Luis Miguel Valdez (VAL-dehz), political activist, playwright, director, essayist, and founder of El Teatro Campesino, is the most prominent figure in modern Chicano theater. Born on June 26, 1940, to migrant farmworker parents, he was second in a family of ten brothers and sisters. In spite of working in the fields from the age of six, Valdez completed high school and received a scholarship to San Jose State College, where he developed his early interest in theater. The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa was written while Valdez was a student there. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English and drama in 1964, he joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, whose work was based on commedia dell’arte and the theater of Bertolt Brecht. These experiences heavily influenced Valdez’s work, especially in terms of style and production.
A 1965 meeting with César Chávez, who was organizing migrant farmworkers in Delano, California, led to the formation of El Teatro Campesino, the cultural and propagandistic arm of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. Valdez created short improvisational pieces, called actos, for the troupe. All the actos are characterized by the use of masks, stereotyped characters, farcical exaggeration, and improvisation. Las dos caras del patroncito (the two faces of the boss) and La quinta temporada (the fifth season) are actos from this early period that highlight the plight of the farmworkers and the benefits of unionization. Valdez left the union in 1967, bringing El Teatro Campesino with him to establish El Centro Campesino Cultural. He wanted to broaden the concerns of the troupe by fostering Chicanos’ pride in their cultural heritage and by depicting their problems in the Anglo culture. Los vendidos (the sellouts), for example, satirizes Chicanos who attempt to assimilate into a white, racist society, and La conquista de Mexico (the conquest of Mexico) links the fall of the Aztecs with the internal dissension of Chicano activists. In 1968 El Teatro Campesino moved toward producing full-length plays, starting with Valdez’s The Shrunken Head of Pancho...
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