December 22, 2006

A pastorela with a San Diego twist

By Pablo Jaime Sáinz

It’s the story we all know but with a new twist, a very border twist, very mechicano...

It’s “La pastorela mechicana,” a new version of the classic Nativity story where the shepherds take a new shortcut and instead of walking towards Bethlehem, they look for the place of birth of Jesus in Santa Ysabel, near the Anza Borrego desert, in eastern San Diego County.

And if this wasn’t enough, the Virgin, instead of naming the baby Jesus, she wants to call him “Jesse.” Other proposals are Chucho, Cuco and Chuy.

“La pastorela mechicana,” which will be presented by the local theatre troupes Grupo Dionisio and Teatro Molcajete on December 22 and 23 at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, is a Spanglish version of the Nativity story.

Playwright Carlos Von Son said that his goal was to present the classic plot adapted to a border and San Diego region reality to attract more people to the theatre.

“We also wanted to do it in Spanish so that our people would relate to what’s going on on stage,” said Von Son, who teaches literature and multicultural studies at Palomar College, in San Marcos.

In this original version, Virgin Mary is represented by Virgen de Guadalupe and Saint Joseph is replaced by José, a native Mexican. Together, Guadalupe and José migrate to the north, to the desert in San Diego County, where little “Jesse” is to be born.

For Amilcar Chavez, who plays the demon Leviatan, “La pastorela mechicana” is an excellent opportunity for Spanish-speakers in North County to see quality Latino theatre. “I think that students support Latino theatre, but since in northern San Diego there’s not enough Latino theatre, many students don’t know that it exists or they don’t know about Latino theatre in the area. That’s why I feel that more student participation is needed,” said Chávez, who’s a teaching credential student at Cal State San Marcos.

Nadya Cabuto, codirector and who also plays a demon called Sucuba, said that “mechicana” means that this is not a pastorela like it’s done in Mexico but it’s also not an American version of the story. Instead, it represents a third culture: the culture of Mexican immigrants in the U.S.

“Many of us who migrate we’re not Mexican anymore, but we’re not American nor Chicano either, we create a third culture that the playwright has decided to call ‘mechicana,’” she said.

Cabuto said that “La pastorela mechicana” will help Mexican immigrants to have an encounter with the traditions from their homeland.

“The play mixes eras and traditions and this mix is precisely what makes this pastorela so special. I think that the play has a lot of material to reflect upon on Mexican and Chicano cultures through the story of Mexico and the U.S. since the arrival of the Spaniards,” she said.

The play is put out by two theatre troupes, Tropa Dionisio and Teatro Molcajete. Tropa Dionisio is a community group formed by students from Cal State San Marcos and Palomar College and Teatro Molcajete is a student club at Cal State San Marcos.

“We decided to work together to promote our culture with ‘La pastorela mechicana’ because we believe that there’s a great need of Spanish-language theatre in North County. All of the members do this as a gift to the community, and we don’t receive academic credit or any type of payment. We do this as volunteers and with love,” Cabuto said.

They chose the California Center for the Arts, Escondido, because of the support it gives to Latino theatre.

“We are dedicated to providing young people opportunities to develop and execute their talents in the arts,” said Brook Larios, assistant director of communication for the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. “For this program, we offer our facilities and labor services free of charge as we believe in helping young people embrace the arts. This opportunity enables them to perform on a professional stage while their families, friends and other Community members enjoy their talents.”

With more than 25 student actors, this is the second year that “La pastorela mechicana” is staged.

This year the play was included in the anthology “Teatro del Norte Vol. 6,” published by Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, in Tijuana, Von Son said.

Pastorelas have their origins in the Pre-Columbian theatre of Mexico. Pre-Columbian nations would enact brief plays where they would pre-sent historical events.

Pastorelas were also used as a way to convert native Mexicans to Christianity during the Spanish Conquista.

These type of plays have also been a great influence for Chicano playwrights, such as Luis Valdez, who uses simple plots and phrases in his acts to present a Chicano reality.

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