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Unformatted text preview: “This Is No Slum!”
A Critical Race Theory Analysis of Community
Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine
Tara J. Yosso and David G. García AbstrAct: Drawing on a critical race theory framework, this article weaves together
sociology, education, history, and performance studies to challenge deficit interpretations
of Pierre Bourdieu’s cultural capital theory and to analyze Culture Clash’s play Chavez
Ravine. The play recounts a decade of Los Angeles history through the perspectives of
displaced Mexican American families from three former neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine.
Culture Clash’s performance recovers and personifies the community cultural wealth
cultivated by these families. This multifaceted portfolio of cultural assets and resources
includes aspirational, linguistic, social, navigational, familial, and resistant capital. Chavez
Ravine affirms the continuity of Chicana/o communities, utilizing culture as a source of
strength that facilitates survival and nurtures resistance. Manazar: I want to talk about this photograph right here. (Manazar
points to the photo hovering above him.) I see uncles, primas, I see my sister,
mira, there’s Joe Guerra and his brother Johnny, I see Father Tomas. See
that morenito kid right there in the middle? That’s me with my carnal,
they used to call me Nonio. . . . If you look closely at the photo, some
of the señoras are wearing army hats, and on the hats are little stars.
Those little stars are for their sons and daughters who were away—over
there—serving their country. Some of the fellas never made it back. My
neighbors were Italians, Slavs, Russians, and some Germans but for the
most part, era pura Mexicanada, puro frijol. And on holidays, pura aroma
de tamal y menudo, y los compadres tocando la guitarra til late at night.
That was our community; that’s something you can never erase from
your cabeza. (27–28)1 This excerpt from the 2003 play Chavez Ravine by the Chicano-Latino
heater group Culture Clash introduces the history of the former Los
Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 32:1 Spring 2007 © University of California Regents 145 Yosso and García Angeles community of Chavez Ravine.2 In remembering the three neighborhoods of the Ravine, the play takes a perspective that is very different
from the view shared by many social scientists and historians. Through
the play, Culture Clash unapologetically provides a critical, revisionist
historical account of institutional racism, cultural resilience, and community resistance. For us, this theatrical approach parallels the academic
insights of critical race theory (CRT). Indeed, our appreciation of Culture
Clash’s deliberate emphasis on race and culture leads us to examine their
play Chavez Ravine using a CRT lens.
The play’s narrator, Manazar (played by Herbert Siguenza), represents
the late poet Manazar Gamboa, who lived in the Chavez Ravine neighborhood of Bishop. He invites the audience to visualize Chavez Ravine,
beginning in the early 1900s when immigrant families from Mexico built
their homes in these hills north of downtown Los Angeles.3 Against a backdrop of enlarged black-and-white pictures hanging above the stage, Manazar
fondly reconstructs this predominantly Mexican community so audiences
can begin to understand what was lost in the destruction of the three
neighborhoods—La Loma, Bishop, and Palo Verde—that made up Chavez
Ravine. As he notes the mothers’ hats commemorating World War II soldiers, Manazar places this community as “American,” yet he code-switches
back and forth from English to Spanish to describe the predominantly
Mexican, economically poor, but culturally wealthy community.4
The economic poverty evident in these neighborhoods in the late
1940s led the City of Los Angeles to condemn Chavez Ravine as a
“slum” and to plan a major public housing project, Elysian Park Heights,
to clear the “blight” (Avila 2004, 156, 164). Historian Ronald Lopez
explains that this “‘blighted area within a mile of downtown’ represented
a ‘problem’ to advocates of urban redevelopment and public housing, [yet]
to the Mexican immigrants, Mexican Americans, and other people who
Tara J. Yosso is assistant professor in the Department of Chicana/o Studies at the University
of California, Santa Barbara. Her work addresses educational access and equity through
the frameworks of critical race theory and critical media literacy. She analyzes Chicana/o
experiences navigating from elementary through graduate school in her book Critical Race
Counterstories Along the Chicana/Chicano Educational Pipeline (Routledge, 2006).
DaviD G. García earned his Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of California, Los
Angeles, in 2006. Utilizing an interdisciplinary cultural history approach, García’s dissertation documents the evolution of the Chicano-Latino performance group Culture Clash and
their politically inspired critical race theater. His research and teaching examine historical
continuities of Chicana/o communities, popular culture, identity, and resistance to oppression
within the United States. 146 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine lived there, it represented a home and a refuge from a hostile and racist
society” (1999, 9). We argue that institutionalized racism contributed
to the destruction of the three neighborhoods, specifically because city
officials failed to “see” the cultural wealth present in these communities.5
Our collaboration here uses CRT as an analytical framework that affirms
the continuity of community cultural wealth in its many forms within
Inspired by the transdisciplinary tradition of Chicana/o studies, we
weave together our work in sociology, education, history, and performance
studies to demonstrate how Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine reveals the
community cultural wealth that went unrecognized in these Los Angeles
neighborhoods. Specifically, the play exhibits at least six forms of “capital”
that make up this community’s cultural wealth. We also find that the play
itself personifies community cultural wealth in reclaiming a history of
resistance against oppression from the perspectives of Mexican Americans
in general and Mexican American women in particular. We begin with an
introduction to CRT as a framework that effectively challenges cultural
deficit approaches by acknowledging a continuity of cultural assets and
resources fostered in Chicana/o communities. Critical Race Theory
CRT questions the purpose and methods of academic inquiry by shifting
the research lens to focus on People of Color, recounting history from
the perspectives of those at the margins of society, and mobilizing toward
positive social change. Because we have noticed CRT recently surfacing
as a catchall phrase or buzzword to describe any scholarship that mentions
race, we take a moment here to outline its historical antecedents and our
use of this framework.
As an outgrowth from critical legal studies in the 1980s, critical race
scholarship sought to recognize the dignity in the lives and experiences
of those “at the bottom of society’s well” (Bell 1992, v). This conscious
validation of society’s marginalized voices, which are rarely considered in
mainstream history and social science research, reverberates in feminist
and ethnic studies scholarship (hooks 1990).6 Over the last decade, CRT
scholars in schools of education have built on the strength of this progressive scholarship to examine and challenge the ways that race and racism
impact social structures, practices, and discourses. Acknowledging some
of CRT’s intellectual origins in academic and activist traditions such as 147 Yosso and García Chicana/o studies, educational sociologist Daniel G. Solórzano (1997)
identifies at least five themes that characterize this framework:
1. The intercentricity of race and racism with other forms of
subordination. CRT begins with an examination of how race has been
socially constructed in U.S. history and how the system of racism functions to oppress People of Color while privileging whites (Barnes 1990;
Bell 1987; Matsuda 1991; Russell 1992). Scholars have expanded CRT
discussions to focus on racism’s intersections with other forms of subordination based on gender, class, sexuality, language, immigrant status, and
surname (see, for example, Arriola 1997, 1998; Crenshaw 1989, 1993;
Delgado and Stefancic 2000, 2001; Espinoza 1990, 1998; Montoya 1994;
Valdes 1997, 1998).
2. The challenge to dominant ideology. CRT challenges notions of
“neutral” research or “objective” researchers and exposes deficit-informed
historical accounts that silence, ignore, and distort the perspectives of
People of Color (see, for example, Bell 1995; Delgado Bernal 1998; Gotanda
1991; Ladson-Billings 2000).
3. The commitment to social justice. Acknowledging the intrinsically
political nature of social institutions such as schools, CRT views education
as a tool to eliminate all forms of subordination and empower oppressed
groups, thereby transforming society (see, for example, Freire 1970, 1973;
Solórzano and Delgado Bernal 2001).
4. The emphasis on experiential knowledge. CRT finds the experiential knowledge of People of Color legitimate, appropriate, and critical
to understanding, analyzing, and teaching about racial subordination.
CRT regards this knowledge as a strength and draws explicitly on the
lived experiences of People of Color by analyzing oral traditions, corridos,
poetry, films, actos, and humor (see, for example, Bender 2003; D. García
2006a, 2006b; Yosso 2002).
5. The transdisciplinary perspective. A CRT analysis of racism and
other forms of oppression offers historical and transdisciplinary perspectives
that move beyond, not just between, traditional disciplinary lines (see, for
example, Delgado 1984, 1992; Gutiérrez-Jones 2001; Olivas 1990).
Individually, CRT’s tenets evidence insights drawn from ethnic studies, U.S. and third-world feminisms, Marxism and neo-Marxism, cultural
nationalism, internal colonialism, and critical legal studies. Collectively,
they make up a unique analytical approach. This critical race methodology
is, as law scholar Mari Matsuda explains, “consciously both historical and
revisionist, attempting to know history from the bottom” (1989, 2323–24). 148 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Drawing on multiple disciplinary research tools, critical race scholars seek
out “sources often ignored: journals, poems, oral histories, and stories from
their own experiences of life in a hierarchically arranged world” (2323–24).
CRT’s insistence on listening to the voices of those injured by racism
reminds us of the tradition of Chicana/o teatro, which brings the dignity of
these voices to the stage through culturally nuanced, politically poignant,
and humorous portrayals.
In previous work, Tara J. Yosso (2005) uses CRT to challenge deficit
interpretations about the role of social and cultural capital in racially
unequal schooling outcomes (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977). Uncovering
the white privilege embedded in these misinterpretations of cultural capital,
she outlines cultural knowledges, skills, networks, and abilities developed by
Chicana/o students and parents, which maintain value (capital) rarely recognized or acknowledged by schools. She further argues that these cultural
resources bolster Chicana/o community resilience and resistance to racism
and other forms of oppression. While Yosso’s work adds to the growing body
of CRT literature in education and social science, our collaboration extends
critical race scholarship to the study of Chicana/o history and theater. Critical Race Theater
Rooted in the Black Power and Chicana/o movements of the 1960s and
1970s, teatro’s politically inspired artistic performance connects physical
and verbal comedy to social protest with a dual goal of entertainment and
education. According to theater scholar Harry J. Elam Jr., these performances emerged from “marginalized peoples and oppositional struggles”
and functioned as “counterhegemonic strategies through which underrepresented groups challenge the dominant social order and agitate for
social change” (2001, vi). Elam asserts that social protest theater affirmed
Black and Chicana/o cultural identities by presenting a revisionist history.
David G. García extends on this research to demonstrate how Culture
Clash’s work has evolved to fulfill the functions of social protest theater for
a new generation. Building on scholarship that examines the creation and
exhibition of theory in Chicana/o teatro (Broyles-González 1994), García
examines Culture Clash’s historically informed satire through a CRT lens.
In chronicling the group’s evolution over two decades, he finds that the
playwrights and actors “place the experiences of People of Color and their
cultural resilience and resistance center stage,” and ultimately, their work
exhibits the tenets of a critical race theater (D. García 2006a, 118). 149 Yosso and García Culture Clash originated on May 5, 1984, and consists of performance
artists Ricardo “Ric” Salinas, Herbert Siguenza, and Richard Montoya.
Between 1984 and 1993, the trio wrote and performed four original plays
that mixed autobiography and biography with slapstick humor and social
commentary.7 In 1994, Culture Clash’s theatrical approach shifted, and
over the next nine years they wrote and performed six ethnographic, sitespecific plays.8
Though Culture Clash has been the most renowned Chicano-Latino
theater troupe in the United States for over two decades, García’s study is
the first book-length project to examine their work, and the first to apply
a CRT lens to the study of Chicana/o theater.9 Previously, theater scholars
have noted that Culture Clash’s work “addresses issues of multiculturalism
and hybridity both in form and content” while maintaining “a consistent
and unwavering commitment to the political possibilities of theatre”
(Glenn 2002, 68). Dorinne Kondo compares the work of Culture Clash to
that of contemporary African American playwright Anna Deavere Smith,
explaining, “both Smith and Culture Clash center the stories of people of
color, authorizing all of us to take center stage. And both offer a gesture
of alliance in their versions of cross-racial, cross-gender performance,
offering potential connections across multiple lines of difference” (2000,
105). Kondo further argues that Culture Clash’s work challenges essentialist notions of race, gender, and sexuality by crossing cultural borders and
performing transracial theater. García extends on this scholarship and
uncovers CRT’s tenets in Culture Clash’s “satirical, lyrical, historical,
Since 1994, Culture Clash has developed playwriting methods similar
to the research tools used by critical race scholars. While they do not claim
to be historians, they ground their theater in historical research and recount
the perspectives of marginalized communities. To begin a new play, they
conduct individual interviews with a cross-section of residents in a specific
U.S. city. To add breadth and depth to their interviews, they examine
social science and humanities scholarship as well as popular press coverage
and judicial records related to these urban communities. Finally, Culture
Clash collectively transforms their findings into characters and scenes for
the stage, culminating in social satire from a uniquely Chicano-Latino
perspective. In their play Chavez Ravine, they continue this critical race
theater by illuminating “the lives and histories of marginalized communities while consciously challenging social and racial injustice” (D. García
2006a, 118). 150 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Deficit Thinking in Mainstream History and
Culture Clash uses the stage as a professor might use her or his classroom,
albeit with more overt humor. Their plays expose and challenge racism and
other forms of social inequality. Similarly, critical race scholarship exposes
the prevalence of deficit thinking as one of the most insidious and prevalent
forms of racism shaping social structures, practices, and discourses (Yosso
2006). During the 1950s, when the destruction of Chavez Ravine took
place, biological and cultural deficit traditions overtly informed social and
legal policy, justifying de jure racial segregation until midway through the
decade. Framed by the deficit approach, the history and social science “lessons” imparted to Mexican American students began with the assumption
that their communities lacked the values, skills, and attributes necessary for
social progress. Scholars such as Ozzie Simmons and William Madsen made
similar assertions and published historical and anthropological accounts
steeped in deficit discourse.11 For example, Simmons wrote:
Let us consider a few of the stereotypical beliefs that are widely used on
general principles to justify Anglo-American practices of exclusion and
subordination. . . . One such general belief accuses Mexican-Americans
of being unclean. . . . It is largely true that Mexican-Americans tend to be
more casual in their hygienic practices than Anglo-Americans. . . . The
belief that Mexicans are unclean is useful for rationalizing the AngloAmerican practice of excluding Mexicans from any situation that involves
close contact with Anglo-Americans, as in residence, and the common use
of swimming pools and other recreational facilities. (1974, 391–92) According to Simmons and the deficit model, Mexican parents socialize their children with inappropriate values and skills and teach them to
passively accept failure as a way of life.12 Schools in the 1950s sought to
“Americanize” these “culturally disadvantaged” Mexican students (González
1990, 1997; Sánchez 1993). Simmons further notes that:
Not all Anglo-American images of the Mexican are unfavorable. Among
those usually meant to be complimentary are the beliefs that all Mexicans
are musical and always ready for a fiesta, that they are very “romantic”
rather than “realistic” (which may have unfavorable overtones as well),
and that they love flowers and can grow them under the most adverse
conditions. Although each of these beliefs may have a modicum of truth,
it may be noted that they tend to reinforce Anglo-American images of
Mexicans as childlike and irresponsible, and thus they support the notion
that Mexicans are capable only of subordinate status. (1974, 391–92) 151 Yosso and García Even in his supposedly objective observations, Simmons continues to mirror
the cultural deficit–laden mainstream historical accounts of the era.
Two decades beyond the 1950s, history texts used in U.S. high schools
continued to reflect this deficit view. For example, in 1977 the Council on
Interracial Books for Children found that high school history textbooks
were usually written by white men and exhibited a narrow, Eurocentric
perspective. The texts included “third world people and women” by singling
out a few “great” individuals and listing what “minorities” contribute to “us”
or to “our” nation. Furthermore, the books placed the blame on People of
Color “for their own oppressed conditions,” mentioning protest movements
as recent developments while emphasizing intra- and intergroup divisions
(Council on Interracial Books for Children 1977, 125–29). These accounts
of U.S. history showed a pattern of dealing with discrimination, racism,
and sexism “as aberrations, as isolated mistakes of the past,” an approach
that created “victims, but no victimizers; exploited, but no exploiters”
Fast-forwarding another two decades, in 1995 sociologist James
W. Loewen further established that high school history texts present a
“Disneyland” version of U.S. history—a version where, more often than
not, a white hero saves helpless poor People of Color and ensures a happy,
romantic ending to an exotic adventure (35). Scholars such as Jesus Garcia
(1980) and Linda Salvucci (1991) also found that contemporary secondaryschool textbooks oversimplify the complexities of U.S. history by ignoring
the historical contributions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. Loewen
asserts that such distortion promotes “blind patriotism” (1995, 14) while
omitting any real discussion of the structural nature of social and racial
inequality. As a result, these texts tend to silence racialized, gendered, and
classed histories of marginalized communities.
The overt “Americanization” of the 1950s school curriculum eventually gave way to a more subtle yet no less insidious deficit approach to
teaching history and social science in primary, secondary, and postsecondary classrooms. In 1998, for example, sociologists Eric Margolis and Mary
Romero found that mainstream graduate school curricula in the social
sciences largely ignored People of Color. Within and beyond the formal
school curriculum, deficit approaches to history encourage whites to enjoy a
false sense of supremacy while People of Color are stigmatized as culturally
and racially inferior. Such limited access to a “people’s history” stunts our
democracy and perpetuates racial divisiveness (Zinn 1995). 152 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Cultural Deficit Thinking and Cultural Capital
Rooted in models of cultural and biological determinism, deficit approaches
to social science and history tend to distort Chicana/o experiences and
“see” only deprivation in Communities of Color (Valencia and Solórzano
1997). Using CRT as an analytical lens, we can identify, analyze, and
challenge such erroneous cultural notions as we learn from community
memory and collective histories in these communities. For our purposes
here, culture refers to behaviors and values that are learned, shared, and
exhibited by a group of people. Culture is also evidenced in material and
nonmaterial productions of a people. As a set of characteristics, culture is
neither fixed nor static (Gómez-Quiñones 1977). Some social science and
historical research equates culture with race and ethnicity, while other
work views culture through a much broader lens that encompasses various
characteristics, social histories, and identities. Cultural deficit thinking in
social science perpetuates an incomplete and distorted view of Chicana/o
communities, and this can be most clearly seen in contemporary deficit
interpretations of Pierre Bourdieu’s social capital theory (Bourdieu and
Bourdieu asserted that privileged groups in society possess and inherit
an accumulation of knowledge, skills, and networks, which he referred to as
social and cultural capital. He explained that acquisition of cultural capital
(i.e., education, language), social capital (i.e., social networks, connections), and economic capital (i.e., money and other material possessions)
occurs through family socialization practices and/or formal schooling.
Dominant groups within society maintain power and restrict social mobility
by limiting access to these forms of capital.
Bourdieu’s insightful theory of how society reproduces hierarchical
power relations has since been interpreted through a deficit lens. Such
interpretations seem to misunderstand Bourdieu’s theory, which presents a
critique of society, not a “how-to” guidebook for social mobility. In the case
of U.S. history, Bourdieu’s model describes how society replicates white,
middle-class culture by rewarding very specific forms of knowledge, skills,
abilities, and networks. But deficit applications of Bourdieu uncritically
view white, middle-class culture as the standard and dismiss forms and
expressions of cultural knowledge that do not match this “norm.” The
argument follows that if People of Color acquire and exhibit the social and
cultural capital of the dominant class, they too can enjoy social mobility.
Whiteness remains unquestioned as the center of this assertion. In short, a 153 Yosso and García deficit interpretation of Bourdieu claims that the cultural knowledges, skills,
abilities, and networks of People of Color hold very little, if any, value.
However, as we decenter whiteness and recenter the research lens
on People of Color, we can validate often-overlooked forms of cultural
knowledge forged in a legacy of resilience and resistance to racism and
other forms of subordination. Centering our analytical lens on the experiences of Communities of Color in a critical historical context allows us
to “see” the accumulated assets and resources in the histories and lives of
marginalized communities. This act of reframing builds on an extensive
body of critical social science research that has consistently identified
culture as a resource for Communities of Color, rather than as a detriment.
For example, scholars have found that Latina/o families create and draw
from communal funds of knowledge (Gonzalez et al. 1995; Gonzalez and
Moll 2002; Moll et al. 1992; Olmedo 1997; Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenberg
1992). Here, predominantly working-class Mexican immigrant families
create and share multiple forms of knowledge, and these “funds” help sustain communities even in adverse environments. Concha Delgado-Gaitan
(2001) adds to this research in demonstrating how Mexican immigrants
and Chicana/o families pass on culturally imbued knowledges that help
mobilize communities for equal education. Furthermore, Dolores Delgado
Bernal (2001) also extends on this work by documenting various cultural
pedagogies of the home that Chicana/o students draw on to navigate college. Building on the cultural knowledges, skills, and abilities they learned
at home further motivates Chicana/o college students to use their degrees
to “give back” to their communities.
Below, we challenge deficit interpretations of social and cultural capital
and extend the funds of knowledge concept with a kaleidoscope model of
community cultural wealth (fig. 1). We define community cultural wealth
as an array of knowledges, skills, abilities, and contacts possessed and used
by Communities of Color to survive and resist racism and other forms of
oppression (Villalpando and Solórzano 2005; Yosso 2005, 2006). We further
assert that community cultural wealth comprises at least six forms of capital:
aspirational, linguistic, social, navigational, familial, and resistant.13
A kaleidoscope includes a primary lens, a tube with pieces of colored
glass inside, and a screen at the end of the tube that lets in light. One
shifts the tube while looking through the primary lens to watch the light
reflect off the glass and create designs of varying colors and shapes at the
end of the cylinder. As an analytical tool, our kaleidoscope begins with a
CRT lens, focused on the lived experiences of People of Color. Examining 154 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Aspirational
capital Critical Race
Cultural Wealth Resistant
capital Figure 1. A Kaleidoscope of Community Cultural Wealth. Adapted from Villalpando and Solórzano
(2005) and Yosso (2005, 2006). Communities of Color through this primary lens, we can see at least six
dynamic and overlapping forms of capital. The interplay of aspirational,
linguistic, social, navigational, familial, and resistant capital constructs
community cultural wealth. This multifaceted portfolio of cultural assets
and resources facilitates the survival and resistance of Communities of
Color, a process that is evident in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine. Cultural Wealth in Chavez Ravine
Learning from nearly a decade of creating ethnographic, site-specific
theater, Culture Clash began the process of writing Chavez Ravine by interviewing former residents of La Loma, Bishop, and Palo Verde, as well as Los
Angeles policymakers from the 1950s. To contextualize these oral histories,
Culture Clash examined newspaper accounts from the time period, archival
materials including maps of the area, photos of the communities, and city
documents, along with scholarly analysis on Chavez Ravine. Informed by
these multiple sources, the play critically analyzes the racism and classism
experienced by Mexicans in 1950s Los Angeles. Chavez Ravine is the first
of Culture Clash’s plays to offer a critical account of a historical event in
chronological, narrative format.
Chavez Ravine recounts the events surrounding the displacement of
almost 3,800 Los Angeles residents for a public housing project in the
1950s (Lopez 1999, 68).14 The Los Angeles City Housing Authority (CHA)
identified these neighborhoods as “the most blighted area in the city” and
claimed eminent domain over the properties (Avila 2004, 156). The CHA
promised residents a fair price for their homes and guaranteed them first 155 Yosso and García priority in the new Elysian Park Heights housing project. While many
residents hesitantly took the city’s offer and began moving, others flatly
refused to sell and instead mobilized against the CHA.
Despite homeowner protests, the city continued plans for the housing project, condemning the properties and issuing eviction notices.
Recognizing an opportunity to privatize and profit from the Ravine’s prime
real estate, a group of Los Angeles power brokers conspired to undermine
the CHA and derail the Elysian Park Heights project. The Los Angeles Times
initiated a publicity war against the CHA, branding subsidized housing
projects and their advocates part of a socialist conspiracy—a threat that
resonated in the “red scare” climate after World War II. While a number
of families vehemently defied eviction orders, and the CHA scrambled to
defend their loyalty to the United States, the Los Angeles Times and power
brokers turned their attention to the 1953 mayoral race. Their puppet
candidate, Norris Poulson, carried out their sabotage plans by canceling the
housing project once he became the new mayor. The end of Elysian Park
Heights meant permanent dislocation for Ravine residents. The backroom
politics that led the city to negate its promises to these residents paved the
way for private interests to prevail in the Ravine.
With an eye on the almost vacant Ravine, Los Angeles County supervisor Kenneth Hahn started courting baseball team owner Walter O’Malley
to convince him to relocate the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles (Lopez
1999, 140–45). Los Angeles City Council member Rosalind Wyman joined
the cabal with Mayor Poulson to promote a deal with the Dodgers (Acuña
1984, 76–77). Further political scheming and support from Hollywood
celebrities such as Ronald Reagan facilitated the narrow passage of
Proposition B, a measure that approved a city contract essentially gifting
the Ravine land to the Dodger Corporation. In this sweetheart deal, the
city granted 315 acres to O’Malley and subsidized the leveling of the land
in preparation for Dodger Stadium.15 On May 8, 1959, sheriff’s deputies
removed the defiant remaining Chavez Ravine residents by force and the
city bulldozed their homes.
The Culture Clash trio invited actress Eileen Galindo and three
musicians, John Avila, Randy Rodarte, and Scott Rodarte, to help portray
the layers of history largely untold about Chavez Ravine. This ensemble
brings Chavez Ravine to life through more than fifty different composite
characters and a combination of music, comedy, and satire on a set dressed
with enlarged black-and-white photos from the original neighborhoods
(Normark 1999).16 Manazar (Siguenza) narrates, while the composite 156 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine c
haracters of Maria Ruiz (Galindo), her mother Señora Ruiz (Montoya),
and her brother Henry “Hank” Ruiz (Salinas) recount a dramatic counterstory of overt racism, red scare McCarthyism, and community resistance.
Because the opening scene features Fernando Valenzuela (Siguenza) pitching, it appears that the entire play takes place in Dodger Stadium.
The characters of the Ruiz family collectively personify twelve actual
families who refused to sell their homes and were forcefully evicted from
Chavez Ravine. In particular, Señora Ruiz and her daughter Maria closely
resemble the real-life women of the Arechiga family, Avrana Arechiga and
her daughter Aurora. The eviction of sixty-two-year-old Avrana Arechiga,
her seventy-two-year-old husband Manuel, and their family garnered mass
media attention. On May 8, 1959, it took four sheriff’s deputies to physically
remove the Arechigas’ daughter, Aurora Vargas, from the family home,
with two holding her by the arms and two by the ankles. Eleven other
families were also forcefully evicted and their homes were bulldozed. But
the Arechiga family’s experience, broadcast on television and documented
in newspapers and still photos, captivated audiences and inspired the Ruiz
family characters created by Culture Clash.
Henry Ruiz is a Mexican American World War II veteran with a young
family and a desire to pursue the “American dream.” The Ruiz family
lost their older brother Arturo in the war, and their father is not present.
Henry’s younger sister Maria carries a deep love for her community, which
fuels her activism to protect the neighborhoods of Chavez Ravine. Henry
and Maria’s defiant mother, Señora Ruiz, asserts her right to remain in the
Ravine and defends her home in a dramatic showdown with the sheriff’s
deputies and bulldozers.
Culture Clash does not claim to tell the definitive story of Chavez
Ravine, nor does a theatrical format allow the group to present an exhaustive history. Still, the trio interprets historical materials just as an academic
historian might sift through the archives and oral accounts to offer her or
his own interpretation. Some of the dialogue in the play quotes verbatim
from interviews with former Chavez Ravine residents and figures such as
the CHA site commissioner, Frank Wilkinson.
Culture Clash also takes literary license to combine characters and
to paraphrase quotations gleaned from newspapers and other historical
accounts. For example, in August 1951 the Los Angeles Timesinterviewed
three of the women who challenged the city’s plans for their neighborhood:
Mrs. Agnes Cerda, Mrs. Angie Villa, and Mrs. Arechiga. Each questioned
the assumption that they lived in a “slum.” The article quotes Mrs. Arechiga 157 Yosso and García as saying, “I know nothing of slums. I only know that this has been my home
and it was my father’s home and I do not want to sell and move. I am too
old to find a new home, here is where I live. Here. In Chavez Ravine.”17
This quote evidently inspired a scene in the play portraying a community
meeting where Wilkinson (Montoya) describes his plan to transform the
Ravine from a “slum” into a new affordable housing project. An Elder
Woman (Siguenza) vehemently disagrees with Wilkinson and questions
the condemnation order, saying, “This is no slum! This has been my home,
and I do not want to sell or move or be chased out like a pack of wild dogs.
I’m too old to find a new casa” (61).
In listening to the voices of former residents and questioning deficit discourse, the play projects a view of Chavez Ravine consistent with the tenets
of CRT. Specifically, Chavez Ravine illuminates the lived experiences of a
predominantly Mexican American community and consciously challenges
the social and racial injustice that led to its destruction. This production
of critical race theater allows audiences to witness the community cultural
wealth fostered in the three Mexican American neighborhoods. Below, we
define each of the six forms of capital that make up community cultural
wealth and identify excerpts of Chavez Ravine that further exemplify these
rarely acknowledged cultural assets and resources.
Aspirational capital refers to the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for
the future, even in the face of real and perceived barriers. This resiliency
is evident in those who allow themselves and their children to dream of
possibilities beyond their present circumstances, often without the objective
means to attain those goals (Auerbach 2001; Ceja 2004; Delgado-Gaitan
1992, 1994; Gándara 1982, 1995; Solórzano 1992). Aspirations develop
within social and familial contexts, often through cuentos (stories) and
consejos (advice) about maneuvering through and challenging oppressive
conditions. Therefore, social, familial, navigational, linguistic, and resistant
capital all inform and overlap with aspirational capital.
In Chavez Ravine, aspirational capital is expressed by Señora Ruiz,
who hopes that she and her familia will all continue to live together even
though the city has condemned their neighborhood and is claiming eminent domain to move them out. The tension between this hope and the
real obstacles to such an outcome surfaces in a Christmas Eve argument
between Henry and his mother over Henry’s decision to take the city’s offer, 158 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine sell his house, and move out with his wife, Soledad, and their children.
Señora Ruiz pleads with her son: “Well I don’t want to move out of here.
This is where you were born, this is where your abuelos died. . . . This is
where my compadres are, Henry” (38). Maria tries to inject herself into
the argument, but her mother interrupts in a pained voice:
sra. ruiz: Callense los dos, already. Hank, do what you have to do, you
have your own familia now. Your sister and I are staying put. But do me
a favor, si vendes tu casa, if you dare sell that little house that your father
built with his hands and sweat and blood, don’t look back mijo, because
you will never set foot in this house again, me entiendes? (40) Henry’s aspirations to progress with his family actually coincide with
his mother’s dreams for her family. Yet his experiences as a World War II
veteran shift his view of his predominantly Mexican community. He has
begun to view himself more as a Mexican American, with an emphasis
on American, and even warns his sister that in fighting the city’s eminent
domain ordinance, she is spending too much time “hanging around those
pachucos and the Reds at the Union Hall” (39). Maria runs after her
brother and unsuccessfully tries to convince him to stay.
Maria: You’re taking the kids away from mama.
HenrY: It’s a free country little sis, I’m taking my GI Bill and the City
dough and never looking back. I’m gonna give my kids more than footprints in the dirt and chicken shacks. It’s a goddamned slum up here.
Maria: You don’t mean that Henry.
HenrY: Sure I do Maria, there’s a world over this hill. I fought for it and
I want my kids to see it. We’re gonna move west Maria. . . . There’s
Maria: We have everything here. (41–42) Henry buys into the city’s deficit view of the Ravine and its residents, and
even though racial segregation and discrimination may continue to limit
his options, he seeks to realize his aspirations outside of this community.
Señora Ruiz and Maria refuse to “sell out” to the city (fig. 2). Even in the
face of real and perceived barriers, they maintain hope for their familia
and for the Ravine. 159 Yosso and García Figure 2. “Your sister and I are staying put.” Scene from Chavez Ravine, 2003. Left to right:
Eileen Galindo as Maria Ruiz, Richard Montoya as Señora Ruiz. Photograph © 2003 by Craig
Schwartz; reproduced by permission. linguistiC CApitAl
Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained
through communication in multiple languages and/or language styles.18 The
residents of Chavez Ravine nurtured linguistic capital among their peers
and families. Culture Clash emphasizes the ways in which the Ravine’s
children engaged in a storytelling tradition that included listening to and
recounting oral histories, parables, stories (cuentos), proverbs (dichos),
and comedy (Auerbach 2007; Burciaga 1997).19 They suggest some of
the characters’ repertoire of storytelling skills and the legacy of linguistic
capital by mentioning some of the hundreds of nicknames the residents
recall giving each other.
160 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Manazar: See, we all had nicknames back then. . . .
all: La Living Monster, Nonio, Little Blackie, Headlights, Six Pack,
Mocoso, and Once.
Manazar: We called him Once—Eleven—because he always had a runny
nose. . . . Sometimes they called me El Peludo, the hairy guy. When we
would go skinny diving, the guys would see the hairs all over my body,
they said I looked like—
all: King Kong! (29–30) Linguistic capital also refers to the ability to communicate through
visual art, music, or poetry.20 Culture Clash honors this form of community
cultural wealth by highlighting the life and work of Manazar, the late poet
from Bishop. Manazar narrates the play and bilingually guides the audience
through the history of Chavez Ravine.
Manazar: Our backyard, a hand that touched a still wild river, home for
paloma, coyote, and carrizales, the green smell of moss outside my window.
Later, barricaded by boulevards, freeways, clouds of high-octane smoke
and a ceaseless roar. (135) soCiAl CApitAl
Social capital can be understood as networks of people and community
resources. The play demonstrates how residents in Chavez Ravine’s three
neighborhoods sustained themselves by cultivating multiple networks of
this type. These peer and other social contacts provided both instrumental
and emotional support, which in turn helped residents navigate society’s
institutions (Gilbert 1980a, 1980b; Stanton-Salazar 2001).
The interaction between Uri the Sheepherder (Salinas) and Maria
demonstrates the interplay of social and navigational capital. Maria brings
her Russian neighbor some tamales during the Christmas holidays in 1950.
Uri shares some of his vodka with Maria, and they discuss the looming
enforcement of the city’s eminent domain clause.
uri: I’m sorry to hear about your brother.
Maria: The city shouldn’t be able to force people away from their homes,
off their land. Goddamnit, Uri.
uri: Take it from a communist, it’s un-American.
Maria: I agree. (Maria gulps remaining vodka.) 161 Yosso and García Uri: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees.”
Maria: Is that Russian?
uri: No, Emiliano Zapata say this. (Maria’s spirits are lifted for the
Maria: What do we do?
uri: Well, at the Workman’s Circle, Maria, we are talking about building
Maria: I heard Carey McWilliams speak about that last week at the
uri: Good. Strength in numbers!
Maria: What if we form a Homeowners coalition?
uri: Now Maria is thinking. (51–52) With this scene, Culture Clash shows how neighbors exchanged
knowledge, skills, and tools to provide both instrumental and emotional
support for one another in Chavez Ravine.21 The following scene opens at
the Santo Niño church hall, where Maria welcomes her other neighbors
to the “first Palo Verde Home Owners Protective Society fundraiser” while
musician Pete Seeger (Montoya) leads them in a chorus of Woody Guthrie’s
song “This Land Is Your Land” (54; see fig. 3). This mutualista, or mutual aid
society, established to organize the homeowners in Chavez Ravine against
the city’s ordinance, exemplifies one of the ways in which immigrants have
historically created and maintained social networks.22
Navigational capital refers to skills in maneuvering through social institutions. Historically, this implies the ability to maneuver through institutions
not created with Communities of Color in mind. Indeed, People of Color
draw on various “critical navigational skills,” both social and psychological,
to strategically move through structures of inequality permeated by racism
(Solórzano and Villalpando 1998).
In a sort of epilogue to the play, Maria speaks to the audience and
describes some of the barriers her predominantly Mexican community faced
in their struggle to save their homes (fig. 4). 162 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Figure 3. “This Land Was Made for You and Me.” Scene from Chavez Ravine, 2003. Left to
right: Herbert Siguenza, Ric Salinas, Randy Rodarte, Scott Rodarte, and John Avila as community
members, Richard Montoya as Pete Seeger, Eileen Galindo as Maria Ruiz. Photograph © 2003 by
Craig Schwartz; reproduced by permission. Figure 4. “Remember Chavez Ravine.”
S cene from C havez Ravine , 2003.
Background left, Herbert Siguenza as
Fernando Valenzuela; foreground right,
Eileen Galindo as Professor Maria Ruiz.
Photograph © 2003 by Craig Schwartz;
reproduced by permission. 163 Yosso and García Maria: My students often ask me, Professor Ruiz, then why was the fight
for Chavez Ravine so important? Look, I’m standing here on Bunker Hill,
City Hall is there, the LA Times, Disney Hall going up over here, the
Federal Courthouse there, the new Cathedral just behind me and none
other than the Department of Water and Power across the street. How
did we ever have the audacity to take on this civic crucible? (139) Maria’s monologue acknowledges individual agency within institutional
constraints. Her remarks demonstrate an overlap between navigational
and resistant capital. She goes on to say,
It’s true we lost, but what’s more important is that we helped create a
culture of resistance. The struggle for Chavez Ravine prepared me for
Civil Rights, the Farmworkers Union, my labor work with Bert Corona
and the Chicana Movement. Chavez Ravine was huge for me. It made
me the person I am today. So do me a favor, remember Chavez Ravine,
eh? (139–40) Navigational capital also builds on social capital, specifically through
social networks that facilitate community movement through places and
spaces including schools, the job market, and the health care and judicial
Familial capital refers to those cultural knowledges nurtured among
familia (kin) that carry a sense of community history, memory, and cultural
intuition (Delgado Bernal 1998, 2001, 2002; Villenas and Moreno 2001).
This form of cultural wealth engages a commitment to community wellbeing and expands the concept of family to include a broader understanding
of kinship. In contrast to the racialized, classed, and heterosexualized
notions that make up traditional understandings of “family,” familial capital
is nurtured by our extended and chosen family, which may include immediate family (living or long passed on) as well as aunts, uncles, grandparents,
and friends whom we consider part of our familia.
In Chavez Ravine, neighbors like La Sobadora nurture familial capital.
Maria: La Sobadora’s name was Juana de los Perros, she was a full blooded
Yaqui Indian. She was the lady in the neighborhood that could help you
when you ate too many green apples or peaches from la Moore Park.
HenrY: Gohlee, some babies were born right on the kitchen table, te
acuerdas little sister? 164 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Maria: Sure I do. When babies were born, when people died in their
homes, La Sobadora, la Juana de los Perros was there every time. These
are sacred lands you’re pitching on Fernando. (5) From these kinship ties, Maria has received una educación in which she
learned the importance of maintaining a healthy connection to her community and its resources (Gonzalez et al. 1995; Moll et al. 1992; Olmedo
1997; Rueda, Monzo, and Higareda 2004; Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenberg
Familia also model lessons of caring, coping, and providing, which
helps us develop our emotional, moral, educational, and occupational
consciousness.24 This consciousness can be fostered within and between
families, as well as through sports, school, religious gatherings, and other
social community settings. Isolation is minimized as families “become connected with others around common issues” and realize they are “not alone
in dealing with their problems” (Delgado-Gaitan 2001, 54). The families
struggling to save their homes in Chavez Ravine faced extreme barriers,
but they were not alone. Maria reiterates the interplay of familial, social,
and navigational capital when two detectives (Salinas and Montoya)
DeTecTive 1: Maria Salgado Ruiz?
Maria: Who’s asking?
DeTecTive 2: Oh, just the Los Angeles Police Department. . . .
DeTecTive 1: Are you the ringleader up in the Ravine?
Maria: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
DeTecTive 1: We don’t believe you. . . . Where did you get this little
book by Karl Marx? . . . Tell old lady Arechiga and the last families to
get off the hill.
DeTecTive 2: Do it fast and do it quiet.
DeTecTive 1: Or else.
Maria: Or else what?
DeTecTive 2: The Punch and Judy show.
DeTecTive 1: Who else you been talking to, Maria?
DeTecTive 2: Names, now! 165 Yosso and García DeTecTive 1: Spill!
Maria: You want names? I’ll give ya names. Blackie, Bimbo, Bubbles,
Captain Marvel, Cakes, Chema, Blue Moon, B-19, El Dopey, Chavela,
Chacha, Buttermilk Sky. . . . (128–30) Maria’s response connects back to the beginning of the play, where the
audience learned that youths in Chavez Ravine maintained a tradition of
nicknaming each other. In the face of these threatening detectives, Maria
utilizes her linguistic capital and holds on to the notion that she and her
former neighbors are familia, insisting that the communal bonds fostered
in the Ravine deserve to be respected and protected.25
Resistant capital refers to those knowledges and skills fostered through
oppositional behavior that challenges inequality (Delgado Bernal 1997;
Giroux 1983; Freire 1970, 1973; Pizarro 1998, 2005; Solórzano and Delgado
Bernal 2001). Though resistance can take on many forms, Chavez Ravine
portrays overt resistance against injustice, mainly through the composite
characters of Maria and Señora Ruiz. As mentioned above, these two
characters personify the real-life Arechiga family and eleven other families
whose refusal to move out of the Ravine led to their forced eviction. In the
play’s climatic scene, Manazar narrates as sheriff’s deputies carry Maria out
of her family’s home. She shouts “Sí, se puede!” as the rest of the ensemble
hold up enlarged archival photos of the actual Chavez Ravine residents,
the former neighborhoods, and the forced eviction (fig. 5).
Though this scene replicates much of the actual televised footage
of the Arechiga eviction, for dramatic purposes Culture Clash portrays
Señora Ruiz with a shotgun. Her strong voice rises over the commotion
and quiets the crowd (fig. 6). Pumping the gun in a threatening stance,
We are not the Mulhollands. (We hear the pump action of a shotgun.)
We are not the Lankershims or the Van Nuys. (We hear the pump action
of a shotgun.)
But you’ll remember this name, Arechiga. (We hear the pump action of
Cabral, Casos y Lopez. (We hear the pump action of a shotgun.) 166 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine Figure 5. Chavez Ravine
eviction, May 8, 1959. Los
Angeles Times Photographic
A rchive, Collection 1429,
“Chavez Ravine evictions.”
Photograph courtesy of
t he Department of Special
Collections, Charles E. Young
Research Library, University
of California, Los Angeles. Figure 6. “Mi Casa No Es Tu Casa.” Scene
from Chavez Ravine, 2003. Richard Montoya
as Señora Ruiz. Photograph © 2003 by Craig
Schwartz; reproduced by permission. 167 Yosso and García Perez. (We hear the pump action.)
Ramirez. (We hear the pump action.)
You took our sons to fight your war, and now you take our homes. (We
hear the pump action of a shotgun.)
Our land. (We hear the pump action of a shotgun)
. . . Mi casa no es tu casa. Sabes que? Why don’t you tell the pinche sheriff
to build a stadium in his own goddamn backyard. (We hear bulldozer / siren
and city sounds.) (133–35) Though the city displaced the families for the “greater public good”
and eventually handed over the land to the Dodger Corporation, Chavez
Ravine residents continued to nurture resistant capital. City officials and
Los Angeles power brokers failed to “see” the cultural wealth present
in Chavez Ravine, and they did not anticipate a decade of community
resistance. Manazar reminds the audience that community resistance to
oppression is part of the complexity and humanity of Los Angeles history.
He holds a picture of the removal of Chavez Ravine residents high over his
head and exclaims, “Memory cannot be flattened. Memory is history singing
in tune with the stars, and no sheriff’s baton can reach that high” (132).
Culture Clash’s culminating scene, back at Dodger Stadium, reiterates
that the knowledges and skills garnered through this resistance informed
and inspired a generation of activists, many of whom participated in the
Chicana/o civil rights movement of the following decade. Indeed, as a
cultural production Chavez Ravine both depicts and adds to the legacy
of Chicana/o community resistance. The play itself becomes part of the
knowledge base of resistant capital for Chicana/o communities. Discussion
Maria: It’s easy to romanticize the working class residents of Chavez
Ravine, but we should not, many of us were immigrants or first generation
sons and daughters of immigrants. And what does the immigrant want?
The immigrant doesn’t want trouble, he wants to make it, he wants his
little piece of land. (139) As Maria’s monologue reminds audiences, Chavez Ravine does not try
to aggrandize the actions of the former residents, but the play does reclaim
this collective history as part of a legacy of resistance against oppression.
Culture Clash emphasizes the importance of documenting community 168 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine histories and carrying on oral traditions as they present this narrative to
Fernando (Siguenza) when he begins his career with the Dodgers in 1981.
Fernando symbolizes the resilience of Mexican communities in the United
States. Few Dodger fans know the history of the Mexican families whose
neighborhoods once stood where Dodger Stadium stands now, so the brief
link to Fernando reminds audiences of the continuity of a Mexican presence
in this part of Los Angeles.
Chavez Ravine illuminates the racialized experiences of former Palo
Verde, Bishop, and La Loma residents while challenging deficit notions
of Mexican communities as passive. The decade-long battle to save these
neighborhoods mirrored struggles across Los Angeles over the next decades,
as Mexican Americans challenged the city’s plan to build freeways, a prison,
and a sewage plant in their eastside communities (Acuña 1984). Chavez
Ravine “revives the struggle over land rights, socioeconomic privilege, and
ethnicity” and “functions as a combination of ethnography, history, fiction,
and art” (Lucas 2006, 90–91).
In documenting the backdoor politics of 1950s Los Angeles, the play
exposes a pattern of institutionalized racism, informed by a deficit view of
Communities of Color. In a 2003 interview with the Los Angeles Times,
former city councilmember Rosalind Wyman reiterated this ignorance
and disrespect for the vibrant community cultivated in Chavez Ravine.
She remarked, “I wanted my city to be big league. Chavez Ravine just sat
there, nonproductive” (Boehm 2003). Wyman’s arrogant and incorrect
assumption reverberates throughout U.S. history as the same justification
used to violently claim land, revoke landholding rights, and break treaties between the government and indigenous communities. Such deficit
framing about whose culture has capital and whose does not limits the
insights to be gained from social science research and restricts the scope
of historical accounts.
In contrast to this deficit approach, CRT begins with the perspective
that Communities of Color are places with multiple strengths. Grounded
in the experiences of Communities of Color, CRT challenges mainstream
historical accounts that tend to disregard the cultural assets nurtured in
Chicana/o communities. Using examples from Culture Clash’s Chavez
Ravine, we describe six rarely acknowledged indicators of cultural wealth
in Chicana/o communities: aspirational, linguistic, social, navigational,
familial, and resistant capital.
We do not identify this portfolio of community cultural wealth to
facilitate mainstream society’s further co-optation or exploitation of the 169 Yosso and García strengths of Communities of Color.26 Deficit interpretations of Bourdieu’s
theory urge individuals to accumulate and claim exclusive ownership of
cultural capital. In contrast, the characters of Chavez Ravine—Maria, Uri,
Señora Ruiz, and Manazar—demonstrate the shared and collective nature
of cultural wealth.
Culture Clash’s satirical, gendered, and bilingual portrayal of the
complex battle for Chavez Ravine depicts and personifies the cultural
knowledges, skills, abilities, and networks that Los Angeles city officials and
businessmen failed to see in the 1950s.27 Recalling the deficit rhetoric of the
time, real-life former Ravine resident Lou Santillan remarks, “They made
it sound like a bunch of shacks. Not really. They were pretty good houses.
They needed renovations, but they weren’t shacks. . . . It’s something we
have to instill in our children and grandchildren, never to forget what happened up there” (Boehm 2003). Through the play, Culture Clash expresses
these same sentiments. Chavez Ravine honors the lives of the former Ravine
residents and publicly reclaims the historical significance of their struggle
for social justice. Richard Montoya explains, “The Taper stage certainly
isn’t a classroom, but we feel a great responsibility with this piece to get the
facts straight, because the collective memory of a community is a precious
thing” (Boehm 2003). We agree, and humbly offer this article as another
reminder of the many ways Chicana/o communities share cultural wealth
to facilitate survival and resistance. Notes
1. Chavez Ravine, written by Culture Clash and directed by Lisa Peterson,
premiered in May 2003 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Since the dramatic
script has not yet been published, all excerpts in this essay are from the version
filed at the Taper titled “Final Taper Draft, July 12, 2003.”
2. Though the play is grounded in historical research on the Chavez Ravine
community using oral histories, archival records, media accounts, political memoirs,
and academic analysis, this essay focuses on the theatrical production Chavez Ravine.
For a more comprehensive account of the historical events and figures shaping the
City of Los Angeles and the Chavez Ravine community during this period, see
Acuña (1984), Avila (1997, 2004), and Lopez (1999).
3. In the 1830s Julian Chávez moved from New Mexico to Los Angeles
and settled in the Ravine. The Mexican governing council officially granted him
the land around 1840, and the area eventually became known as Chavez Ravine
(Avila 1997, 114; Lopez 1999, 9). 170 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine 4. We use the terms Mexican and Mexican American interchangeably
throughout this article. In Chavez Ravine, some families were recent immigrants,
while others had lived in Los Angeles for generations and had children and grandchildren born in the United States. While these communities may not have used
the term Chicana/o to refer to their progressive political identity, they certainly
contributed to the struggle for Chicana/o civil rights (see D. García 2006a).
5. For further discussion of the liberal, well-intentioned, yet racialized and
paternalistic approach to urban redevelopment, see Lopez (1999, 7–9).
6. Critical race theory originated in schools of law with a group of scholars
seeking to examine and challenge race and racism in the United States legal system
and society. They argued that critical legal studies did not acknowledge the lived
experiences and histories of People of Color. For example, Derrick Bell and Alan
Freeman asserted that without analyzing race and racism, critical legal scholarship
could not offer strategies for social transformation (Delgado 1995). Outside schools
of law, scholars in social science, history, ethnic studies, and women’s studies engaged
in similar discussions. For further CRT historiography specifying some of the roots
in Chicana/o studies, see Yosso and Solórzano (2005).
7. These plays include The Mission (1988), A Bowl of Beings (1991), S.O.S.
Comedy for These Urgent Times (1992), and Carpa Clash (1993).
8. These plays include Radio Mambo: Culture Clash Invades Miami (1994),
Bordertown (1998), Nuyorican Stories (1999), Magic Mission Mystery Tour (2000),
Anthems: Culture Clash in the District (2001), and Chavez Ravine (2003). Between
2002 and 2005, the trio performed Culture Clash in AmeriCCa, an anthology show
that includes scenes from their ethnographic, site-specific plays. They premiered
two additional original plays in 2006, Zorro in Hell and Water & Power. For further
detail of Culture Clash’s production history, see D. García (2006a, 8–13) and the
Culture Clash website (http://cultureclash.com/cc_history.html).
9. Cultural studies and theater scholarship tend to mention Culture Clash
only briefly or in passing while discussing Chicana/o popular culture (see, for
example, Morales 2002, 196–98; Roman 1997; Shohat and Stam 1994, 77, 205,
338–41; Tatum 2006, 132–33).
10. Quoted from the cover page of the performance program for Culture
Clash Anthology: A 15-year Retrospective, Los Angeles Theatre Center, April–May
2000 (written and performed by Culture Clash, directed by Culture Clash and
11. Simmons wrote his doctoral dissertation in history at Harvard University
in 1952 under the title “Anglo Americans and Mexican Americans in South Texas.”
He later published the dissertation as a book with the same title (1974). William
Madsen graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a doctorate in
anthropology in 1955 and wenton to write the bestselling book Mexican-Americans
of South Texas, in which he asserts, “A good many of the Mexican Americans who
go to college don’t seem to know what they want out of education. This lack of
purpose is particularly characteristic of Mexican-Americans who are seeking a
higher education than their parents received” (1964, 108).
12. Cecilia Heller’s remarks exemplify these deficit assertions. She writes,
“Parents, as a whole, neither impose standards of excellence for tasks performed by
their children nor do they expect evidence of high achievement” (1966, 37). 171 Yosso and García 13. We recognize that the notion of capital may be associated with capitalism,
an exploitative system that has historically functioned to oppress Communities of
Color. We use the word “capital” here to refer to the value of cultural assets and
resources nurtured in Communities of Color specifically to survive and resist such
oppression. These multiple knowledges, skills, abilities, and networks have long
been undervalued, seen as cultural deficits and indeed as forms of cultural poverty
14. Ronald W. Lopez notes that by claiming eminent domain over the area,
the City of Los Angeles removed 1,100 families from Chavez Ravine. He also
explains that developers planning the proposed public housing projects for the
area based their designs on a total population of 3,769 people.
15. Historian Eric Avila notes that O’Malley also received mineral rights,
a ninety-year land lease, $4.7 million in land preparation costs, and all revenues
from parking and concessions (2004, 162).
16. In addition to photos from the Los Angeles public library archives, these
reprints drew heavily on photographer Don Normark’s collection, taken in 1949;
see Normark (1999).
17. This seemingly empathetic article appears quite disingenuous because the
Chandler family, owners of the Los Angeles Times, covertly and overtly supported
the cancellation of the housing project, knowing it would lead to the permanent
displacement of Ravine residents. Later, while advocating the construction of
Dodger Stadium at this same site, the Los Angeles Times openly denounced the
Arechiga family for refusing to leave the Ravine.
18. Many thanks to Rebeca Burciaga, who identified linguistic and familial
capital and added important dimensions to the concept of cultural wealth. Her late
father Jose Antonio “Tony” Burciaga was an original member of Culture Clash and
performed with the group from 1984 through 1986. Tony’s work documents and
comments humorously on Chicana/o culture. His stage routines, art, and writing
exemplify the linguistic capital nurtured in Chicana/o families and communities
(Burciaga 1993, 1995, 1997).
19. For further discussion of the social and academic skills Latina/o children
build as translators, see Faulstich Orellana (2003).
20. We appreciate Pablo Gallegos, Moises Garcia, Noel Gomez, and Ray
Hernandez, whose research conceptualizing graffiti and hip-hop poetry as unacknowledged sources of community cultural wealth has expanded the concept of
21. This resonates with more recent ethnographic research in the Mexican
immigrant community of Carpinteria, California, which found that “families transcend the adversity in their daily lives by uniting with supportive social networks”
(Delgado-Gaitan 2001, 105).
22. For further discussion of mutualistas and immigrant social networks, see
Gómez-Quiñones (1973, 1994) and Sánchez (1993).
23. Chicana scholars note that in Spanish, educación holds dual meanings
(Delgado-Gaitan 1992, 1994, 2001; Elenes et al. 2001). A person can be formally
educated with several advanced degrees, but may still be rude, ignorant, disrespectful, or unethical (immoral), and thus mal educada. On the other hand, a person 172 Community Cultural Wealth in Culture Clash’s Chavez Ravine with only a second-grade formal education may be una persona bien educada—a
well-mannered, kind, fair-minded, respectful, and moral individual.
24. For further discussion of moral capital passed on by Latina/o parents, see
Auerbach (2001, 2007). For more on the contexts and development of emotional,
educational, and occupational consciousness, see Elenes et al. (2001).
25. For discussion of the ways racial desegregation broke the communal bonds
cultivated within African American communities, see Morris (1999).
26. Robert A. Williams (1997) notes that in academia, scholars tend to act
like “vampires,” metaphorically siphoning the life-blood of marginalized communities through disrespectful research practices.
27. For more on the phrase “the battle for Chavez Ravine,” see Hines (1957,
1982) and Lopez (1999, 26). Works Cited
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of the Los Angeles River, 1945–1975. Monograph Series, no. 11. Los Angeles:
UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center.
Arriola, Elvia R. 1997. “LatCrit Theory, International Human Rights, Popular
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