Su Teatro's Mestizo resurrects the soundtrack of the Chicano movement
Mestizo, a new play written and directed by Anthony Garcia, kicks off Su Teatro's new season on Thursday, October 11. The premiere stars Daniel Valdez, who in 1973 composed the album Mestizo -- the first and only Chicano protest album to be released by a major record label. And the script follows a story similar to that of Sixto Rodriguez, which begs the question: How could something that sounded so influential and fresh fall into nothingness?
"Sixto and I were on the same label," says Valdez. "The similarities in question are whether or not we found an audience. I respect Sixto's work -- it's something incredible, surprising really, that the album got buried. Mine did the same."
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Mestizo, the play, is set against the struggles of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement and follows five young activists in the '60s and '70s. Mestizo, the album, will serve as a backdrop to the play.
"In many ways, Mestizo is the soundtrack of the Chicano movement generation. Daniel was writing about both political and personal themes; consequently, we all saw ourselves in his music. His music represents a transition from understanding our Mejicano roots to expressing our Chicano identity," says Garcia.
Mestizo means just as much today as it did in the 1970s, Valdez says: "At that time, there was a real political and cultural awakening taking place amongst Latinos, so that word 'mestizo' was brand new to that generation, in terms of identifying themselves."
Technically, "mestizo" translates simply to "mixture" -- although it took on much more meaning. "If you look at pre-Columbian history, you'll find 'mestizo,' which was really the birth of a race that was the result of the merging of two cultures: the Spanish and the Mayan," says Valdez. "So 'mestizo,' which really means mixture, was a brand-new term. Unless you're an anthropologist, looking at it historically, you don't find that word." But it was perfect for the re-identification that young Chicanos at the time were looking for, he remembers, and it was the perfect title for his first major record.
Valdez got his start as protest singer, and although he became an actor and producer, he says music has always been his main focus. He acted in La Bamba, as well as other films such as Born in East L.A and The China Syndrome. He composed the original music for the first Chicano Broadway play, Zoot Suit, which later became a film. He also did an album with Linda Ronstadt, and says he was surprised to find out that she was a "pocho," just like him.
Valdez is an artist-in-residence at Su Teatro for the next year, thanks to a grant from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation.
For the fortieth anniversary of Mestizo, Valdez is raising money to have the original album repressed and re-mastered on CD and available for purchase for the first time since its initial release. "I hope this new CD will be able to bring back that piece of the 1970s and the struggles we went through in those early years that brought people together through music," says Valdez.
Mestizo will open at Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts Center, 721 Santa Fe Drive, on October 10, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through October 26, as well as a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday, October 27. Tickets are $20, $17 for students and seniors; for tickets and more information, go to www.suteatro.org or call 303-296-0219.