HEATRE IN THE
The term “Chicano” is as politically charged today as it was in the 1960s,
when contemporary Chicano Theatre was born.
No one can trace the etymology of
the term, which is neither Spanish nor English, but it was adopted as a self-
identifier by mostly urban, politicized Americans of Mexican descent during the
To call oneself “Chicano” meant that you were neither Mexican nor
“American” but, rather, someone who recognized the various forms of oppression
your communities were suffering.
Then, as now, Chicanos scorned people who
identified themselves as “Mexican Americans,” dismissing them as middle-class
conservatives who were more comfortable “blending in.”
On the other hand,
Mexican Americans shunned “those Chicanos” as rabble-rousers and troublemakers
with undue grievances.
There was a class distinction at play in which working-class
Chicanos criticized middle-class Mexican Americans as “sell-outs.”
To further complicate matters, recent émigrés from Mexico were Mexican,
people with a clear cultural and national identity who had difficulty understanding
why these two subgroups did not simply call themselves “Mexicans” and speak
Although their issues were sometimes distinct, there was no
discernable difference to their oppressors, and Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and
Chicanos often found themselves the brunt of discrimination based solely on the
color of their skin.
(For this reason, I use the term “Mechicano” when discussing
issues that pertain[ed] to all three subgroups.) Sociopolitical and identity issues
fostered theatrical interventions in Chicano theatre of the 1960s, and representatives
of Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and Chicanos are often found in the theatre of
Reflecting the colonial gaze turned inward, these subgroups search
for a sense of “home” in a land that used to be home, a land in which they were the
majority and Spanish was the official language, not a forbidden tongue.
Chicano theatre has its roots in the Spanish-language theatre produced (since
1598) in what is now the United States.
In addition to the religious folk theatre
performed for centuries in most Spanish-speaking churches and communities in the
Southwest, secular performances began to develop in the eighteenth and nineteenth
43:1 (May 2002)
Jorge Huerta holds the Chancellor’s Associates Endowed Chair III as
Professor of Theatre at the University of California, San Diego.
He is also a
professional director and a leading authority on contemporary Chicano and
Huerta’s latest book is
Chicano Drama: Performance,
Society and Myth
(Cambridge University Press, 2000).