April 2, 2004

Teatro Guerillera Takes the Stage

By Raymond R. Beltrán

“Are you tired of finding abandoned belongings in your back yard? Are you tired of your front yard being subject to drug traffickers? Are you just tired of illegal aliens? I know I am. My name is Edward James Olmos, and you might remember me from every single Chicano movie ever made. And I’m here to talk to you about a product that’s about to hit the markets soon. It’s called ‘Migra.’ It’s a multi-immigrant gathering and removing agent. This thing works in a variety of different functions. Now first of all, it’s voice activated ... ”

After the introductory infomercial harangue, performed by PINChE (Project of Institutionalized Nationalists of Chicano and Chicana Entertainers) Chairman Ramon Antonio Palacios, an overalls-wearing, country-dressed Christina Ruiz Goldberg began to bark orders at the Migra product, played by theater troupe member Fernando Rodriguez. “All right here robot, when I say go, you go and get those wetbacks,” shouted Goldberg as the robot began pulling Chicanos out of the audience.

Guerilla theater troupe, PINChE, introduce their new product, Migra. Photo by RRB.

This guerilla troupe is aimed at educating its audience on political issues and keeping its perspective on what theater’s sole purpose is, entertaining. Their topics range from border issues, and not everything is funny. Their skits can bounce from hilarious to very dramatic in content, but the topics always remain very controversial.

“[This] is supposed to be a way for all artists of any culture to get together and provide theater,” says Palacios, a SDSU Social Science student.

Onlooker and Raza Rights Coalition speaker Pablo Aceves looked on, from the audience, in what he described in a following speech as “half laughing and half crying.” The Migra performance was requested by AChA (Association of Chicana Activists) for the Intellectual Empowerment Series this week at SDSU (San Diego State University).

The group of entertainers and educators, which had its debut at MEChA’s (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán) Fall 2002 Statewide Conference, began as a brainchild turned project of SDSU Mechistas to seek out alternative forms of expression and organizing others. Their influences and presence has definitely derived from a long line of Chicano theater troupes such as The Chicano Secret Service, Culture Clash and the United Farm Worker’s Teatro Campesino, which used theater to recruit and organize numerous farm workers during the 1960s.

Having taken their acts to high school conferences and Chicano Park celebrations, PINChE has made a name for themselves, as much as grass-roots celebrity status will allow, but members say that the troupe is dedicated to the community that they speak for.

“With only six or seven members, I don’t think we want to be big time,” says Golberg. “We’re all really grassroots-minded and all about [staying] in our communities.”

With the war in Iraq taking Latinos out of the classrooms and into the Middle East, the main topic right now is education over military. Their performances lately have been geared towards “exposing the military for what they really are,” explains Goldberg. The grievance is not only with unjust wars, but tactics used to recruit young Latinos in school with promises of money, citizenship and traveling to distant lands.

“You are going to travel to distant lands,” she says. “But they’re not telling you that you’re going to kill people when you get there.”

As controversial as their topics are, Ramon Palacios says their only oppositions have been minor interruptions from Republican boys at UCSD in the midst of performances, and Goldberg remembers a recent ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) student having walked out on their performance, offended. Although it isn’t the ultimate goal to be offensive to the audience, their topics don’t stray from being socially sensitive, which can either lead to some sort of enlightenment or outright abhorrence.

“I hate to say that the skits write themselves, but once you got the idea, you breathe life into it and it takes its own form,” says Palacios.

Needless to say, their recent production on the Free Speech Steps at SDSU ended peacefully with only a few disrespectful passer-byes who chose to walk through the middle of their stage area.

Ultimately, whether or not people agree or disagree, rebuke or embrace the performances, Goldberg says that when the act is over, if the audience has “something that they didn’t have before, then the goal has been accomplished.”

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