Authors: Luis Miguel Valdez

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright and political activist

Identity: Mexican American

Author Works


The Theft, pr. 1961

The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, pr. 1965

Las dos caras del patroncito, pr. 1965

La quinta temporada, pr. 1966

Los vendidos, pr. 1967

Dark Root of a Scream, pr. 1967

La conquista de México, pr. 1968 (puppet play)

No saco nada de la escuela, pr. 1969

The Militants, pr. 1969

Vietnam campesino, pr. 1970

Helguistas, pr. 1970

Bernabé, pr. 1970

Soldado razo, pr., pb. 1971

Actos, pb. 1971 (includes Las dos caras del patroncito, La quinta temporada, Los vendidos, La conquista de México, No saco nada de la escuela, The Militants, Vietnam campesino, Huelguistas, and Soldado razo)

Las pastorelas, pr. 1971 (adaptation of a sixteenth century Mexican shepherd’s play)

La Virgen del Tepeyac, pr. 1971 (adaptation of Las cuatro apariciones de la Virgen de Guadalupe)

Los endrogados, pr. 1972

Los olivos pits, pr. 1972

La gran carpa de los rasquachis, pr. 1973

Mundo, pr. 1973

El baille de los gigantes, pr. 1973

El fin del mundo, pr. 1975

Zoot Suit, pr. 1978

Bandido!, pr. 1981, revised pr. 1994

Corridos, pr. 1983

“I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!,” pr., pb. 1986

Luis Valdez–Early Works: Actos, Bernabé, and Pensamiento Serpentino, pb. 1990

Zoot Suit, and Other Plays, pb. 1992

Mummified Deer, pr. 2000


Zoot Suit, 1982 (adaptation of his play)

La Bamba, 1987


Fort Figueroa, 1988

La Pastorela, 1991

Edited Text:

Aztlan: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature, 1972 (with Stan Steiner)


Pensamiento Serpentino: A Chicano Approach to the Theatre of Reality, 1973


Luis Miguel Valdez (VAL-dehz), political activist, playwright, director, essayist, and founder of El Teatro Campesino, is the most prominent figure in modern Chicano theater. Born on June 26, 1940, to migrant farmworker parents, he was second in a family of ten brothers and sisters. In spite of working in the fields from the age of six, Valdez completed high school and received a scholarship to San Jose State College, where he developed his early interest in theater. The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa was written while Valdez was a student there. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English and drama in 1964, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, whose work was based on commedia dell’arte and the theater of Bertolt Brecht. These experiences heavily influenced Valdez’s work, especially in terms of style and production.{$I[AN]9810000781}{$I[A]Valdez, Luis Miguel}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Valdez, Luis Miguel}{$I[geo]LATINO;Valdez, Luis Miguel}{$I[tim]1940;Valdez, Luis Miguel}

A 1965 meeting with César Chávez, who was organizing migrant farmworkers in Delano, California, led to the formation of El Teatro Campesino, the cultural and propagandistic arm of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Valdez created short improvisational pieces, called actos, for the troupe. All the actos are characterized by the use of masks, stereotyped characters, farcical exaggeration, and improvisation. Las dos caras del patroncito (the two faces of the boss) and La quinta temporada (the fifth season) are actos from this early period that highlight the plight of the farmworkers and the benefits of unionization. Valdez left the union in 1967, bringing El Teatro Campesino with him to establish El Centro Campesino Cultural. He wanted to broaden the concerns of the troupe by fostering Chicanos’ pride in their cultural heritage and by depicting their problems in the Anglo culture. Los vendidos (the sellouts), for example, satirizes Chicanos who attempt to assimilate into a white, racist society, and La conquista de Mexico (the conquest of Mexico) links the fall of the Aztecs with the internal dissension of Chicano activists. In 1968 El Teatro Campesino moved toward producing full-length plays, starting with Valdez’s The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa. Expressionistic in style, the play explores the conflict between two brothers–an assimilationist and a pachuco, a swaggering street kid–and the impact this extremism has on the tenuous fabric of a Chicano family. Recognition followed, with an Obie Award in New York in 1969 for “creating a workers’ theater to demonstrate the politics of survival” and an invitation to perform at the Theatre des Nations festival in Nancy, France. Later in 1969, Valdez and the troupe moved to Fresno, California, where they founded an annual Chicano theater festival, and Valdez began teaching at Fresno State College.

In 1971 Valdez moved his company permanently to the small town of San Juan Bautista in California. There, Teatro Campesino underwent a fundamental transformation, as the group began increasingly to emphasize the spiritual side of their work, as derived from prevalent Christian as well as newfound Aztec and Mayan roots. This shift from an agitational focus to a search for spiritual solutions was met with anger by formerly admiring audiences in Mexico City at the Quinto Festival de los Teatros Chicanos in 1974. The company continued to flourish, however, touring campuses and communities yearly and giving financial support and advice to other theater troupes.

Fame came with Zoot Suit, the first Chicano play to reach Broadway. Although its run was relatively brief, owing to negative criticism, the play was very popular on the West Coast and was made into a film in 1981, with Valdez both the director and the writer of the screenplay. During the 1980’s, Valdez and El Teatro Campesino continued to tour at home and abroad, presenting works by Valdez and collectively scripted pieces that interpret the Chicano experience. The 1986 comedy “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” is about the political and existential implications of acting, both in theater and in society. In 1987 Valdez wrote the screenplay for the successful film La Bamba, the story of Ritchie Valens, a young Chicano pop singer who died in an airplane crash in the late 1950’s. This work reached a large audience.

After a gap in playwriting of almost fifteen years, Valdez wrote Mummified Deer. This play reaffirms his status as the “father of Chicano drama” and continues his exploration of his heritage through the juxtaposition of ritual and realism. The play takes its inspiration from a newspaper article concerning the discovery of a sixty-year-old fetus in the body of an eighty-four-year old woman. According to scholar Jorge Huerta, the mummified fetus serves as a metaphor for “the Chicanos’ Indio heritage, seen through the lens of his own Yaqui blood.” The play’s major dramatic action operates in the historical/fictional past.

Valdez’s contributions to contemporary Chicano theater are extensive. Writing individually and with others, he has redefined the cultural forms of the barrio: the acto, a short comic piece intended to move the audience to political action; the mito (myth), which characteristically takes the form of an allegory based on Indian ritual, in an attempt to integrate political activism and religious ritual; and the corrido, a reinvention of the musical based on Mexican American folk ballads. He has placed the Chicano experience onstage in all of its political and cultural complexity, creating what no other American playwright has, a genuine workers’ theater that has made serious drama popular, political drama entertaining, and ethnic drama universal.

BibliographyBroyles-Gonzales, Yolanda. El Teatro Campesino: Theater in the Chicano Movement. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. Study drawing on previously unexamined materials, such as production notes and interviews with former ensemble members, to demystify the roles Valdez and El Teatro Campesino played in the development of a Chicano theater aesthetic.Elam, Harry J., Jr. Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theatre of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Explores the political, cultural, and performative similarities between El Teatro Campesino and Baraka’s Black Revolutionary Theater. An intriguing examination of the political theater of these two marginalized groups, Chicanos and African Americans, and their shared aesthetic.Flores, Arturo C. El Teatro Campesino de Luis Valdez. Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 1990. This five-chapter study examines the importance, gradual development, theoretical considerations, touring, and “return to identity,” and the “steps to commercialization (1975-1980)” represented by Zoot Suit. A strong study with a bibliography. In Spanish.Huerta, Jorge A. Chicano Theatre: Themes and Forms. Ypsilanti, Mich.: Bilingual Press, 1982. Well-written and-illustrated study that begins with Valdez’s experiences in Delano in 1965. It contains an excellent immediate description with dialogue of these first energies and is written in the present tense for immediacy and energy. Provides some discussion of the beginnings of the San Francisco mime troupe and strong description of the actos and their literary history in Europe.Huerta, Jorge A. “Labor Theatre, Street Theatre, and Community Theatre in the Barrio, 1965-1983.” In Hispanic Theatre in the United States, edited by Nicolas Kanellos. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1984. Placed at the end of a longer study of Hispanic theater, this essay takes on more importance by indicating Valdez’s contribution in a continuum of history. Good on contemporaries of El Teatro Campesino; strong bibliography.Kanellos, Nicolas. Mexican American Theater: Legacy and Reality. Pittsburgh: Latin American Literary Review Press, 1987. Begins with an examination of Valdez’s transformation from director of El Teatro Campesino to the urban commercial playwright of Zoot Suit in 1978. Cites Valdez’s contribution to the “discernible period of proliferation and flourishing in Chicano theatres” from 1965 to 1976, then moves on to examine other offshoots of the impulse.Morales, Ed. “Shadowing Valdez.” American Theatre 9 (November, 1992): 14-19. Excellent essay on Valdez, his followers, his film plans, his shelved Frida Kahlo project, and later productions in and around Los Angeles, with production stills. Includes an essay entitled “Statement on Artistic Freedom” by Valdez, in which he defends his nontraditional casting.Orona-Cordova, Roberta. “Zoot Suit and the Pachuco Phenomenon: An Interview with Luis Valdez.” In Mexican American Theatre: Then and Now, edited by Nicolas Kanellos. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1983. The opening of the film version of Zoot Suit in 1982 prompted this interview, in which Valdez reveals much about his motives for working, his view of Chicano literature and art, and his solutions to “the entrenched attitude” that will not allow Chicano participation in these industries. Much on Pachuquismo from an insider’s point of view.Pottlitzer, Joanne. Hispanic Theater in the United States and Puerto Rico: A Report to the Ford Foundation. New York: Ford Foundation, 1988. This volume provides a brief history to 1965 and discusses the Hispanic theater during the upheaval of the Vietnam War. Also examines the theater’s activities and budget and pays homage to the inspiration of El Teatro Campesino and Valdez. Supplemented by an appendix and survey data.Valdez, Luis Miguel. “Zoot Suit and the Pachuco Phenomenon: An Interview with Luis Valdez.” Interview by Roberta Orona-Cordova. In Mexican American Theatre: Then and Now, edited by Nicolas Kanellos. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1983. The opening of the film version of Zoot Suit prompted this interview, in which Valdez reveals much about his motives for working, his view of Chicano literature and art, and his solutions to “the entrenched attitude” that will not allow Chicano participation in these industries.
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