By S. Hennessy Machado-Hidalgo
“ELACtricity” is an anthology of actos and dramatic scenes that explores, deconstructs and reclaims narratives surrounding the experiences of Latino people in the United States.
“An acto is a short, usually comical sketch, often created through improvisation, designed to be performed anywhere,” as defined by Jorge A. Huerta in his American Theatre article “El Teatro’s Living Legacy.”
Each scene of “ELACtricity” calls from the collective unconscious of Latino Americans through examining the inherent identity crisis of immigrants and their descendants.
The acto “Los Vendidos” by Luis Valdez uses humor to point out how American politics objectifies the Mexican immigrant worker.
Even a White House secretary with the surname Jimenez, or as the assimilated Ms. Jimenez prefers, “JIH-men-ez,” participates in the ridiculous objectification of her own ethnic group.
The Secretary played by Maribel Chavez plans to purchase a model Mexican for the White House to use as a prop.
Honest Sancha played by Julia Chavez pitches the amiable Farmworker, the urban Johnny Pachuco and the traditional Revolucionaria.
The Secretary is not sold on any of them, but Honest Sancha has one last model up her sleeve- the white-collar Mexican-American.
The models are played by Michelle Lopez, Urubey Armenta, Noemi Avalos Vargas and Yair Olvidares.
While the audience laughed and found familiarity in the tropes portrayed, by the end of the acto it is clear how the objectification of Mexican immigrant workers in the American political sphere denies them their humanity.
Another acto was “Latins Anonymous” by Latins Anonymous, a Latino comedy troupe based in Los Angeles from the ’90s.
The characters Diane, Rick and Armando played by Vargas, Andres Ortega and Armenta make admissions to being Latino in the same way one admits to being an alcoholic- with great shame. Their newest member Nicolette played by Maia Ratiani carries the most shame, not at all admitting to her Latin heritage.
Nicolette makes her Spanish-speaking accent sound French instead.
She praises European culture claiming she was raised and educated in France, yet there she is attending her first Latins Anonymous meeting.
Nicolette represents a subset of Latino Americans who prefer to advertise the European aspects of their mestizo ancestry rather than the indigenous.
“Immaculate Conception” by Latina Theater Lab with Ric Salinas examines the common tropes of Latinas perpetuated by their cultures of origin as well as popular media in the United States.
La Virgen de Guadalupe, played by Lopez, asks what happened to her crown of skulls and her snakeskin skirt.
It is revealed La Virgen is referring to the ancient Aztec goddess Coatlicue, which can be translated as serpent skirt.
Coatlicue is a goddess from the Aztec culture that is a revered symbol of earth, fertility and war.
This references the model of Mexican womanhood that has changed and survived through the colonist conversion of indigenous beliefs to Christianity.
La Virgen embodies a pure vision of motherhood while Coatlicue embodies complex vision of motherhood.
The matriarchal strength of women is the legacy the Aztec’s Coatlicue passes onto the Mexicans’ revered Virgen.
However, the patriarchal lens through which the Spanish practiced and taught Christianity traded a woman’s nuanced nature for an unrealistic simplicity.
This dramatic scene reclaims all aspects of Mexican womanhood, both creator and destroyer.
She is not subservient to the world, rather she plays an influential role in shaping and deconstructing it.
In “Identity/Passion Rant” an Original by the Ensemble, the actors walk on stage not as characters, but as themselves.
From experiences of one’s own family rejecting them for not being a real Mexican to experiences of leaving a war-torn country at the age of six, each performer reveals a formative experience that has contributed to how they walk through the world today.
This scene is the most simple among the rest of the anthology. Each performer sits across from each other on the staircase in the middle of the stage.
The usually stimulating background of the technological theater calms to a still monochrome. Each performer only stands when it is their turn to monologue.
After scenes filled with metaphors and specific cultural references, this performance speaks directly to the audience through the real-life experiences of its actors.
This piece reminds the audience of the real-life stakes of ELACtricity.
The art fights to have a melting pot like the United States understand and accept an already racially and culturally mixed people- the Latino people, the mestizos.
In “Dance/Song” an original by Julia Chavez and Albert Suarez, the dancer Chavez takes on the stage with elegance.
The musician Suarez plays a steady tune to go with the measured, passionate moves of the dancer.
Chavez glides across the stage in simple all-black dancer’s attire against a plain backdrop putting the whole focus on her movements and the emotions they evoke.
Her face is serene as her limbs slowly stretch away from her and her face contorts as her limbs abruptly curl inward.
Chavez’s dance is the release from social expectation to the social being’s inevitable conformity to it.
The dance is the fight between individual authenticity versus the necessity to conform in order to move through the world.
“Raspados” by Noemi Avalos Vargas ends the final act of the show.
“Raspados” is a charming scene between two Latino students, Mateo and Maya played by Ortega and Vargas. It takes place at local venues familiar to the audience, from the East Los Angeles College campus in Monterey Park to Don Manuel’s Raspados restaurant in Boyle Heights.
Maya and Mateo explore ELAC’s Vincent Price Art Museum and discuss their interpretations of the art displayed. This opens up a conversation regarding how they feel their backgrounds impact their world views.
The scene ends with Mateo and Maya sharing raspados. He thanks her for teaching him more about their shared culture and appreciating his perspective.
The scene showcases the diverse experiences and rich culture of the Latino community in East Los Angeles, opening the door for the audience to have those conversations themselves and encouraging them to explore Latino culture through the local resources available.
This is the most immediate goal of ELACtricity- to engage and empower the local communtiy.
Cristina Frías, performance faculty and director of ELACtricity, said, “As a Latina, as a Mexican American and Chicana, my mission really is to tell the stories of our community, to celebrate the rich tradition of teatro Latino and amplify the stories of our cultura. That is my call to action now that I’m here on the ELAC campus.”