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The Theatre Journal Auto/archive:
Jorge Huerta, Ph.D.
In July of 1990, I wrote an op-ed for The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "Colleges Should Expose Their Students to the Tradition of Hispanic-American Theater." In that essay I argued for what the title implies: more recognition in theatre and drama curricula of what Latina/os and Latin American theatre artists have been doing in the Américas (which includes the United States) for centuries. I pointed out the fact that during the 1980s the regional theatre companies seemed more interested in the theatrical expressions of these communities than did the theatre departments that were training and educating artists, scholars, and audiences.
Well, the 1980s have passed and by 1994, I was bemoaning the fact that many of those mainstream theatres were no longer producing plays by Latina or Latino playwrights and if they were, they rarely hired Latina or Latino directors or other members of the production team. As a consequence, they often produced disastrous results. Funding sources had turned their attention to other causes and the mainstream "Hispanic Projects" as well as the Latina/o theatres were left to fend for themselves. The 1980s, dubbed "The Decade of the Hispanic," by Time magazine, had passed us all by and we didn't even notice. It's now the year 2003 and although I am still concerned about the state of Latina/o theatre in the profession and in the academy, there is definitely hope.
Permit me to go back in time—a prerogative of this forum—to the 1950s, when I played "that cute little Mexican kid" on several nationally televised programs coming out of Hollywood. I jokingly tell people that I spent the 1950s in white pajamas and huaraches on a little screen in black and white (see photo). I learned at a very early age: (1) I would always be cast/seen as a Mexican, despite my efforts to pass for Anglo and (2) the only hope for my Broadway aspirations was West [End Page 757] Side Story. I did not realize how racist that musical was, I just wanted to sing "Maria," which, of course, isn't even sung by one of the so-called Puerto Rican characters. As an undergraduate at California State College at Los Angeles, I did get to play Julio in that infrequently produced Lerner and Lowe musical comedy from the mid-50s, Paint Your Wagon. The story takes place in a mining camp in California during the Gold Rush. A secondary plot involves the main character's daughter who falls in love with a "foreigner," a "Spanish" miner. I got to sing one of the more memorable songs in that show, "I Talk to the Trees," but the trees never talked back to me. Was this because I wasn't "Spanish"? The creators of that piece just couldn't imagine a romance between a Mexican and a white woman in those days, I suppose, even though Desi was loving Lucy on television every week.
As an undergraduate, I eventually realized that I wanted the stability of a teaching position that would allow me to support a family while doing what I loved. My mentor, Maris Ubans, suggested that I do what he did: teach during the school year and direct during the summers. So I earned a Master's degree in theatre from the same college assuming that I would land a position in a college or university. I never dreamt of teaching high school drama but I was now married and took the only teaching job I could find at a small rural high school in Riverside, California in 1966. Born and raised in East Los Angeles, perhaps it was only appropriate that I would now be teaching sixty miles east of East L.A. rather than on the affluent Westside.
From my first day at Rubidoux High, I loved what I was doing. After three wonderful years of teaching high school drama I taught one year at a...