Although Luis Miguel Valdez is known primarily for his plays, his writing on Chicano culture has had a significant impact. In a number of essays initially in the 1960’s and 1970’s (“Theatre: El Teatro Campesino,” “Notes on Chicano Theatre,” and several others), he elaborated an aesthetic based on what he believed to be the special features of Chicano reality: bilingualism, mestizaje (mixed race), and cultural disinheritance. Valdez’s commitment to Chicano nationalism is reflected in two important works of nontheatrical writing—Aztlan: An Anthology of Mexican American Literature (1972; coedited with Stan Steiner), whose lengthy introduction recounts the history of the Chicano people as the original inhabitants of “Aztlan” (the contemporary American Southwest), and Pensamiento Serpentino: A Chicano Approach to the Theatre of Reality (1973), which explores the influence of Aztec and Mayan spirituality on Chicano art and thought. It is in this latter book that all of Valdez’s published poetry can be found.
Without Luis Miguel Valdez, the Chicano theater would not exist in its present vibrant form. At the age of twenty-five, in the fields of rural California, without financial backing and using farm laborers as actors, Valdez single-handedly created a movement that has since become international in scope, leading to the founding of Chicano theater troupes from Los Angeles, California, to Gary, Indiana. Although not usually mentioned in the company of revered American playwrights of his generation, such as Sam Shepard, David Mamet, and Richard Foreman, he is in many ways as distinguished and as well known internationally, both in Europe and in Latin America.
In one respect especially, Valdez has accomplished what no other American playwright has: the creation of a genuine workers’ theater, completely indigenous and the work of neither university intellectuals nor producers of a commercialized “mass culture.” He has made “serious” drama popular, political drama entertaining, and ethnic drama universal.
Valdez has won acclaim in two parallel but distinct artistic communities. If his early career fits neatly within the contours of the cultural nationalism of the Civil Rights movement (whose Chicano forms in the American Southwest are perhaps less well known than the African American forms of the South), he found a hearing also in more established circles. One of the original organizers for the United Farm Workers Union, a tireless propagandist for Chicano identity, and a founder of an annual cultural festival in Fresno, California, he has also been a founding member...
Broyles-Gonzales, Yolanda. El Teatro Campesino: Theater in the Chicano Movement. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. Study drawing on previously unexamined materials, such as production notes and interviews with former ensemble members, to demystify the roles Valdez and El Teatro Campesino played in the development of a Chicano theater aesthetic.
Elam, Harry J., Jr. Taking It to the Streets: The Social Protest Theatre of Luis Valdez and Amiri Baraka. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001. Explores the political, cultural, and performative similarities between El Teatro Campesino and Baraka’s Black Revolutionary Theater. An intriguing examination of the political theater of these two marginalized groups, Chicanos and African Americans, and their shared aesthetic.
Flores, Arturo C. El Teatro Campesino de Luis Valdez. Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 1990. This five-chapter study examines the importance, gradual development, theoretical considerations, touring, and “return to identity,” and the “steps to commercialization (1975-1980)” represented by Zoot Suit. A strong study with a bibliography. In Spanish.
Huerta, Jorge A. Chicano Theatre: Themes and Forms. Ypsilanti, Mich.: Bilingual Press, 1982. Well-written and-illustrated study that begins with Valdez’s experiences in Delano in 1965. It contains an excellent immediate description with dialogue of these first...