Saturday, September 12, 2009

Octavio Solis' El Otro

Thick Description brought back Octavio Solis' El Otro, his play that follows a splintered family living on the border in Texas. Two fathers, one mother and the young daughter make their way along and into El Rio Grande as they try and figure out how to continue forward in this broken world.

The play begins with her new stepdad, Ben (Johnny Moreno), arriving to pick her up from her father, Lupe's (Sean San Jose), home. Immediately in the conflict between the two fathers, San Jose dominates the stage with his commanding presence and powerful voice. Also in this scene, Solis introduces the conflicting ideas of Mexican/Mexican-American identity that run through the course of the play.

Both fathers are of Mexican descent, but Lupe speaks Spanish and Ben doesn't, which causes both Lupe and Romy, the daughter (Maria Calendaria) to mock and reject him. As the play continues, this struggle builds force, with characters being defined as Mexican or not according to different sets of criteria. What is a Mexican, especially when being born in the U.S. doesn't promise acceptance into U.S. mainstream culture?

Lupe resists letting Romy leave with Ben and convinces him to come back to his place, the beginning of a wild goose chase after a present for Romy. They stop at a friends house and as Lupe becomes more cagey and manipulative, Ben tries to remain mature but the situation quickly spirals out of his control and he becomes reduced to a sobbing mess caught up in the storm of Lupe.

Romy eats some peyote that she finds and the scenes are often interrupted with her perspective of flickering lights and a quieting of other characters. Through her eyes, the border becomes as fluid as the river that marks it and as volatile as her father, Lupe. Eventually the three make their way to a bar, where we meet El Charro Negro (Rhonnie Washington) who gives Romy advice, seeming to know Lupe from back in the day, and then back and forth over the Rio Grande.

Nina, Romy's mother, sets off in search of the missing three and encounters them on the other side of the river, only to discover that none of them have ever crossed because they'd simply swum across a bend in the rive and set down on the same side.

The play is hugely funny, violent and heartbreaking--much as it must be living alongside the border, and on the outskirts of the culture of the country you live in.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Borderlands/La Frontera

Gloria Anzaldua grew up in the borderlands, a region that seems to her to be often dismissed region, though powerful in its dualities and unhindered mixings of language, culture and people, resulting in the potential for people to create a new way of being.

Borderlands/La Frontera is a sort of auto-history, a text that allows Anzaldua to locate herself and Chicanos within Mexican-U.S. history by rewriting the history of the region. She begins by telling of the mythical Aztec homeland, Aztlan, that existed somewhere in the American Southwest. Aznaldua gives Chicanos an ancient homeland and an ancient claim to the U.S.: Chicanos were here long before the waves of immigration and the founding of the New World.

Anzaldua does the same with history, locating Chicanos within Mexican and U.S. history, retelling it in a manner that rings true, as she aligns Chicano history alongside the gaping holes in mainstream U.S. history. She weaves in the iconography of the Aztecs, and traces the loss of the feminine back to the Aztec departure from the American Southwest. In remembering the once all powerful goddess of creation and destruction, who embodied the life/death dualities, Anzaldua reinstates the feminine power and issues a call to Chicanas to create a new culture.

Among all of this, Anzaldua weaves in poetry, quotes, familial and personal anecdotes, and writes in Spanish, English and Nahautl, the Aztec language. She is unapologetic in her use of languages and genres, throwing the reader into the cultural mix of what it means to be of the border.

Borderlands/La Frontera ends high on hope for the future, for the potential of a positive fusion of cultures.