God bless her, she gave me the greatest gift a teacher could give, she gave me the rest of my life,” said Valdez, recalling the moment he witnessed his teacher using his only lunch bag to make a mask for the school play.

After auditioning, Valdez received his first role in a school drama.

“To me it was Broadway,” he said.

A week before the play opened Valdez was evicted from his home and was unable to carry out the part.

“What a hole it left in my soul…the hole is still there…for the last 60 years I’ve poured my heart into it,” Valdez said.

To fill that hole, he admitted he needed a theatre that would fulfill everything. And so he became the advocate for minorities that he is today.

“They were plays I could relate to,” said Vanessa Hidalgo, whose mother works in the president’s office at Claremont McKenna College.

Valdez had his first big break appearing five minutes on a local channel with “dummies” he had made. His short but barrier breaking appearance was televised in both English and Spanish.

“You got two souls…the more languages, the more human you are,” Valdez said. “Bilingual education is important.”

“I’m not a theatre major but I learned about the Chicano movement, it is inspiring what you can do as human beings,” said Sara Hildebrandt, a sophomore language major at Pitzer College.

“The question of the future of political theater in a digital age lies within the nature of human beings,” Valdez said. “Digital age is another instrument to amplify what we are doing…there is no replacing the human mind…only death can do this,” he added.

“I expected it to be a more theoretical presentation…I loved it,” said Grace Davila-Lopez, a faculty member from Pomona College.

When asked for advice for today’s generation, Valdez said, “keep learning and don’t judge.”

“It is all universal, we must appreciate each other,” said Nancy Galvez, wife of a Chicano studies professor at Claremont graduate school.

“We need to take out our strengths, as all people are alike,” she added.

Priscilla Segura can be reached at psegura@ulv.edu.

Priscilla Segura
Christina Carter

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