Luis Miguel Valdez was born on June 26, 1940, in Delano, California, the second of ten brothers and sisters. His mother and father were migrant farmworkers, and Luis began working in the fields at the age of six. Because his family traveled to the harvests in the San Joaquin Valley, Luis received little uninterrupted schooling.
In an interview, Valdez discussed one significant, and ultimately fortunate, consequence of such a disruptive early life: His family had just finished a cotton harvest; the season had ended, the rains begun, but because their truck had broken down, the family had to stay put. Leaving school one day, Luis realized he had left behind his paper lunch bag, a precious commodity in 1946, given the paper shortages and the family’s poverty. When he returned to get it, however, he found his teacher had torn it up. She was using it to make papier-mâché animal masks for the school play. Luis was amazed by the transformation. Although he did not even know what a play was at the time, he decided to audition and was given the leading role as a monkey. The play was about Christmas in the jungle, and the following weeks of colorful preparation were exhilarating. A week before the show was to begin, however, his father got the truck fixed, and the family moved away. Valdez has said of the experience: “That left an unfillable gap, a vacuum I’ve been pouring myself into ever since.”
The pang of that early disappointment sparked a fascination for the theater and a wealth of creative energy that was to bring Valdez remarkable success in the years ahead. Despite his intermittent schooling, he won a scholarship to San Jose State College in 1960. There he studied theater history and developed a lasting enthusiasm for classical Greek and Roman drama. His own work also began to take shape, and his first one-act play, The Theft, won a regional playwriting award. In 1965, he directed his first full-length play,...
(The entire section is 798 words.)
Luis Miguel Valdez was born on June 26, 1940, in Delano, California, the second of ten brothers and sisters. His father and mother were migrant farmworkers. Already working in the fields by the age of six, Valdez spent his childhood traveling to the harvests in the agricultural centers of the San Joaquin Valley. Despite having little uninterrupted early schooling, he managed to win a scholarship to San Jose State College in 1960.
Soon after his arrival at college, he won a regional playwriting contest for his first one-act play, The Theft. Encouraged by his teachers to write a full-length work, Valdez complied with The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, which was promptly produced by the San Jose State drama department. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1964, Valdez spent the next several months traveling in Cuba; on his return, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe under Ron Davis, where he worked for one year, learning from the troupe’s commedia dell’arte techniques, which he was later to adapt in new ways.
Partly as a result of the sense of solidarity that he gained from his experiences while in Cuba, Valdez returned home to Delano, where the United Farm Workers Union was then being formed under the leadership of César Chávez. Amid a strike for union recognition, the union officials responded enthusiastically to Valdez’s offer to create an educational theater group. Using volunteer actors from among the strikers, he formed El Teatro Campesino in 1965. Traveling on a flatbed truck from field to field, the troupe produced a series of one-act political skits dubbed actos (actions, or gestures), performing them in churches, storefronts, and on the edges of the fields themselves.
Enormously successful, the plays soon won outside attention and led to a United States tour in the summer of 1967. Later that year, Valdez left the fields to found the Centro Campesino Cultural in Del Rey, California. Similar recognition followed, with an Obie Award in New York in 1969 for “creating a workers’ theater to demonstrate the politics of survival” and an invitation to perform at the Theatre des Nations festival in Nancy, France—one of four tours to Europe between 1969 and 1980. Later in 1969, Valdez and the...
(The entire section is 935 words.)