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.
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...
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