- Teatro Chicana: A Collective Memoir and Selected Plays
Teatro Chicana, which in her introduction Yolanda Broyles-González rightly describes as a “treasure” (xi), contains seventeen individual memoirs and seven short plays that were performed by the feminist collective known as Teatro de las Chicanas. This collection enhances the history of the formation, function, and impact of the Chicana Movement. Although many of the women recount similar experiences regarding the struggle for liberation and sexual equality, their individual perspectives show how women from different backgrounds organized to share and speak out for positive social change. The stories tell how their humble student group at San Diego State University grew into a dynamic collective that encouraged both lasting friendships and solidarity for civil rights. The plays provide a glimpse of how the women of the Teatro Chicana created performances by combining personal narratives, memories, and improvisation. The scripts were written quickly, being frequently created to address current events in the local community. Actors often had to improvise with little rehearsal and many of the women describe the quality of their performances as unprofessional, but it was the message that mattered most.
The majority of the women who founded Teatro Chicana were the first generation of their families to attend college. Some of them were already active in organizations such as MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) and Teatro Mestizo when Teatro Chicana was formed in 1971. While most of the women in the Teatro Chicana were born in the United States, mostly in California, a few members were originally from other countries. The experiences of these non-native born women are both moving and distressing. In her own memoir, Mexican-born Laura Garcia details the humiliation of being placed three grade levels behind students her own age simply because she had trouble speaking English (31). Many other women share similar experiences of being singled out, held back, physically abused by teachers, and discriminated against for speaking Spanish. Virginia Rodriguez Balanoff recalls how she was chastised for speaking Spanish, and explains her frustration now at having realized how much Spanish she has lost (65). Despite obstacles and disadvantages, these women fought together to be heard. Their collective voice in this book calls attention to an area of theatre history deserving greater recognition.
The women of Teatro Chicana fought for the rights of migrant farm workers, better educational opportunities for minorities, and greater awareness of social problems that plagued their communities. Their memoirs not only discuss specific perspectives on these issues, but also reflect an anxiety concerning the fact that pursuing an education has been viewed as a rebellious act in Chicano culture. Several of the women write about the 1971 Seminario de Chicanas, an event organized by women involved in MEChA for mothers of San Diego State Chicana students, to address the struggles that minority women faced while earning degrees and to promote the benefits of a college education. Delia Ravelo recalls how the seminar helped to unite mothers and daughters (12). During the conference, students performed a play, Chicana Goes to College, to open up a dialogue about issues that Chicana women faced in academia, especially sexual inequality. This galvanizing event led to the formation of Teatro Chicana in the autumn of 1971.
Chicana Goes to College, along with other plays such as Bronca and Salt of the Earth, specifically address the fact that the larger Chicano Movement did not regard women as equals, holding instead to what the women regarded as machismo ideals. The Teatro Chicana’s performances insisted that women were capable of more than just cooking, cleaning, or filing paperwork and called for an end to racism, poor working conditions, and the stereotyping of women as sexual objects. Teatro Chicana would later change its name to Teatro Laboral to emphasize a focus on working-class issues, and then later to Teatro Raíces, after the group began to accept members from outside the university. Kathy Requejo recalls how the message of...