(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Identity—that is, one’s connection to heritage and search for autonomous existence—has been the leading theme throughout the history of Latino drama in the United States. According to Elizabeth C. Ramírez’s Chicanas/Latinas in American Theatre (2000), “in earlier decades (primarily during the [Richard] Nixon administration) there was a concerted effort to combine all Spanish-speaking groups in the United States into one, designating the term ‘Hispanic’ for this massive population.” Yet, the term “Hispanic” speaks of a collective, homogeneous Latino experience and ignores the diversity of each single culture that contributes to it. Among the numerous groups that belong to Latino culture in the United States, the three largest are Mexican Americans or Chicanos (American-born Mexicans), Puerto Ricans or Nuyoricans (New Ricans), and Cuban Americans, whose modern theater has acquired several names, including Cuban American and Cuban exile theater. The multitude of terms signify an acute awareness of Latino origins within—and in opposition to—the mainstream culture, a postmodern political consciousness of “the other” as both outsider and insider. “There are many subject positions one must inhabit; one is not just one being,” wrote literary critic Gayatri Spivak. “That is when a political consciousness comes in.”

Poet and novelist Lois Griffith’s writing, as an outcome of such political consciousness, was a political activity. She writes in Action: The Nuyorican Poets Cafe Theater Festival (1997), “My cityscape is painted in spit, blood, and curses that depict the devil as the uninformed accomplice in the murder of innocence. Theater captures life’s intent from moments when we confront our motives for action.” This poet’s words demonstrate the very modern, Antonin Artaud-like mission of theater to imitate life. Because modern Latino consciousness is arguably always political consciousness, modern Latino theater as its mirror is always political theater.

“Waves” of Playwrights and Themes

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The decades of 1970’s and 1980’s offered opportunities and increasing financial support from the government and corporations for experimental work by Latino playwrights. The founding of Cuban playwright and artist Maria Irene Fornes ’s Lab at INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center in New York marked another important stage in the development of Latino theater, with playwrights such as Eduardo Machado, Cherrie Moraga, and Milcha Sanchez Scott paving the road as the Lab’s first generation. Playwright Caridad Svich distinguished the Lab as the beginning of the actual “first wave” in the history of Latino theater, “following the singular presences of Fornes, Piñero, and Valdez.” This first wave generation now spoke volumes about the search for Latino identity.

Following the footsteps of Fornes, whose dramatic themes include sexism, class systems, ageism, and other discrimination, Moraga examines ideologies that influence and separate generations. Medea, the heroine of Moraga’s The Hungry Woman (2001), is a victim of such ideologies. Her life as a warrior woman is torn between the old myths and traditions of the Mexican Indians and the belief systems and freedoms of the American land, creating a place in Medea’s mind that is beautiful and magical, yet taxing and self-destructive. An innovative theme that The Hungry Woman deals with is homosexuality. “My private parts,” says Luna’s lesbian lover, “are a battleground. I see struggle there before I see beauty.” Like Fornes, Moraga examines the body of a woman as a mother, a lover, a wife, and an object, while inviting the audience to consider homosexuality and homophobia as aspects of Chicano and Anglo culture.

Carmen Rivera , in Julia de Burgos: Child of Water (pr. 1999), brings up another crucial theme in Latino experience—literacy. The heroine, Julia Duran, struggles with her inability to read, despite a passionate desire to learn. While a young girl in Puerto Rico, she is inspired by poetess Julia de Burgos but is prevented by her living conditions from receiving the education she craves. Julia experiences immigration,...

(The entire section is 880 words.)