I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!

by Luis Valdez
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 722

“I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” is Valdez’s most complex, ambitious, and satisfying play. Satirical, comic, filled with puns and painful insight, the play explores the search for an authentic Chicano identity against the limiting stereotypes and restricted possibilities afforded Mexican Americans in the 1980’s United States.

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“I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” is Valdez’s most complex, ambitious, and satisfying play. Satirical, comic, filled with puns and painful insight, the play explores the search for an authentic Chicano identity against the limiting stereotypes and restricted possibilities afforded Mexican Americans in the 1980’s United States.

The play is set in Los Angeles in the home of Connie and Buddy Villa, middle-aged Chicano bit-part actors. The conflict is sparked by the unexpected return of Sonny, their son. Defying his parents’ dreams for him, Sonny quits Harvard University Law School and thus forfeits his chance at the kind of Anglo success his parents have not been able to achieve. His return home, with his Chinese American girlfriend, and his announced intention to become an actor, writer, producer, and director—“the newest superstar in Hollywood” and “the next Woody Allen”—creates a crisis in the family that the rest of the play tries to resolve. In a tempestuous family quarrel, Sonny derides his parents’ acting; they have made careers playing stereotyped nonspeaking parts as maids, gardeners, bandits, and prostitutes.

He proclaims his desire to surpass them. “I Don’t Have to Show You No Stinking Badges!” then moves to a play within a play. Sonny films his parents and his girlfriend, Anita, but when his parents are called off to a Latino Actors Guild meeting, he decides to act in another way. He takes his father’s gun and holds up several fast-food restaurants. The climax of the play occurs when police and news crews arrive at the Villa home; a standoff ensues, replete with gunfire, bullhorns, and live coverage. The play then offers three completely different endings, with Sonny either killing himself, becoming a television director, or returning to Harvard, via spaceship, to finish his law degree.

Valdez gives the play’s most compelling theme, the struggle against racial stereotypes to find a viable Chicano identity, a complex and layered treatment. Even the characters’ names—Buddy, Connie, and Sonny Villa—suggest a divided identity. “Villa” recalls the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, but their first names are all too typically Anglo. Their cultural frame of reference, moreover, is almost exclusively that of white films and film stars. Throughout the play, they compare themselves and one another to Otto Preminger, Woody Allen, James Bond, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and many others. Their understanding of themselves and their world seems to have been defined not by Chicano role models but by Hollywood film stars.

Sonny alone recognizes this problem, and he rebels against it. He sees that his parents’ roles as “silent” actors signify their powerlessness, their marginalized stature in Hollywood, and the invisibility of Chicanos generally. Sonny also understands that by acting the film roles of Mexican stereotypes, his parents have achieved in their private existence nothing more than a “low rated situation comedy” and “a cheap imitation of Anglo life,” with a comfortable home, swimming pool, and all the other trappings of middle-class America. Sonny wants no part of it. Yet he knows how limited his options are:Here’s the main event: the indispensable illiterate cholo gang member-heroin-addict-born-to-lose-image, which I suppose could account for 99 percent of my future employment in TV land. Just look hostile, dumb, and potentially violent. Preferably with rape on the mind, know what I mean?

Thus Sonny’s decision to leave Harvard and create his own films is an attempt to create and control his own identity, not as an imitation Anglo but as a Chicano. For all of his insight and ambition, however, Sonny feels trapped. When his parents abandon his home movie, titled Types in Stereo, Sonny decides to make his acting real. Yet he merely assumes another role, and a stereotypical one at that, of the Chicano bandit. He robs fast-food restaurants, symbols of the emptiness he sees in American life, and thus gives in to the pressures against which he had fought.

The play’s multiple endings leave readers and audiences perplexed. Clearly, though, Valdez wants audiences to step back and reflect on the relationship between acting and reality and to consider the options open, or perhaps closed, to someone like Sonny. Ultimately, the play forces audiences to think deeply about their own stereotypes and to see, in all of its painful complexity, the damage such stereotypes can do.

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