I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend the documentary play Placas, The Most Dangerous Tattoo. This play was written by a local member of the community, Paul S. Flores, from Chula Vista, CA. Flores work explores the urban culture, hip-hop and transitional identity. There were only a few characters in the play that played multiple characters. Despite that fact, the play was well done.
The story line of the play was based on true events about a Salvadorans by the name of Fausto Carbajal, played by actor Ricardo Salinas, who migrated in to the United States illegally, fleeing from the dangers that were happening in his hometown in El Salvador, after a guerilla movement formed to battle the El Salvador government lasting in a twelve year civil war. About 25% of Salvadorans claimed political asylum and migrated into the U.S. where they faced discrimination, poverty and gang violence. Fausto Carbajal, unfortunately was a victim of all of the above. After the Civil war was over, the U.S began deporting Salvadoran’s back to their country if they were suspected of gang activity, and again Fausto was a victim of deportation. He had by this point been involved and had started a gang called MS-13 Mares-Salvatrucha 13. He made a few references to this which I thought were interesting. First reference was to the number 0, Americans don’t know the number zero because the Yuka Natives were the first to invent it. The number one refers to Americans in which everything starts with 1, “1st is God”, “we’re a 1st place team,” “we’re number one!” And the number 3 refers to religion, “the father, the son and the holy ghost.” Everything comes in 3’s, three dots on the hand only a gang member know what and he illegally migrated back into the U.S. because he had a son by this time. After crossing over, he was caught in gang activity again and was in prison for 9 years.
His son, Edgar who grew up on the east side of town was well known with the rival gang. Unfortunately, Edgar was heading down the same path his father, Fausto did. Fausto by this time had been released from the prison due to pleading insanity. He says he was given another chance. His chance was to save his son from the same path he took. His son Edgar, played by the Actor Xavi Moreno, was more a Chicano than Mexican. He spoke very little Spanish and used “the n word” to refer to his friends. Fausto was trying to show Edgar that by removing his tattoos that he was erasing his past and moving forward. Unfortunately, Edgar ended up joining the rival gang and ultimately ended up losing his father to a gun battle because of gang rivalry. The reference to the tattoos in this play was that each tattoo represented something in Fausto and every gang member’s life that connected them to the gang life. He references the “smile now, cry later” tattoos saying that every gang member gets these because those are masks that protect you from what reality is. They are they to hide pain under the ink. When you’re sad or angry the smile now face covers those feeling and vice versa with the cry later face.
I enjoyed the play, but after the play was over, I really picked up a lot more information that helped me understand as to why this play was constructed and shared. A few of the actors were kind enough to hang around up on stage and answer a few questions. One of the questions that was asked by an audience member was, “Why does every Latino play or movie usually end up with a negative image of the Latino? Isn’t there a better way to show the Latinos in a positive view in this play?” The answer was an interesting one. Caro Zeller, who played Claudia, Edgar’s mom, answered with, “Sure we could have portrayed a more positive play about Latinos, but it would be more for an entertainment only purpose. This play was intended to educate our viewers. Just like Shakespeare, not all his plays were positive, he play wrote about death, suicide, love, murder, sacrifice and whatever it was he wanted to write about, and although he entertained the audience he educated them as well. That is what we’re doing with this play. Educating people about what happens in many families, not just Latino families.”
Another question asked “What were the reactions of the audience that weren’t predominantly Latinos?” The answer was in general that not just Latino families go through this, all races can go through the same situation.” An example that was given was that they had done a play in Chicago where the audience was predominantly African American. After the play a young man went up the Xavi, and told him that he had dragged his parents to see this play because this was his life and he wanted his parents to understand it. He was looking for a way out from the violent gang life he was living and this was a way to help his parents understand his situation. The one story that they talked about that really made me feel sad for some families were when they spoke about the play being done in Salinas, California. The audience had no reaction to the play. After the play was over some of the actors went out to speak to some of the audience to try and figure out what they did wrong. The audience members responded with “this is our everyday life, you were me, and he was my brother and that was my mom. They were the play. Those comments really broke my heart and that just explains that in some cities poverty, immigration and gang violence is much higher.