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
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.
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.