I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges! Essay - Critical Essays

Luis Valdez

Critical Context

“I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” can be viewed as a departure, if not an evolutionary step, in both the career of Luis Valdez and the development of American drama by and about ethnic minorities.

Since 1965, when he founded the Teatro Campesino, a California theater group that grew out of the United Farmworkers’ struggle, most of Valdez’s plays can be classified as social protests. His earliest plays were agitprop pieces that championed the economic causes of Chicanos. Such plays bear the tenor of such works as Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty (pr., pb. 1935). He followed these strident pieces with longer works that sought to present a fuller and deeper reality of the Chicano experience in America. In The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa (pr. 1965, pb. 1967), Valdez depicts the conflict between two brothers, one an assimilationist and the other a pachuco. He attempts the construction of a personal Mexican mythology in Bernabé (pr. 1970, pb. 1976), and in his best-known play, Zoot Suit (pr. 1978, pb. 1992), he renders vital and visible the Chicano subculture. Each of Valdez’s plays stand as part of a larger historical project in which the playwright seeks to force upon the American consciousness an awareness of the Chicano experience and in so doing to write an American history that is more “real.”

“I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” is also an ahistorical work that presents another cause of the historical invisibility and marginality of Chicanos: a televisionized American culture that acts as a maw into which all ethnic identity falls. Members of the Villa family are cut off from their ancestral heritage, and more than this, they have cut themselves off from their past by their tacit acceptance of Hollywood’s images of them. Thus, the play becomes a complement to Valdez’s historical project. Whereas before he sought to inscribe history in his plays, here he has advanced to a causal analysis of why such history has never been written. This play shows that the writing of history is first and foremost a personal responsibility, which the “New Americans” in the Villa family are yet incapable of discharging.