By/Por Leah Bergman
When thinking of the late 1960s, most people imagine Hippies, Vietnam, and Martin Luther King, Jr. What may be unknown to most is how this era gave rise to the Chicano Movement, the Mexican-American fight for civil rights. Louie Perez, guitarist, vocalist, drummer, and songwriter for three-time Grammy Award winning band Los Lobos, joins up with Teresa Chavez and Rose Portillo of About Productions to present the moving and relevant play that depicts the historic 1968 student walkouts entitled “Evangeline: The Queen of Make-Believe”.
“Many people look at ’68 and they think of any number of things except the Chicano Movement and what happened,” said Chavez. She continued with, “Even the average Angelino doesn’t know about it, or did and forgot. It is not what they think of when they think of L.A. history. It has been buried. Buried history is what About Production loves to focus on… History of Latinos is not well documented in the realm of main stream history. We thought it was important to bring it to the forefront.”
The play brings to the forefront the compelling history of the student walk-outs that occurred at Garfield High School in response to low academic standards, sub-par conditions, and prejudices toward the Mexican community of East Los Angeles. “I was thirteen or fourteen,” said Portillo about the walk-outs. Portillo was not a participant as she lived in Silver Lake, CA at the time. However, she explains the profound effects it had on her and her family, “It was an astounding moment. In my household, they were confused and amazed that a group of their own got together and made change happen… The Mexicans never thought, because we are a quiet people, that we can affect change- you accept… This group of young people with the support of adults said, ‘No this is wrong, and we are going to be very loud!’ It was very heartening and it really started to change the climate.”
Perez attended Garfield High School about a year after the walk-outs. “I saw the results. Things changed dramatically… When I got to Garfield, there was an already politicized student body. Teachers had realigned their thinking. There were still shop classes, but there was a general sense of improvement in education.”
Originally Perez, Chavez, and Portillo were going to chronicle the life of a young girl. Chavez said, “Because of their meaning to the period and to this particular character, we began to build a narrative that would encompass the walk-outs and the Moratorium. “
The Moratorium occurred two years after the original walk-outs. It was a peaceful protest that turned violent and ultimately led to the assassination of award-winning journalist Ruben Salazar. “I was a kid first hand witnessing the Moratorium. I was at Laguna Park when it all went down. It’s an amazing story. I was on my blue Stingray bike when it all blew up. I found myself trying to escape all the things happening… This incredible clash between police and Chicano activists,” said Perez.
The narrative began to unfold as they shared their personal stories. Through their collaboration they decided to narrow the time frame to just the Garfield walk-outs and not expound on the Moratorium. They also started reaching out to the community. “We did a number of panels where we were interacting with the community. We got feedback from them about some of these excerpts we presented to them. We started a dialogue with the community because this is their story, and we identified it as their story,” said Perez.
Part of their outreach included the About Productions Young Theaterworks. “We actually took this to continuation High Schools in East Los Angeles and at-risk youth. We took the story to them, and we had them interview people that lived through that period. As homework they would work on a small vignette based on the interview, and they formed dialogue. They would see their work performed on stage by professional actors,” said Perez.
While developing the narrative, the character Evangeline began to form mirroring Perez and his sister’s experience. Perez was eight and his sister was ten when their father passed away. He said the character Evangeline is based on his sister, “Theresa, myself, and Rose interviewed her about what she experienced from the emotional level living in the traditional home… The tug of war she had between her dreams and the traditional role… She was the one that was imposed upon by the traditional family. My Mom always wanted to know where she was. She didn’t approve of a lot of things she was doing. She had to sneak off and get on the bus.”
Not only are the characters deep and well-developed, but also the play is a beautifully crafted multimedia experience with a live band in the back ground and video strategically interspersed throughout the scenes. Chavez describes how she chose the music from the Los Lobos song book, “There are 150 songs so it was quite an effort to figure it out. When I very quickly came across ‘Evangeline’, it fit the profile of this young woman who we already started talking about, a young woman in high school who was going across town breaking-out of the neighborhood and pursuing her own version of her own American dream.”
The play delves into the dynamics of the Latino family. However Perez said, “We discovered that this is an American story. There are Evangeline’s of every background that experience the same thing.”
Portillo discusses the broader relevance of the play. She said, “The reason to make art is not just for nostalgia. Entertainment isn’t enough for us; although, it must be entertaining and it must be fun. But it has to have a relevance to what is going on right now for the way we see things. The more we talked the more parallels to the situation right now, so that is why we proceeded.”
“Evangeline: Queen of Make Believe” is a very relevant, moving, and entertaining play. It weaves history and art into the same tapestry and moves the viewer with its beauty. The colors of the past are displayed as a reminder of the human spirit to overcome.
© 2012 Leah Bergman
“Evangeline: Queen of Make Believe” will be playing at the Bootleg Theater until June 2, 2012. For more information please click here.
The play will be going on tour featuring the performance of Louie Perez and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Latino Weekly Review will keep you posted.