The pre-performance workshop asked attendees to think about the connections between art and social justice – a connection especially important in the Chicano Movement. We learned about Luis Valdez and his creation of El Teatro Campesino, and the Teatro’s roots in Commedia dell’arte dating back to in Italy in the 16th century. The workshop involved participants creating still images to express emotions and concepts to get us in the theatre mindset and help us better understand the context to the evening’s performance.
Searching for Aztlán, written & directed by Lakin Valdez (following in his father’s footsteps), chronicles one high school teacher’s journey to re-energize her support of the Mexican American Studies (MAS) Program in Tucson, Arizona’s Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) which was dismantled in 2012. After an opening scene in which the teacher, Dolores Huelga, defends the MAS program to a very conservative school board, she is left discouraged and considers giving up the fight. She is then swept up in a dust storm and is taken to an alternate reality where she “searches for Aztlán” – the play very much references and follows the basic plot of Dorothy’s journey in The Wizard of Oz. Like the film, the play includes musical numbers and is a satire. The play is self-described by the theatre group as “a metaphorical yellow brick road of discovery about what it means to be Chicano in contemporary society.”
Along her journey Dolores encounters various characters (all essentially following the plot of the Wizard of Oz): the Madre of the Aztecas (the “good” witch), Jan Bruja “La Lechuza” (the “bad” witch who represents Arizona’s ex-Governor Jan Brewer), and three companions she meets along the way, all exaggerated characterizations of Chicanos 1) a 1970s militant Chicano 2) a 1980s “High-Spanic” who shuns her Latina roots 3) a 2000s “Dreamer.” In the beginning of the play the four companions are lost and alone and represent differing types of Chicano/as. By the end of the play, the characters reflect upon the idea that they are all Latino/a, and when they work together in a united cause, they are stronger.
In the end, Dolores is more committed than ever to continue with the cause in support of the MAS program. For example, the closing scene includes a voice over of news excerpts along with Dolores holding an American flag while another character carries a Mexican flag and two other characters hold signs that state: “Education is Not a Crime” and “Save Ethnic Studies” – the play ends with the characters chanting “¡Sí se puede!”
For more about Milagro’s history, be sure to check out the archival collection!
Milagro (Miracle Theatre Group) Records, 1966-2014