Partial Transcript: INT: My name is Lourdes Portillo. Today is June 8th, 2014 and I'm interviewing Luis Valdez for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Visual History Program as part of the Academy's Getty Grant Project for Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers his early childhood moving around California as the son of migrant farmworkers
Keywords: American history; Delano, California; Fathers; Migrant farm workers; San Joaquin Valley, California; Teatro Campesino; World War II
Subjects: Chicano identity Childhood Family Farm Workers
Partial Transcript: And it so happens that in 1946, that happens to be the year that I got hooked on theater. I mean it was a, it's an old story but it... [INT: Tell it to me.] We were, one of the places that we used to come to was the Santa Clara Valley.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes his experience being introduced to white culture and theater at school in the Santa Clara Valley. He cites this first experience as a foundation of his creativity.
Keywords: Chicano culture; Childhood--Influences; Childhood--Neighborhood culture; Childhood--Small town life; Culture shock; Labor strikes; Migrant farm workers; mothers; Parents; Schools
Subjects: Childhood Education Family Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Theater
GPS: Santa Clara Valley, California
Map Coordinates: 37.247441, -121.839716
Partial Transcript: INT: What were the most important lessons you learned from your parents?
LV:My parents, like a lot of poor parents, you know, were persistent. I think maybe hunger for education is probably part of that persistence. My dad, I'm sure, would have been a history professor if he'd had an opportunity to go to school.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez recalls his family's history, as they participated in strikes and the Mexican Revolution before migrating to America.
Keywords: Catholicism; college; Grandparents; labor strikes; Mexican Revolution (1910-1920); Migrant farm workers; Parental expectations; Parents; Railroad history; Religion; San Joaquin Valley, California; Schools
Subjects: American history Education Family Farm Workers History of Mexico Immigration Judeo Christian tradition Mexican-American culture United States/Mexico border
Partial Transcript: LV: And beyond that I think that there's another childhood experience that I had. The first time before the war started we did spend one year, 1941, in, on the road. And we came to a ranch here in San Martín and we were living with my cousins in a barn, a farmer's barn.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes a childhood burn accident which brought him closer to his mother, and relates the effect she had on his life.
Keywords: Accidents; Childhood--Influences; Hospitals; Mothers; Relationship with mother; San Joaquin Valley, California; Siblings
Subjects: Childhood Family Parents
Partial Transcript: INT: Did you like reading?
LV: In 1945, just after the War, again '46 we were on the road. An amazing thing, one of the things my dad did was that he bought an Encyclopedia Britannica set.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers how his love of reading was sparked by his father's purchase of a set of encyclopedias.
Keywords: Childhood--Influences; Fathers; Relationship with father; Schools; Science
Subjects: Education Family Mexican-American culture Reading
Partial Transcript: INT: What cultural events did you go to as a child that you can remember?
LV: I will never forget the 16th of September celebrations in Delano on a closed street by the Commission Honorifica Mexicana, you know, which was the mutual help society for Mexicans in Delano, the Commission, the Honorary Commission.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers the importance of Mexican Independence Day celebrations and community organizing during his childhood in Delano, California.
Keywords: Chicano culture; Childhood--Influences; Childhood--Neighborhood culture; Costumes; Delano, California; Mexican Independence Day; Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)]; Oral tradition; Zapata, Emiliano
Subjects: American history Childhood History of Mexico Immigration Mexican-American culture Theater United States/Mexico border
GPS: Delano, CA
Map Coordinates: 35.763930, -119.243865
Partial Transcript: LV: I grew up again at a time when those Saturday afternoon Westerns, were huge. And I’m talking about Lash LaRue, Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, Tim Holt, Chito Rivera. Actually Chito Rivera was that actor by the name of Richard Martin.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers his childhood love of Western movies, and recounts the impact of meeting a childhood hero later in his career.
Keywords: Actor; Childhood--Influences; Childhood--Movie going; Childhood--Neighborhood culture; Childhood--Small town life; Cisco Kid; Family; Media Representation; Mexican Revolution (1910-1920)]; Quinn, Anthony; Viva Zapata!; Western films
Subjects: American film industry American history Childhood History of film History of Mexico Mexican-American culture Movie theater
Hyperlink: Viva Zapata! (1952)
Partial Transcript: INT: Okay, thank you. Do you remember the first movie you ever saw? The very first one.
LV: My memory tells me that the first movie I ever saw was The Last of the Mohicans, with Gary Cooper. And the reason I remember, is because it scared the hell of me.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses how watching the portrayal of race in The Last of the Mohicans and Song of the South at a young age shaped his work later in life.
Keywords: Chicano identity; Childhood--Movie going; Childhood--Small town life; Media Representation; Migrant farm workers; Song of the South; The Last Of The Mohicans; Western films
Subjects: American film industry Childhood Disney movies Indigenous culture Movie theater
Partial Transcript: LV: When I was six, I picked up the secret of paper mache, which allowed me then to begin to make masks. You can take newspapers, or you know, grocery bags, and wet them, and put them into any shape that you want, you know, with paste and stuff, they harden, and so it becomes a real source of unending creativity, and amusement.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers how his love of puppetry and ventriloquism landed him a job performing on local television in high school.
Keywords: Cousins; First job; High schools; Puppetry; puppets; Television; Theatrical play; Ventriloquist
Subjects: Childhood Family Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: INT: So when did you become aware that there was such a thing as a director? Was it at that age, at 16, in high school? Did you know about directors?
LV: In high school, you have teachers, you know, they’re first rated directors, you know, they’re trying to direct you.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses the importance of mentorship in his high school and college experience at San Jose State, which led to his first playwriting and his decision to join the San Francisco Mime Troupe.
Keywords: College; Director; Early television work; High schools; Mentorship; Playwright; San Francisco Mime Troupe; Television; Theater acting; Theater directing
Subjects: Education Theater Theatrical play Writing process
Partial Transcript: INT: Excuse me. Your trip to Cuba, was it when you were in the mime troupe, or before you went to join the mime troupe?
LV: It was just before I joined the mime troupe. I went to Cuba in the summer of 1964. I graduated from San Jose State in 1964.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez relates the experience of traveling to Cuba as part of a student group, and the effect it had on his political activism and theatrical career.
Keywords: African American student movements; African Americans; Cienfuegos, Cuba; Cuban Missile Crisis (1962); Feminism; Kennedy, John F.; Playwright; San Francisco Mime Troupe; San Francisco, California; Social activism; Student Committee for Travel to Cuba
Subjects: Latino culture Social justice Theater Writing process
Partial Transcript: LV: And with the projections, the oil projections, and the rock bands playing. It was a whole revolutionary turn at that point, in the counter culture. And I was right in the center of it. I mean I was right in the middle of it. But at the same time, as that was happening, my mother in San Jose was receiving copies of El Malcriado that my grandmother was sending to her from Delano, you know, from the union.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers his first meetings with Cesar Chavez after deciding to join the Delano Grape Strike.
Keywords: Activism; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Labor strikes; labor unions; Picketing; United Farm Workers of America
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Social justice
Partial Transcript: LV: Essentially, I was, I became the person I was preparing to become until that very day. It seemed that all of the elements of my life had led me in that direction up to that moment. I arrived in Delano with no money, basically.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes his early days on the strike, being elected to picket captain, and forming the political theater group El Teatro Campesino.
Keywords: Activism; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Labor strikes; labor unions; Migrant farm workers; Picketing; Teatro Campesino; United Farm Workers of America
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Hyperlink: El Teatro Campesino
Partial Transcript: LV: The march of Sacramento came about as a result of the natural sequence of events in agriculture. What happens is that after the harvest in the grapes, the leaves are heavy with, well the grapes are gone, you know it’s just the leaves, and the branches.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers the growing role of El Teatro Campesino in the Delano Grape Strike, including the Sacramento March, the Plan of Delano, and "De Colores".
Keywords: Activism; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; De Colores song; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Folk music; Labor strikes; labor unions; Migrant farm workers; Music; Picketing; Teatro Campesino; United Farm Workers of America
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Hyperlink: "De Colores" song
Partial Transcript: INT: Tell me a little bit about the actos. The structure of the actos. And how they came about.
LV: Well I know some people call the actos skits, you know, but I hesitate, I don’t particularly like that word.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses the origin and purpose of El Teatro Campesino's different forms of political theater, from the short actos and mitos to the longer corridos and other forms.
Keywords: Activism; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Labor strikes; labor unions; Migrant farm workers; Picketing; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; United Farm Workers of America
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Partial Transcript: INT: Now, I’d like to see how you went from theater, how you left the Teatro...no not the Teatro, but the, you know, the union. You eventually left and formed your Teatro company. And how you started making films. What inspired you to make films? I mean, and we, you can talk a little bit about I Am Joaquin.
LV: Well on a personal level…
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers shooting footage for I Am Joaquin during the strike.
Keywords: 16mm film; Activism; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Documentary; I am Joaquin; Labor strikes; labor unions; Migrant farm workers; Picketing; Teatro Campesino; UCLA School of Film and Television; United Farm Workers of America
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Filmmaker Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Hyperlink: I Am Joaquin (1969)
Partial Transcript: LV: We separated from the United Farm Workers in 1967. That’s an issue that’s come up recently because of Miriam Pawel’s book, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, and also the film that was done by Diego Luna, you know, Cesar Chavez.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez talks about the the growing tensions that caused El Teatro Campesino to separate from the United Farm Workers union.
Keywords: Activism; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Labor strikes; labor unions; Migrant farm workers; Picketing; Teatro Campesino; United Farm Workers of America; Vietnam War
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Partial Transcript: INT: Let’s go to your incursion to film. Let’s talk about I Am Joaquin. How did it come about first? It was a poem, right? The Corky Gonzales.
LV: On our first national tour, in the summer of 1967, I mean actually we were the, you know, the whole country was in flames. We couldn’t get into Chicago because the national, no, we couldn’t get into Detroit, because the National Guard was blocking the freeway.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers developing I Am Joaquin from Corky Gonzales's epic poem.
Keywords: Documentary; Experimental film; I am Joaquin; Poetry; Riots; Social activism; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; Writing
Subjects: American history Filmmaker Mexican-American culture Poetry Social justice Theater Writing process
Partial Transcript: LV: When we got a film together then, we had, this was already what, 1970, by the time that, ’69 was when we started. By 1970, finally had a color print.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses the challenges of filming "I Am Joaquin" on location, and the film's reception and legacy.
Keywords: Chicano cinema; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Distribution; Documentary; Experimental film; I am Joaquin; Riots; Social activism; Teatro Campesino
Subjects: American history Filmmaker Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Partial Transcript: LV: On another scale though, we also began to put actos, and different pieces onto, onto the screen, onto television. And I AM JOAQUIN was followed by Los Vendidos, for instance, at KNBC
Segment Synopsis: Valdez talks about El Teatro Campesino's subsequent projects on television, and their decision to pursue filmmaking.
Keywords: Chicano cinema; Directing; Directing actors; Documentary; El Corrido Ballad of a Farmworker; Emmys; Experimental film; Film production; Film vs. theater; Location shooting; Public Television; Social activism; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; Writing
Subjects: American history Awards Filmmaker Filmmaking technology Mexican-American culture Social justice Theater
Hyperlink: El corrido: Ballad of a Farmworker (1976)
Partial Transcript: INT: So tell me about your collaboration with Lupe, and how you met her, and then how that all developed into you know, also an artistic collaboration?
LV: My wife Lupe and I were married in 1969, on the Teatro stage in Fresno. But we had actually met maybe three years before.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers meeting and marrying his wife, Lupe Valdez during the Delano Grape Strike.
Keywords: Chicano Movement; College; Culture shock; Delano Grape Strike; Education; Marches; Migrant farm workers; Mothers; siblings; Teatro Campesino; United Farm Workers of America
Subjects: Collaboration Family Marriage Mexican-American culture
Partial Transcript: LV: More than that I think that we have shared all these experiences over the years, is that my proposal to her came shortly before we went to France, and she was on that first trip to Europe to Nancy, France and so we got to know each other on the plane. You know? We got to know each other on the flight.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes his personal and professional collaborations with his wife, Lupe Valdez.
Keywords: Movie screenings; Playwright; Screenplay; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; Travel; Writing; Writing partners
Subjects: Collaboration Family Marriage Theater Writing process
Partial Transcript: INT: Now another collaboration that you've had has been with your brother.
LV: Yeah. [INT: Can you kind of talk about the nature of that collaboration?] Daniel and I are flesh and blood, and so our roots go way back, and I can remember the night back in 1950, when he was one year old and he could not go to sleep, and he was padding around the house, you know?
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes his personal and professional collaborations with his brother, Danny Valdez.
Keywords: Actor; Delano Grape Strike; Delano, California; Hollywood; La Bamba; Mothers; Musical director; Musicians; Police; siblings; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; Zoot Suit
Subjects: Collaboration Family Theater
Partial Transcript: LV: And so Danny like ended up becoming a key performer immediately. We added another guitar, to the group. Of course he was a natural comic, a natural actor. He had all the instincts,
Segment Synopsis: Valdez credits his brother with helping him develop La Bamba.
Keywords: Actor; Film development; La Bamba; La Bamba - the Richie Valens story; musical director; Musical theater; siblings; Teatro Campesino; Zoot Suit
Subjects: family filmmaker Theater
Hyperlink: La Bamba (1987)
Partial Transcript: LV: The origins of Zoot Suit are also embedded in my own personal history. And I was commissioned in 1977 to write a play about LA history. And the Sleepy Lagoon case, 1942 and the Zoot Suit Riots, 1943 seemed to be real seminal events, to try to build a story and try to build a play.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers how his personal history inspired Zoot Suit, including his introduction to Cesar Chavez.
Keywords: Chavez, Cesar; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Delano, California; Fashion; Migrant farm workers; pachuco; Playwright; Police brutality; Theatrical play; Writing process; Zoot Suit; Zoot Suit Riots
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: INT: Well, now let's talk about Zoot Suit, you know. What was your research process? I'm going to ask you all the questions and you can incorporate them. The influences you've already spoken about that. The importance of the musical score. And there was a moment when you said emphatically, "This is an American play." That's it.
LV: The whole pachuco experience is about cultural fusion.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses the writing and researching process for the play version of Zoot Suit, which included interviewing Alice McGrath and discovering the history of the zoot suit.
Keywords: Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Culture shock; Diversity; Fashion; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; pachuco; Playwright; Police brutality; Racism; Theatrical play; Writing process; Zoot Suit; Zoot Suit Riots
Subjects: American history Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: LV: The first indication to me that Alice was the right person, was that she took me to see the Leyvas family. And they lived in East LA, and I went to the mother's house. And the mother and father were still alive then, and the father was dying of cancer. But he was still very much alive, and they were very happy to see me into their home and the kids were there, the daughters.
Segment Synopsis: Luis Valdez remembers Alice McGrath's help earning the trust of the original pachucos in order to write Zoot Suit.
Keywords: Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Culture shock; Diversity; Fashion; Gangs; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; pachuco; Playwright; Police brutality; Racism; Theatrical play; Writing process; Zoot Suit; Zoot Suit Riots
Subjects: American history Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: LV: What they did is they cleared the land of Indians. They said, "Gotta clear the Indians out, because the land is mine. I can't have native inhabitants here, the land is mine." And so the whole process of the Westward expansion was a process of Indian clearance, right?
Segment Synopsis: Luis Valdez recounts the history of racism against indigenous Americans as part of European and US expansion.
Keywords: American West; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Discrimination; Diversity; Indigenous culture; Japanese internment camps; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; pachuco; Playwright; Racism; Theatrical play; Writing process; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history History of Mexico Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: INT: Now with Zoot Suit, tell me once you did the production, it was very successful, and how did the success of the play become a means of making the film itself? And what was the experience of making the film as opposed to putting on a play?
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers the varied reactions to the play when it opened first in Los Angeles and later on Broadway. Valdez expands on the play's importance in Chicano cultural legacy.
Keywords: Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Critical Reception; Diversity; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; Mark Taper Forum; Media Representation; pachuco; Playwright; Racism; Theatrical play; Writing process; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: LV: What brought me there is this rather strange confluence of events having to do with Zoot Suit, New Theatre For Now, Gordon Davidson. How did I meet Gordon Davidson? I met Gordon Davidson when Peter Brook came to San Juan Bautista.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes the connections and coincidences that brought Zoot Suit to Broadway. Valdez relates the play's critical reception to a similar experience with critique in his past.
Keywords: Broadway; Chavez, Cesar; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Critical Reception; Discrimination; Diversity; Funding; High schools; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; Mark Taper Forum; Racism; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history Mexican-American culture Theater
Partial Transcript: LV: But maybe I'll have better chance by making this into a movie, right? I was offered half a million dollars for the rights. Peter Guber, who later became head of Columbia pictures, he offered me, we had a meeting at the Pierre Hotel in New York, before the opening, New York.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers the difficulties of funding and filming the movie version of Zoot Suit in his first time as a feature film director. He describes the film's legacy, including its reception in Cuba.
Keywords: 35mm film; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Cienfuegos, Cuba; Cinematographer; Critical Reception; Directing; Diversity; Feature Film; Film production; Film vs. theater; Funding; Latino culture; Los Angeles, California; pachuco; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history Film festivals Filmmaker Mexican-American culture
Hyperlink: Zoot Suit (1981)
Partial Transcript: INT: Yeah. Now tell me your relationship to any other Latin American you know, interchange that has happened between the Teatro Campesino and yourself, like say Argentina or you know, I don't know, other places. Has there been any of that?
LV: Well I've had, let's say with Cuba, you know, again the Santiago Álvarez, I mentioned that with Now, but his other films as well along the way, I met him in Spain actually you know.
Segment Synopsis: Luis Valdez discusses the different figures in Chicano, Latino, and Latin American Cinema that he has met and collaborated with in film festivals and behind the scenes.
Keywords: Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, The; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; García Márquez, Gabriel; La Bamba; Latin American Cinema; Latino cinema; Mexico City; Puenzo, Luis; Teatro Campesino; Young, Robert; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American film industry Collaboration Film festivals Latino culture Mexican film industry Mexican-American culture
Partial Transcript: INT: Now tell me about the making of La Bamba.
LV: La Bamba was shot in the summer of 1986, and it was an eight-week shoot, which was more comfortable, you know? We spent our first week here actually, in San Benito County, because I wrote the story, it started out in the Santa Clara Valley, it started out in Campbell.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez recalls filming La Bamba in Los Angeles and around Southern California and Mexico, including his mother-in-law's cameo. He explains the importance of Ritchie Valens as a rock n' roll performer.
Keywords: art direction; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; directing; Film production; La Bamba; La Bamba - the Richie Valens story; Location shooting; Los Angeles, California; Migrant farm workers; Musical performer; Rock music
Subjects: American film industry American history family History of Mexico Mexican-American culture
Hyperlink: La Bamba (1987)
Partial Transcript: INT: Now we have other films that you've done, but I would like to just go ahead and talk a little bit about your collaboration with Lupe and the script that you were writing and that whole process, that whole something not being fulfilled, right?
LV: Yeah. I was aware of Frida Kahlo a long time ago, you know?
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses the process of writing and developing a film based on the life of Frida Kahlo, who he considers one of the progenitors of the Chicano Movement. Valdez relates the difficulties of navigating American and Mexican producers.
Keywords: accidents; Artistic identity; Biography; Censorship; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Communism; Funding; Hospitals; Kahlo de Rivera, Frida; Kahlo, Frida; Mexico City; Producer; Rivera, Diego; Screenplay; Script development; Social activism; Teatro Campesino; Writing partners
Subjects: American film industry History of Mexico Latino culture Mexican film industry Mexican-American culture Social justice writing process
Partial Transcript: LV: They approved the script, they finally said, "Okay, you can start casting." And so I saw everybody! I mean I saw everybody. Of all colors. [LAUGHS] In Hollywood. Big names, Julia Roberts said, "Well, yeah," she said, "But why me?" She said, "Don't you need a Latina?" Yeah of course.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes the challenges he faced from producers while trying to cast his Frida Kahlo film.
Keywords: Biography; Casting; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Diversity; Funding; Julia, Raul; Kahlo de Rivera, Frida; Kahlo, Frida; Media Representation; Mexico City; Producer; Racism; Rivera, Diego; Screenplay
Subjects: American film industry History of Mexico Latino culture Mexican film industry Mexican-American culture
Partial Transcript: LV: Someone leaked the fact that I was considering Laura San Giacomo. And Laura San Giacomo was one of my chips that I was using to play the game. But someone leaked it to the press, and they said that I was casting Laura San Giacomo.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes the events that led to his decision to leave the Frida Kahlo project, and his wariness of the American film industry after this point.
Keywords: Biography; Casting; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano identity; Chicano Movement; Diversity; Funding; Hollywood; Julia, Raul; Kahlo de Rivera, Frida; Kahlo, Frida; Media Representation; Mexico City; Picket; Producer; Racism; Rivera, Diego; Screenplay
Subjects: American film industry History of Mexico Latino culture Mexican film industry Mexican-American culture
Partial Transcript: INT: It's like you know, I think that there's not just one film about one thing that could be made, like there's not one film about Cesar Chavez.
LV: No, no, not at all, I have one myself, you know? But you know, that's another story all together, okay? I don't know if you know about that one?
Segment Synopsis: Valdez remembers Cesar Chavez's death in 1994, and the march in his memory.
Keywords: Chavez, Cesar; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano Movement; Death; Film development; labor unions; Marches; Mexico City; Personal legacy; Screenplay; Theatrical play; United Farm Workers of America; United States/Mexico border; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Latino culture Mexican-American culture Social justice
Partial Transcript: LV: And then I finally get home here, and I'm exhausted. And I get a call from my agent in LA, and he's saying, "Listen, somebody's up here trying to sell the Cesar Chavez story, to the movies. You better get down here."
Segment Synopsis: Valdez describes his various attempts over the years to make a film about Cesar Chavez, both before and after the activist's death.
Keywords: Chavez, Cesar; Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano Movement; Death; Film development; labor unions; Mexico City; Personal legacy; Screenplay; Theatrical play; United Farm Workers of America; United States/Mexico border; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Latino culture Mexican-American culture Social justice
Partial Transcript: LV: And also, here's another thing that perhaps is an unacknowledged light motif. People have been in Hollywood, particularly people who've had some success in Hollywood, know what it is. And I've had this conversation. But if you are a minority or if you're a woman, or both, and you do have a commercial success, then there are different conditions for your being.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses the difficulty of getting films by people of color and women made in the American film industry.
Keywords: Chicano cinema; Chicano identity; Commercial success; Discrimination; Film vs. theater; Hollywood; Latino cinema; Parents; Personal legacy; Women in film
Subjects: American film industry family Racism
Partial Transcript: INT: Well, what do you think all these contributions that you've made with the Teatro, with your films, what do you see as you know, your legacy?
LV: Well, I think that in terms of what's left, you know, I'm a writer so the scripts that are left, they're books, they're plays.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez reflects on the parts of his career and personal life that he hopes comprise his legacy.
Keywords: Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Chicano Movement; Mentorship; Personal legacy; Playwright; Teaching; Teatro Campesino; Theatrical play; Zoot Suit
Subjects: American history Farm Workers Mexican-American culture Theater Writing process
Partial Transcript: INT: Okay. What were the greatest lessons you've learned in your career? Yes, no answer. [LAUGHS]
LV: The greatest lessons I've learned in my career is to be flexible. It's the old metaphor, you know? Be more like the grass, rather than the oak tree. The oak tree can fall in the middle of a storm, the grass just bends, it keeps on growing.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez discusses his career highs and lows, and the representation of Latinos in the media.
Keywords: Chicano cinema; Chicano culture; Discrimination; Independent film; Indigenous culture; Latino cinema; Media Representation; parents; Racism
Subjects: American film industry American history Awards Family Latino culture Mexican-American culture
Partial Transcript: INT: Who for you are the most talented directors in film today?
LV: Oh my God, that's a good question. That is a good question. I'd have to think about that.
Segment Synopsis: Valdez reflects on his experiences in the American and Mexican film industries as a Chicano artist, and predicts future trends for film.
Keywords: Chavez, Cesar; Documentary; Film industry; Ozu, Yasujiro; Transnational Cinema
Subjects: American film industry Director Mexican film industry
Partial Transcript: INT: If you were to attribute your success to something or someone, what or who would it be?
LV: My success? Okay. [LAUGHS] [INT: Yes!] Well, believe it or not, it would be, it's very odd. I have a brother, I have an older brother who has not gotten old too happily now, you know?
Segment Synopsis: Valdez concludes by attributing his success to the constant striving and example of his older brother.
Keywords: 2001: A Space Odyssey; Artistry; Siblings
INT: First of all, can you tell us where you were born and where yougrew up?
LV: I was born in Delano, California in 1940. And I grew up, half of mychildhood actually was in the San Joaquin Valley. But we were, my family were, migrant farm workers and so we went all over, not just the San Joaquin Valley but all over the State from the San Fernando Valley all the way up to San Jose, San Rosa and then down, and following the crops basically year round, the seasonal crops. And this actually was a tremendous influence on my life. It shaped me in every way. More than anything I suppose it made me identify with 1:00the State of California. I always felt at home, and still do, in the State of California because we were all over the place. But the San Joaquin Valley was home for a long, long time until we made the switch in 1953 and moved to San Jose, to the Santa Clara Valley, now the Silicon Valley, and began a whole process of urbanization that I wasn't exposed to in Delano. And that ended up also being very formative for me. And San Juan Bautista is very reminiscent of both places in some ways, which is interesting because Silicon Valley has replaced the former Garden of Eden, which was the Santa Clara Valley, and yet it's, the topography is still the same, the landscape is still the same and San Juan and the whole San Juan Valley here is reminiscent of what the Santa Clara 2:00Valley used to be. So that's one of the reasons I settled here. The other is that it's also still close to the San Joaquin Valley so for our purposes through the Teatro Campesino, the Farm Workers Theater, it was a perfect place to be. To be centrally located both looking north and looking south and looking west and looking east, in all the four directions. [INT: What are your earliest memories of your parents and your childhood, specific?] My earliest memories are really of the second World War. I was born in 1940. And California, at that time, was a very different place. There were only six million people in California. We're now pushing way past 35, 40 million and moving toward 50. Within the space of 20 years we'll be at 50 million. And the majority of those people will be Latinos, which is interesting enough and it's gonna be a very multicultural State, 3:00increasingly so. But in 1940, the population of California was basically WASP. It was White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. And there were minorities, but they were real, true minorities. There were less than a million Mexicanos, Mexican-Americans or Chicanos, maybe around 750,000. There were 120,000 Japanese, you know, another 100,000 Chinese at the time. Even fewer African-Americans. But it was diverse. Actually in comparison to other States, California was, has always been diverse. But that State, of course imposed a whole Midwestern system of values on all the people that lived here. So when I was growing up and going to school, I was amazed by the exotic nature of cake walks and the different things that they had at school, right, that had nothing to do with me. Didn't have anything to do with my home life. But it was a view 4:00into another world. It was a view into the Anglo world and I didn't know it at the time but really the Anglo Midwestern world brought all the way to the West from all those Midwesterners that settled in California at one point. And so I was fascinated by it and curious about it and made my adjustments. World War II impacted me directly because my dad, in 1941, was working for a Japanese-American farmer on a ranch between Delano and Earlimart, which is the next town north of Delano, eight miles north. And when Pearl Harbor happened, all the Japanese-Americans were rounded up and interred in concentration camps, 10 concentration camps, all the way from California to Arkansas. And my dad's employer was one of those. That family was rounded up and taken out. And one of the things that the U.S. Army had to do then is replace the growers that they 5:00were taking out with other growers. And so it was not uncommon to ask the farm workers that had been working there to take over the ranch. And my dad was one of those. There were a lot of Mexican-Americans that were able to do that. And so we took over the ranch of my dad's employer. And that became a lasting memory for me. One because the war years were fairly prosperous. We were doing okay. We had price support from the U.S. Army. The U.S. Army told my dad what to grow and basically he did as he was told, you know? It was part of the war effort. But the support, they paid for everything that was harvested. We got help in terms of Bracero's, which was a new program that had just started in 1942. And we even got the help of German prisoners of war. We had German soldiers, you know, working out in the field in our farm. And I remember as a little kid being amazed, you know, that these are the enemy. These are the Nazis that are out 6:00there working. And then they'd take them away and put them in their own concentration camp, which was in Tulare County. And so my view of the world was very different than what it became after the war. Because when the war ended all the price supports went away, the Army stopped buying the stuff, the GI's came back. There was a whole shift of power and my dad, within the space of a year, lost the ranch. There was no way that he could hold onto it. Also the Japanese family never came back. They never were able to recoup their farm. And I'm not exactly sure what happened to that family. But they never came back. And so the memory of that stayed with me. And in 1946 we hit the migrant path again. So I was shocked to have had this rut of prosperity during World War II and to suddenly find our family back on the road again. you know, sleeping in barns and in our car or under the trees, you know, in tents. And I kept thinking, what 7:00happened? What happened? We were secure. We were stable. And I think that was a very formative experience. And...
INT: How old were you?
LV: I was six years old when we hit the migrant path again. So I was five whenthe war ended and within that space of the, 1945 to 1946 we lost the farm. So at the following year, the summer of 1946, when we were on the road again, I was, well I was just coming into my own in a way. I was coming conscious of the world. You know, when you're about six or seven most of us begin to get a sense of the world at large outside of our immediate family unit, right? You begin to think, oh, I have cousins, I have, the world's out there. And it so happens that in 1946, that happens to be the year that I got hooked on theater. I mean it was a, it's an old story but it... INT: Tell it to me. LV: We were, one of the places that we used to come to was the Santa Clara Valley. We use to come 8:00over to the Valley of Heart's Delight. You know, we use to come to the Garden of Eden basically and pick prunes and apricots and cherries, tomatoes, whatever there was. I was always impressed by the fecundity, you know, of the Santa Clara Valley. It was, it seemed to me an amazing place, amazing. And the weather was much nicer up here in the north than it was in the southern San Joaquin Valley. But the season ended real quick. It was, those crops came and went in the space of a couple of months and then we had to go back to the Valley to pick cotton. And so that's what happened that year is that we came and spent a wonderful summer, for me anyway, a six year old, in the Santa Clara Valley and then returned back over Pacheco Pass, to a place called Corcoran to pick cotton. And it was hot and miserable and we're living in big tent city. They had Army surplus tents up. There must have been 2,000 people. And everybody was out 9:00there. They had, of course, Mexicans. They had African-Americans from the South. They had Okies. They had Indian Sikhs were out there. They even had Japanese and Asian, Chinese farm workers which you never see anymore. But they were out there, were picking cotton. And so I thought the whole world, the whole, you know, I was like the whole world, the whole world was like me. We were all farm workers. But there were so many workers that the crop ended real quick and the workers started to leave the camp, the tents started to come down. And we couldn't move because my dad's pickup had broken down. And so he had it up on blocks and was trying to fix it and the weather started to change. It was late October already, you know. I knew that school had started but we were ready to move. We were gonna go. And we still weren't going anywhere. There was no work so there was no, we were living hand to mouth, like farm workers everywhere. 10:00There was no place to go. And so we fished in the river. And that's how we ate. You know, we had beans and tortillas and fish. Like I say, fish tacos before they were trendy, right? And so one morning, early in the morning, we used to go out and fish my brother and I, and one morning I almost drowned. I fell into the river and actually it was the San Joaquin Delta, it was just a big canal. And I almost drowned and my mother got really frightened and she says, ""Maybe you and your brother should go to school."" 'Cause the bus used to arrive at the camp. So we climbed on the bus and went to school. And I knew I wasn't gonna be there for very long so my mother used to make our lunch and she requisitioned a little brown paper bag. And, which was a rarity because there were paper shortages in 1946. I mean you just couldn't go anywhere and get a paper bag. But she got one my size. It was a tiny little one. So I really treasured it. But she put our, 11:00my, our tacos in there. She rolled 'em up, you know, and wrapped 'em in wax paper and it was, well that was it. You know, I'd go to school, put it in the closet and at lunch we'd pull 'em out and eat, you know? And then I noticed the disparity between my bag and the lunch pails that some of the kids had, you know, they had some wonderful objects, you know, with Mickey Mouse and Blaze and Hopalong Cassidy. And then they'd open it up and all these treasures would come out, you know, sandwiches and apples and cupcakes and a thermos. You know, it was amazing. And so I looked at my little bag and it made me feel real bad. I was ashamed. I was suddenly ashamed of my mother's tacos. And so I'd eat my tacos the way a wino drinks his wine, you know, one bite at a time. The kids noticed that I was eating and said, ""What are you eating."" I didn't want to tell them, you know. They'd say, ""Come on, let me see."" ""No, no. I don't want to."" And so they kept looking at my tacos and I kept looking at their 12:00sandwiches and one day the inevitable happened, you know, we exchanged lunches. And the rest, as they say, is Taco Bell history, you know. So one day after school I go to get my bag and it's gone. And the teacher sees me running around, the bus is going to leave and I'm running around in a panic, I can't find my bag. And she says, ""What happened?"" I told her. She says, ""Oh a little brown paper bag."" She says, ""I took it."" And I says, ""Well give it back."" And she says, ""I can't."" And she escorted me back into this little room behind her desk and there was my bag all ripped up floating in a basin of water and I thought she had gone berserk, you know, she ripped up my bag. What's going on. She says, ""No, no. Look at this."" She got the piece of the bag and dipped it into some white paste and then she put it on a mold. It was the first time I'd noticed. A clay mold, it was an animal, it was a monkey. And then she got another little piece and smoothed it out, another little piece and smoothed it out. And at that moment, she said, ""You want to try it?"" And I said, ""Yeah."" And so I tried it, put it. And at that moment I discovered one of the secrets of the universe. It's called paper mache. And it's already November and I knew this 13:00can't be for Halloween, it's a mask. She's making a mask. ""What's it for?"" And she says, ""It's for a play. A monkey mask."" He says, ""We're gonna do a play called Christmas in the Jungle, the whole school is involved and next week we're gonna audition. We need two first graders to play monkeys."" So I forgave her about the bag, see. And the next Monday I auditioned and I got my first role in the theater, you know. She cast me as one of the monkeys. And I got a costume that was better than my own clothes, you know. Moved around like a monkey. You know, it was great. And she made a mask. And she painted it beautifully out of mama's taco bag. You know, there it is. It was fantastic. And I was looking forward to this. It was gonna be my debut before the world. But the week that we actually did it, were going to do it, I got home to the camp and my mother says, ""We're leaving tomorrow."" And I said, ""But mom, the play's on Friday."" This was like a Tuesday. And she says, ""Well, we have no choice,"" she says, 14:00""[SPEAKS SPANISH], you know. We're being evicted."" And I said, ""What?"" She says, ""We have to leave."" And so the next morning at the crack of dawn my dad got the truck started somehow and put all our stuff in the back and we took off. And we drove through Stratford, I'll never forget, just as the sun was coming up and the town receded into a morning fog and I felt this hole open up in my chest and, I mean that could have destroyed me. It destroys a lot of kids. But I've always believed that a negative can be turned into a positive. And what happened is that that hole became the hungry mouth of my creativity, you know? And for the last 60 some years, you know, 68 years now, I've been pouring plays and stories and films into that hole. It's still there. Smaller but it's still there. And that hunger is still there. I took with me the secret of paper mache 15:00so I could make masks, and also a residual anger from the eviction. And so 20 years later I went to Cesar Chavez and asked him if I could organize a theater out by and for farm workers in the middle of the Delano Grape Strike.
INT: What were the most important lessons you learned from your parents?
LV: My parents, like a lot of poor parents, you know, were persistent. I thinkmaybe hunger for education is probably part of that persistence. My dad, I'm sure, would have been a history professor if he'd had an opportunity to go to school. But his dad died when he was 12, you know, my abuelo, you know, my grandfather died of double pneumonia at the age of 38. He'd been a copper miner in Sonora. He participated actually in the big strike in Northern Mexico called 16:00Cananea, which was the opening spark of the Mexican Revolution. He was 18. He was a nobody as far as the system was concerned. But he couldn't go back to work after that strike and so he went to work for the railroad, Ferrocarriles Nacionales, you know, the National Railroad. And they were just building the railroad that went all the way from Mexico City to Nogales on the border. And so he laid track for a while and then eventually he got into the roundhouse and was a mechanic in the roundhouse. The family has always been rather proud. They say my grandparents were always proud that my grandfather could actually run the engine, you know, in the roundhouse. He could pull it in and out of the roundhouse. And that was always a claim to fame. But he was 38 when he died working in the fields. He couldn't breathe too easily after having worked in the 17:00mines, you know, for maybe 20 years, you know? And so they moved from Nogales, my family moved from Nogales, Arizona. My dad was born in 1912, six days after Arizona became part of the United States, the Arizona Territory was turned into a State. So he was a Mexican citizen as well as an American citizen. He never tapped it. He went into the States and never really went to Mexico. So they went north instead of south and so they moved from Nogales, my family, and Tucson to Tucson, from Tucson all the way to Mesa, Arizona, which is part of Phoenix. And that was where my grandfather died. He, working in the fields, trying to breathe out in the open air but it caught up with him eventually. And so when my dad was 12 he was called to my grandfather's deathbed and my grandfather says, ""You're the man of the family. You know, you take care of your mother and your brothers and sisters."" So my dad did exactly that. He went to work in the fields like a 18:00man at 12 and took care of his mom and his brothers and sisters. And, but he had to leave the fifth grade. He learned how to read and write but that was it. There was no time for anything else. But I always felt in him a real hunger to receive more, to get more education. My mother was basically in the same boat. She did finish the eighth grade and wanted to go to high school real bad in Delano. She was by this time living in Delano. And this is 19, would have been what, this would have been 1934 when she graduated from grammar school. And she wanted to go to Delano High but my grandparents said, ""No. You gotta work."" And she always resented that, the fact she never got to go to high school. And she always insisted that we go to high school, that her children were gonna go to high school. So it was a value, right? Beyond that, to go to college, that 19:00was a dream. But we did that. My brother and I were, I have an older brother, we're the first ones in our entire family to go to school, to go to, beyond high school, to graduate from high school and then go on to college and graduate from college. But my parents never stopped learning in that regard. My mother learned how to type. She became a spiritual counselor. She used to read all kinds of spiritual materials. You know, the Bible for sure. But beyond that other books and stuff. And my dad, history books. That's what he was into. Anytime that we were on the road, as migrant farm workers, and there was a place that indicated a historical monument of any kind, he would stop. He would stop and we would go and see, you know, what that monument was about. And he obviously took us to all the nearby California missions. I mean he was always fascinated by that. Any historical place he was always fascinated with, you know. And so over the years, 20:00you know, I used to bring him history books and he would devour them. He would devour them. He loved to read about California history. And he passed that on to me because I'm a real California history buff. I think it's really important to know where you are and your locale and what the depths of your own experience are like. And those depths are really buried in history.
INT: Thank you. Tell me, what made you such a strong person? LV: Well I thinkstrength is relative but you, it does take belief in yourself. And I must say that again, the influence of parents, my mom and my dad, extended that to us. I think they believed more in us than they believed in themselves in a certain way. My mom was very spiritual. She started out as a Catholic but ended up as non-denominational. I mean she went everywhere with her beliefs. She really opened up universal beliefs. But the belief is something that gives you 21:00confidence in yourself, you know, if it's belief in God or belief in history. My dad was not a religious person per se, but I think he believed in the wave of history. He believed in ancestors and maybe because he was without a father he had to locate himself in the larger framework. He had to put himself in a stream. And so he used to talk about Mexico in that regard. He use to talk about California in that regard. And my mom used to talk about the cosmos. So I got both those things. I got the cosmic focus and I got the historical, personal, community focus. And beyond that I think that there's another childhood experience that I had. The first time before the war started we did spend one year, 1941, in, on the road. And we came to a ranch here in San Joaquin and we 22:00were living with my cousins in a barn, a farmer's barn. And, you know, they put the horses out, put the Mexicans in. Seemed to be a fair trade in those days. But we were farm workers and really cooking out of a tin tub that was turned upside down with a hole cut on the side and that would be where the wood would go in and the top, the bottom of the tub would become the griddle. So the tortillas and whatever, the food would be cooked on top of this tin tub. It was very light. You put it up on top of the truck and you go, right? This was our stove. Well I had a cousin who was a little bit older than me and my tia use to feed her with a bottle. My aunt was, would feed her with a little baby bottle. So one morning everybody's out there busy, getting ready to go and we just had breakfast. My aunt was heating a water bottle, some water to put a milk bottle for my cousin and I'm starting to crawl, my little cousin walk already. So I'm 23:00crawling and I crawl by this little stove and my aunt grabbed, my cousin grabs the handle of it, of this pan with the hot water and grabbed it and tilted it over and it fell on my back. And I screamed and passed out. I have no memory of this but I was told. Passed out, my dad came running. They wrapped me up in a blanket and took me to the nearest hospital, which was here in Gilroy, 10 miles away from here. They opened up the blanket at the hospital and all the skin on my back fell off, and part of my face. And I was just skinless. I had been skinned. And okay, it's 1941. Today I would have been in an IC unit right away, intensive care, a burn unit. But in '41 there was no such thing. It was just a local hospital. And more than that, it was a white hospital. So here's these Mexicans coming in with this little burnt infant. They didn't know what to do, you know? They didn't, much less how could you treat something like this, a skinless baby. So they put some kind of salve on me or something and turned me back into my mother's care. And so I was free to go back to the barn. Now I could have had all kinds of infections, you know, in the, among, from the horseshit and stuff in the barn. But again, any negative in your life can turn into a positive. And what happened to me is that for the next six months I slept on my mother's stomach, heart to heart. And I think, I credit that with giving me strength. That, mother's love is just incomparable to anything else. And when you're an infant, to be, have the added advantage of having that much contact with your mother, my mother was 20 years old. She was deathly afraid that I was gonna die on her. And so that's how I slept so I couldn't roll over on my back. 24:00So this is how she slept with me. And I've tried to imagine that. What an amazing, what an amazing thing, you know, to have that happen. Consequently, of course, I had a very special connection to my mother and she had also to me. She had 10 kids I mean she, that lived, 13, 10 of the 13 lived to become adults. But my siblings, the ones closely related to me, were always a little jealous. They said, ""No, our mother always cared for you."" But she gave me strength. And that's the way it was, you know. And I thanked her. I gave the eulogy when she died, you know, thanked her for the life that she gave me. And also that blast of how water hit me right in the lumbar region, right back here in the small of the back. And I know enough about the way the body works now to know that that was the button that charged all my batteries for life.
INT: That's a beautiful story I love that.25:00
INT: Did you like reading? LV: In 1945, just after the War, again '46we were on the road. An amazing thing, one of the things my dad did was that he bought an Encyclopedia Britannica set. And you know we carted that encyclopedia all over, wherever we went. The labor camps, we had an Encyclopedia Britannica. Even under the trees, in tents, in barns. But we had books. We had these books. And my brother and I would pour over them. We'd look at the pictures to begin with, you know. Just the different races of man. I remember seeing the stuff from science. You know, my brother always love science so he was like always looking at the stuff that was like the latest knowledge of the day, right? And it was a lifesaver for me and for him and for the rest of us because it was like a window to the world. No matter how desperate we were, here was this knowledge that we were carrying with us. It was like a battery pack 26:00that we were carrying with us. and so that was a tremendous gift. That was tremendous gift. Those books lasted all the rest of our lives, you know? It, when my dad died he still had some. He'd lost a couple of the volumes but the Britannica was pretty much together. So what we did is we distributed the books to all the kids. We took a few. I still have a couple in my home. And, because they were touchstones to something else, you know? That, reading to begin with, just to have a book that you can look and open it up and you say, ""What's this word?"" you know, is really something. So I began to read early on. It was, I could read, I remember being able to read by the time I got to the first grade. We all got the, what was it the Dick and Jane and Fuzzy and whatever that, you know, the... [INT: That's right.] ...cat, you know, all that stuff. I remember thinking of it as rather elemental I mean by the time, not that I could read 27:00volumes but I mean I could recognize words and I could begin to make out the connections. And so reading was a joy to me. To be able to read a book was, from cover to cover, was a real joy to me. And along the way [CLEARS THROAT] maybe when I was 11 or so, I remember going to the local library in a place called Earlimart, which is the next town over from Delano, and the librarian took an interest that I was in there, you know, and I was looking at the books. And I got into fairy tales in a big way. I really loved fairy tales. All the Grimm's Fairy Tales amaze me 'cause they seemed to me really magical. But then I got into biographies. The stories of Marco Polo and Thomas Edison, you know, all these tiny biographies. I loved those because it was like an outline of a life. And I could see, we all need an outline of a life. What are we gonna do with our 28:00lives? And so those biographies were really important. And then this one librarian in, handed me a book then said, ""You might be interested in reading this."" And it was Homer's Odyssey. It was the Iliad, you know, Iliad and the Odyssey. And I said, ""Yeah, okay."" And so I took it and I began to read it, you know. And again, I was only 11, 12 by then and then we had to leave so I had to take the books back. I never completely finished them, they were big books. But I was introduced to the world of Homer and the Greeks. And years later, when I got to, not that many years, I got to the eighth grade, someone mentioned the Odyssey and the Iliad, you know, and who has ever heard of that. And I could raise my hand. I said, ""I know about that."" Said, ""How did you know about 29:00that?"" people were asking me. But it seemed to me stories, these are stories, you know? And so maybe my fascination with storytelling began really through my ability to be able to read early on. And then seeing this treasury that existed, you know, for anyone who was willing to read. It was a real pleasure to me. And, but my dad was a reader, okay? I mean he would get into a book. And I remember seeing him, see the parental example is real important. I know this with my own children. It just, you set an example. That's what you do. And they copy you. And so in that sense, I use to see my dad reading and so if he could read, I can read. You know, one thing leads to the other. And so reading became the key to the rest of the world.
INT: Thank you. What cultural events did you go to as a child that you30:00can remember?
LV: I will never forget the 16th of September celebrations in Delano on aclosed street by the Commission Honorifica Mexicana, you know, which was the mutual help society for Mexicans in Delano, the Commission, the Honorary Commission. That's Mexican Independence Day. And so this is dating all the way back to the early mid-'40's, '46, '47, '48, every year I remember they would pull out the tribuna, which was a big stage mounted on truck tires which they would wheel out into the middle of the street, block the street off and it would happen, a whole stage, a whole proscenium and attachments for lights and so they would set it up. Of course red, white and green bunting, you know, to celebrate the Mexican colors. And mariachis could get up there and play, people get up there and dance. I remember the Mexican hat dance, the Jarabe Tapatio, was very, very popular in those days. That was what you saw mostly. But then what really 31:00impressed me is that they put people up there that had been in the Mexican Revolution. Men and women would sit up there in their chairs and they'd be the honored guests of the 16th of September Celebration. These are people that rode with Pancho Villa, people that rode with Emiliano Zapata. Then they would get up and give patriotic speeches, you know, in that Mexican oratorical kind of way. And it was amazing to me to see the style, you know, with which they spoke and the passion and fury with which they espoused, you know, their feelings toward Mexico. And so it gave me a lot of national pride towards Mexico. I had never been to Mexico, you know, I was born in California. But here I am celebrating Mexican Independence Day. And then the kids would all be dressed up also in traditional costume, little charro costumes, china poblana costumes, those that could afford it. My family could never afford anything like that. So I was always one of the pobrecitos, I was always one of the little kids, you know, in 32:00jeans and a t-shirt hanging around. But then we could get cascarones, which were the empty eggshells full of all kinds of confetti and you could get those for a dime. Those were, you know, two or three for a dime and, man, kids were always going around smashing those on top of your head. There was all kinds of Mexican pastry, Mexican candies for sale. There were drinks, less, you know, licuados, tamarindo, jamaica, you know, horchata, all of those drinks that are specialties any time of the year but in those days they only showed up on Mexican Independence Day out in the street and people could have them. That impressed me. That really connected me to El dieciseis September, the 16th of September and to Mexico. So I remember that vividly. And then it all went away. That sort of, use to amaze me too that after that they'd clean up the street and [MAKES NOISE] it's all gone. What's interesting is that the Commission Honorifica, 33:00which was the commission, at this building that they had finally built was a great big hall, a salón they call it, right? And it was for baptisms and weddings and funerals. I went to one of my uncle's funerals there and I'll never forget, his coffin was right in the middle of the dance floor and then we could go up and pay our respects. So it was a place that altered between life and death. You could have baptism one day and a funeral the next day. And it was painted this awful green, you know, this sickly green I remember. And they had booths on the outside and it was huge, at least for my eyes in those days, it was huge. What's curious is that in 1965, when I returned to work with Cesar Chavez, the Commission Honorifica was gone because Highway 99 had been ploughed through the west side and it had taken that building with it. So there was no place for the Mexican community to be, to exist, to have social functions. And that was a trouble for the union. I'll talk to you about that, you know, as we 34:00go into the union thing.
LV: The fact is that my memories of Delano, I think are part and parcelof the immigrant experience of that time. Curiously, years later when I was in Mexico, this is in the 1990's filming The Cisco Kid, in Sombrerete, Zacatecas, when I saw that town and I saw the trucks come... When I saw that town, and I saw the crux coming in people and the stores, it reminded me of Delano in the ‘40s, which is, really, was a curious thought. I wondered why, but it, so I think back now, the 1940s, there was still some immigration to come, but, but there were enough immigrants there to give it that flavor, it was like a barrio, it was barrio existence, it was a border town feeling, that, that existed. It 35:00was Mexico. In the west side of Delano. And all these farm workers brought with them what they knew and what they felt, you know, was essential for their lives. But it could disappear in an instant. The streets could be cleaned up, and the posters would come down, and then only certain little stores would sell Mexican food, and you know, so, the idea that the 16th of September brought all that Mexican flavor, all of that Mexican pride, all that Mexican color, and vivacity you know, into the streets, was an unforgettable experience. [INT: Now, the other side of the coin with your American experience in Atlanta.] Yeah. [INT: What cultural event did you go to that had to do more with the American side?] Well there’s no question that there’s the fourth of July, I mean that’s the big day, you know, the fireworks and the… [INT: Right.] I grew up again at a time when those Saturday afternoon Westerns, were huge. And I’m talking 36:00about Lash LaRue, Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson, Tim Holt, Chito Rivera. Actually Chito Rivera was that actor by the name of Richard Martin. And years later, at the Autry, see, the Gene Autry Museum in LA, I met him. And he was in his 80s. And he was clearly an Anglo, I mean he was clearly not a Mexican. But he played a Mexican, a half Mexican, in the movies, he was partnered up with Tim Holt. And it was the only Mexican thing that I could see in the movies at those days, and so I really identified with him. And so I went up to him, at the Autry Museum, in the 1990s, and spoke to him. I said, “You know, I’m a real fan of yours.” I said, “You helped me to get through my childhood, because you were a Mexican character. At least half Mexican.” He said, “Half Mexican?” I 37:00said, “Yeah, half, well the half is what I was interested in.” I said, “And I just wanna thank you. I wanna thank you for being there. You never knew me,” I said, “But I’m here, at the Caesar, at the Gene Autry Museum because my film, The Cisco Kid, is being exhibited as part of the exhibit here. And so I made a Western thanks to you, and so many of the others, you know. The old Western heroes, you know of my childhood.” That was a ritual for us, every Saturday afternoon, we were in the movies. We were at the movies watching the Old West come alive. And naturally, I was aware that Mexicans had been part of the Old West. But I didn’t mind identifying with Whip Wilson, and Lash LaRue, and, I say Johnny Mack Brown. Of course, Gene Autry, you know. South of the Border, Down Mexico Way. You know, we used to sing. Roy Rogers, I mean, all 38:00those were huge standouts for us, and we believed in them. The whole value of the West, the whole idea of the Old West was a morality tale. These were morality plays. And you know, good versus bad. And we cheered, I cheered as much for the guys with the white hats as anybody else. My life began to change when I saw Viva Zapata!, with Marlon Brando. And I was 12 when that came out. And I remember that, again, we were in a little town, Earlimart. And they had the advertisement was meant for a billboard, but there was no billboard nearby so they put it on the sidewalk in front of the movie theater. And you could walk along, walking over Marlon Brando’s face, you know. Looking and seeing the guys with the mustaches. And saying, okay, this is coming, I wanna see this 39:00movie, you know. And kind of being part of it, being able to walk into it, you know because it was under our feet. And then when I saw it, it really blew me away. It was an art film for me, it was so complicated, because it was a Western, but at the same time it’s about the Mexican Revolution, it’s about Mexicans fighting for their well being, you know, it was the revolucion. I knew about Pancho Villa. I never knew about Emiliano Zapata, until, until I saw Brando portray Emiliano Zapata. I didn’t have the specifics. But, it was enough. It was enough to really plant the seed, and it was an American film. Again. And it was viewed through an American lens, in a very peculiar kind of way. I know now, that Viva Zapata! Was not made in Mexico, it was made in Texas. It was made in Roma, Texas. As a matter of fact, on our tours with [INAUDIBLE] into Texas, we ended up in Roma, Texas, right in that courtyard, where they 40:00bring, in the movie they bring Emiliano prisoner, and Anthony Quinn playing his brother, Eufemio, is on the sidelines with some women. And they begin to hit some rocks, you know. Just to make noise. And then Emiliano notices that he’s got all these supporters with him. And that courtyard is still there, was there when we arrived in the 1960s. And it was amazing to me that there it is, look at that, this is the living place. But it’s Roma, Texas, it’s not Roma, Mexico, it’s Piedras Negras, it’s not the other side of the border. And even so, as an American film about Mexico, that, that really opened my eyes about the possibilities of the Western, it becomes something else. You know, in the same way that the Wild Bunch, and all those eventually opened up another view of what the Western could be. Far from the innocence, really, of those original Saturday afternoons as a kid, you know. I did, at some point, in Delano, meet Whip 41:00Wilson, you know, and Lash LaRue. They came through, they would come with parades. And they’d come and sign autographs for all the kids. And Whip Wilson, I remember signed a piece of paper for me. And he saw that I was a Chicanito, and so he wrote, “Whip Wilson, El Chicote,” you know. For me. AndI was very pleased, I said, El Chicote, look at that. And so the movies really are really essential in terms of laying a foundation, in terms of your knowledge of where you are. I was later really surprised that, that the Dalton brothers, and some of the early train robberies that happened in the Westerns, portrayed in movies, actually happened in the San Joaquin Valley, and a lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know that Jesse James was still in action in those days, in Westerns. But Jesse James was far away, Jesse James was way 42:00back in the Midwest, you know it was a, but the Daltons and all the others that Lash, Black Bart, you know was from California. All these different characters that we saw in the movies were actually part of the local landscape, it took me a few years to realize, they’re really talking about California history here. And that is part of the American experience I think, knowing your own landscape. And The West is such a figurative gesture, you know, in terms of the American reality, that a lot of people don’t know the history of the hometowns, and where they come from.
INT: Do you remember the first movie you ever saw?
LV: My memory tells me that the first movie I ever saw was The Last of theMohicans, with Gary Cooper. And the reason I remember, is because it scared the hell of me. There is a scene in The Last of the Mohicans where it’s starring 43:00Gary Cooper. Which I think it’s either Cooper or one of his buddies in the movie, is about to be burned at the stake, and the Indians have him tied to a pole, and they’re getting ready to light the fire. And the Indians are running around whooping around the pole. And I was so scared by this as a kid, that I actually hid behind the seat of, that was in front of me, you know in the movie theater, I didn’t wanna see it. And I thought those Indians were terrible. Not realizing that I was an Indian myself. And I was really afraid of my own people, in that regard. So of course I would completely identified with the white people, I identified with Gary Cooper. But the action of the movie really got to me. And, but for some reason I just remember that one moment. And that is my earliest memory of the movies. Now, you can date that movie. It dates from the 44:00‘30s, actually, but in those days they re-ran these movies. It didn’t matter, they kept running them for several years in and out. And so I happened to see it, it was black and white, I remember, very vividly. And it was scary, you know. Beyond that, I mean there’s all kinds of movies that come in. I was shocked by Bambi, that’s in 1947, I believe, that when he lost his mother. I mean that was terrifying. At seven, I mean that can really scare you. And I was thinking, this is terrible. You know, I looked at my mom, she was sitting there, I said, man, I don’t wanna lose her. But it was quite a thing actually, for Walt Disney to do, is to inject that into his movie, I think it’s, it tells you a lot about Walt Disney, actually, in some ways. But, but it was a frightening experience that went along with all of the joy and the happiness of 45:00the rest of the film, right? It’s a cartoon, after all, it’s a full length cartoon. Another movie that I remember very vividly was Song of the South, which you don’t see too much anymore. Zippity Doo Dah, Zippity, right. With Uncle Remus. Now because of his racist character, people really don’t screen it very much. And it’s hidden away in the vaults, and Walt Disney, the Disney company doesn’t pull it out too often anymore. But I remember seeing Uncle Remus’ black face, you know, up close in the movies, and the little birdies going around, and the bees. And being kind of amazed, you know, fascinated by the black face, for one. Which was kind and benign. Unlike other images of blacks in the movies. And in this fantasy world. An actual live human being walking among the birds and the bees that were animated. That seemed to me, really weird and magical quality. That whole logo of Walt Disney, when it used to come out, especially with the Mickey Mouse cartoons, was, was other worldly. It, it really 46:00spoke about other levels of reality that were far from my reality. My reality was always a hard reality to contend with, it was, I used to work as, I started working in the fields when I was six years old, so, so life was a burden already, at that age. And I had to amuse myself in other ways, you know. With my childhood imagination, and play at whatever I could, you know. I could make puppets out of potatoes, for instance, we’re picking potatoes, like I would look for potatoes that looked like human faces, and then save those, because I could play puppets with them. I could do that, I could manipulate the elements of my hard life, you know as a little kid. But I had my mom, and I had my dad, and I had my brothers and sisters who had a good family life. That was a refuge, of sorts. But the movies, the movies were total escape. You could go to the movies, and once those logos came on, once that Walt Disney logo came, man, 47:00I’m into a fantasy land, I’m gone. I’m gone out of my reality, and I’m there, you know. So I loved, I loved the full length cartoons, when he finally started to make a lot of them, you know. And they were also musical, which was really fascinating. You know we would go to the movies sometimes and just stay there. In other words, we’d see the movie once, and then keep, sit, have it roll again. In those days, people would come in at any time. They were always coming, the movies were continuous. So you could go to the movies in the morning, and not get out until late afternoon, having seen the movie two, two times, three times, in some instances. Just to see it rolling around, you know with all the special features, and everything else that went with it. But it was an escape, it was most definitely an escape into another reality. And so I remember that the horror films were around, Frankenstein was horrifying, Dracula was horrifying. And I was a little bit older. My parents wouldn’t let me go, 48:00actually, when I was 10. They, no, it was too scary for you, you don’t wanna go. And I agreed with them, no, I don’t wanna go. But maybe when I got to be 13, you know, I said, “Time to go, I gotta go see Frankenstein, man.” It was still scary, but it still doesn’t match the fear that I felt in my earliest experience at the movies with the Last of the Mohicans, you know. And it’s really ironic, but in a way, it’s an elemental fear because there’s a truth about it, in the sense that Europeans confronting Native Americans, and Native Americans confronting Europeans was going to be the major central theme of my life.
LV: When I was six, I picked up the secret of paper mache, whichallowed me then to begin to make masks. You can take newspapers, or you know, grocery bags, and wet them, and put them into any shape that you want, you know, with paste and stuff, they harden, and so it becomes a real source of unending creativity, and amusement. And the first element for me was masks, the idea of making masks, that was tremendously challenging, and fascinating at the same time. The other was puppets, which eventually I just moved right into puppets. And what’s interesting is that with my cousins, I learned to play, not at war, I wanted to play at playing, I wanted to play at acting, I wanted to play at making move-making, first and foremost plays. And so anywhere we went, you know whether we were out in the labor camp, or under the trees, or in an old house, I would set up scenery, you know the way that I had seen in my Christmas play, in 50:00first grade, putting fake trees, and I would make masks, and I would say, “Okay, let’s play at making a play.” And for, at first my cousins agreed to do this, they found it to be fun, but then eventually they got tired of it, they got bored with it. And they’d say, “Well look, we don’t know what to say, you know.” I’d say, “Well say anything.” “No, we don’t know what to say.” I’d say, I’d write something, “Say this.” So without even knowing, you know, I was playwriting, I was writing one or two lines, and eventually half a page, eventually a whole page. I would give it to them. So I’m seven, eight, or nine by then, by that time, and I’m writing little plays and not knowing what I’m doing, you know. Except that that’s what was happening. And it, eventually when my, my cousins absolutely refused to do anything, I went to puppets. I said well, forget them, I’m gonna work out with puppets, because I can handle puppets. And like I mentioned, I could get vegetables and make them look like people, and use them as people, but then eventually with paper mache I could mold a face, and make it whatever I wanted 51:00it to be. And so that became my mode of expression. And I was 10, 11 by now. And my grandfather had a garage that he let me use. It was an old garage in the back, and I would mount a cardboard box, and, with a light bulb. And it would become my stage, with a little curtain. And then I could put the puppets underneath, you know. With a, so it was, it was a very effective way to do it, and a couple of years ago, I had a visitor here, a senior citizen who came to see me. And he said, “You know, I was in the audience.” He said, “I came to see your puppet plays way back when.” And I said, “Man, that was 50, 60 years ago. You know” And he says, “Yeah, it was. But I paid my nickel,” he said. And I didn’t realize I was charging, but I guess I was. In any case, that whole aspect of beginning to put on shows with, with whatever I had to work with at hand, became, to build, began to build really my career as a, as a playwright and as a filmmaker, you know, early on. I had a friend who gave me 52:00his dummy. It was a little ventriloquist dummy that he had bought. There’s another story behind it, because he, he stole some money, actually from his father, and then he bought this dummy. And in order to protect himself, he got rid of the dummy, he gave the dummy to me. You see, it was hot. And I didn’t know it at the time. But yeah, I thought it was tremendously generous that he was giving me this dummy, a Jerry Mahoney dummy. But he says, “No, you keep it at your house.” He said, “You keep it at your house.” And so I began to work with this dummy. And, a Jerry Mahoney dummy, and it, I learned how to talk without moving my lips. Just out of practice, I had no formal training, I just began to work with it. And eventually, it really became an extension of me, you know this dummy. And when we moved to the Santa Clara Valley, I went, I 53:00took a dummy with me. And I repainted, I put a mustache on it, I put a little goatee. A little hat, said cool cat. Actually he looked like a little pachuco. Without knowing it, you know. I was trying to Mexicanize him, but he was still an Anglo. So I named him Allie, Allie Nelson. And Allie Nelson became my alter ego. And we were friends. And so when I was in high school, I was able then, to do my act, with Allie Nelson. And it was so popular that I got elected freshman class president, you know because it was, I was, the first rally of the year, there I am with my dummy and so all these freshmen elected me, you know. To be their class president. That’s all it too, in high school. But in any case, that winter, I went to work with an uncle in the San-my brother and I went to work with my uncle in the, back in the San Joaquin Valley, over Christmas vacation. And he took us to a show in Mendota. And these are farm workers. And a 54:00guy by the name of Paco Miller was a, an Argentinean actually, but living in Mexico. A Mexican ventriloquist came, and he had Don Broque. The first time I ever seen a Mexican ventriloquist. So when I got back, I had to have a Mexican dummy, you see, but I couldn’t find another Jerry Mahoney dummy, so I made one. I made it out of balsa wood. Made a dummy, that became Marcelino Pippin, my Mexican counterpart. And I put a little Mexican hat on him, so he became my Mexican alter ego, and here’s Allie Nelson, my Anglo alter ego. And I’m beginning to do bilingual pieces, I begin to do bilingual acts. Marcelino could speak in Spanish, Allie could speak in English, and then they could argue. And then I’d say, “Come on guys, don’t argue.” You know. And I, so we were all three buddies here, but I was able to do a three way kind of conversation, myself, Allie, and Marcelino. So I was handling the three sides of my personality in this way. A lady saw me perform, and she happened to be a 55:00producer of a new TV program that was being, that was inaugurating, channel 11 in San Jose, KMTV. 1956, it was. And according to FCC regulations, they had a half hour in Spanish in the afternoon, Sunday afternoons. They gave me five minutes of the inaugural broadcast of this program called Fiesta. Bobby Samora and his orchestra, right. And then, and then live black and white television five minutes, here I am with my dummies. And so it, I was such a hit in the inaugural broadcast, that they invited me back. And I was on the air for 18 weeks, 18 Sundays in a row, until they canceled the program, basically. Again, the host got arrested, it was a, a mess. But I was on television then for 18 Sundays in a row. And then I had an art director. And I was writing my own stuff, improvising. I had my two dummies, and I’m performing for live 56:00television cameras, and I’m in high school. And I’m also living in the barrio, Sal Si Puedes in San Jose with my family, at the end of a dirt street. Okay, I mean we were dirt poor, we were literally living from hand to mouth, you know, particularly during the winter. But I’m on television. And I’m getting paid five dollars a show. Which was a, a lot compared to what was, you know farm work we’d make 85 cents an hour, you know, in those days. So it was, it was a big deal, just to get five dollars. But the fact is, that I was already working out my cultural contradictions through these dummies, and yet making a living at it. So that really, by the time I was 16, I was already on my way, you know. I hadn’t completely decided I was gonna be a playwright, hadn’t completely decided I was gonna be a filmmaker. But the, really, the structure was already 57:00in place, it was really pushing me in a certain direction. And this was my life, that was taking me on that path.
INT: So when did you become aware that there was such a thing as adirector? Was it at that age, at 16, in high school?
LV: In high school, you have teachers, you know, they’re first rateddirectors, you know, they’re trying to direct you. And I had some wonderful teachers along the way. I had two, actually, teachers that, that became directors in a way, but they were speech teachers. One of them is dead now, and the other one is still alive, and I’m still in contact with him. Doctor Ed Farrell. We have been friends since 1956. And he’s 85 now, and I see him from time to time. And he’s still a mentor. In an odd kind of way, he’s still my mentor, you know. And he’s certainly a friend. But he became my speech teach-I speak like him. I didn’t always speak this way. [INT: How did you speak?] I used to speak real fast, you know like Chicanos. When you’re in 58:00the barrio, and you, and you’re talking like this. And he said, “No, no. Slow down Luis, slow down.” And so the elocution, you know, the idea of pronouncing all of your words, crossing your T’s, you know, and dotting your I’s, so to speak, is part of the whole training, you know, of speech training. And so the important thing about Dr. Farrell was that even at that young age, he must have been 31, and I must have been 15, when we met. He respected me. I suddenly found a teacher who, who was really interested in me, as a person. And not that the other teachers weren’t, I had a lot of wonderful teachers, but, but this one was very special in the sense that he, he took an interest in me personally. And he learned things about me and my family, and that’s what great teachers do, they invest themselves in their students, and obviously there’s still a relationship there, because he’s still invested in me, and I’m still invested in him. But he directed me in the sense that as a teacher, you know, he allowed me to express myself in a better and clearer way. And I do that, of course as a director now. I sometimes have to give speech lessons, you know to actors that are speaking too fast, or don’t know their own rhythms, they keep repeating the same rhythm, rhythmic pattern. And then you have to bust that up in some way. That is not exactly directing, direction as we understand it, in terms of the full view, but it was the beginning of something. I actually became aware of the need for a director, one, when I was doing the television show at 16, I had an art director. And of course I had a television director. 59:00And I could see them working, I could see them handling the cameras, and, but the television director was in the booth. And I could hear, you know and the floor manager was in the studio. And I could see all these different functions, you know within the studio. The director as such, did not become clear to me until I began to write plays. And I began to write plays between high school and college. I wrote a musical. And then into college I began to write plays, I took playwriting. And my playwriting professor, a man by the name of Harold Crane, who was the head of the drama department at San Jose State at the time, would, was my playwriting professor, would see my plays, and recommend someone to direct, and I had a small play that was directed by another student. And I wasn’t too happy with the way that he directed my script. I said, I think I could do better, you know, but I didn’t say anything. When I wrote my first full length play, The Shrunk Head of Pancho Villa, my professor says, “You know you should direct this.” And I said, “Do you really think I can?” And he says, “You’re the playwright, of course you can. No one else will understand your work as well as you. And so you should be your own director.” So I took him, I took him at face value. I took that, and I said yes, that’s right, I’m gonna be my own director. And so I directed my first full length play. I was the director. And that became the basic pattern of my life. And I understood the difference between playwriting and directing, once I began to do it. I understood how essential the director is. You don’t have to be the playwright in order to be a director, you only have to understand the structure that you’re working with, and add your own insights, as the person that physically puts it on its feet. It helps if you’re a playwright though, to understand the ins and outs of your own work. Actually as a playwright, you also have to indicate through stage directions, more or less what it is that you want, you know. Not too many, and not too little. There’s a balance there that needs to be struck, as a writer. But certainly the certain kind of knowledge 60:00that comes with direction, that needs to be inculcated into the piece. And it must be inherent, an inherent part of the structure of the dramatic piece that you’re projecting. And as a director you have to understand what’s underneath the text, so you can see the underlying structure, the infrastructure if you will, the emotional infrastructure of a scene, or of the play as a whole. And so that I learned along the way, that I learned through experience. Believe it or not, I learned the basics, let’s say in college, and then went on. Joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe, in San, in San Francisco, in 1964, ’65, I was part of the group for a year. [INT: What encouraged you to join the mime troupe?] I joined the San Francisco Mime Troupe because it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I had been exposed obviously to university theater, I had seen plays in San Francisco, where you go road companies that you go and see, even in San Jose I’d seen road companies. But the mime troupe was home grown, 61:00these were young people that were making their own costumes, and yet it was fascinating. It was well done. It was artist-artistic. And there was an energy, and a vitality to it that really attracted me. The first piece was their Tartuffe, I saw their staging. R.G. Davis had directed Tartuffe. And it had, you know, a pantalone character, a number of others. It was Tartuffe in de comedia style. And I found that really fascinating. I found that, that it was open to improvisation, open to interchanges with the audience. I saw them in the street, performing in the street. On their own stage. And it just attracted me. I said this, I’ve got to know more about this. I wanna be closer to this group, I wanna be in this group if I can. And so it, I was invited to come to 62:00the mime troupe and visit, you know. ‘Cause I had been to Cuba, and so I went and talked about my trip to Cuba.
INT: Excuse me. Your trip to Cuba, was it when you were in the mimetroupe, or before you went to join the mime troupe?
LV: It was just before I joined the mime troupe. I went to Cuba in the summer of1964. I graduated from San Jose State in 1964. I would’ve graduated in 1962, but the Cuban Missile Crisis happened. And actually, it’s good that I didn’t graduate in 1962, because I would’ve gone, been sent to Vietnam. I was going to school on a student deferment. And so I was already lined up, I had my pre-induction physical. And they were waiting for me. But in 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis appeared like it was going to result in the end of the world, we thought there was gonna be a nuclear holocaust. So a lot of the students were 63:00commiserating together. And we started partying. And we stopped studying for finals. I was really convinced that the world was gonna end. And so that semester came to nothing for me. I practically failed everything, because I didn’t do the work. And then there was a big disappointment, I was like I lost the whole semester here because the world was gonna end and it didn’t. But the fact is, that it rolled me over into the next year, and I kept working. But it saved me in a way, because let me tell you, I would’ve been in Vietnam, I would’ve slam, bam, gone to Vietnam in ’63, if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was still in school. So I got an extension, and I kept working, and then I got involved in The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, the production of my play. So I really didn’t graduate until ’64. And by that time, the whole politics of the embargo, and that caused the Cuban Missile Crisis to begin with, all of 64:00that eventually influenced me personally. What’s sandwiched, what pivots in the middle is the assassination of John Kennedy, in 1963. That changed my world and the world of a lot of my generation, or your generation too as you know. Is what happened is that, I had worked on the Viva Kennedy campaign in 1960. John Kennedy had come to San Jose. We had presented him with a sombrero, I mean I met him. Shook his hand I was very impressed, really swept by the energy and the vitality. The apparent vitality of this new president, of this new presidential candidate. And so I was really up about it, I felt that it was hopeful, you know, when John Kennedy was elected, it was a real up feeling. And to see that dashed to hell, you know, with the assassination. And then immediately to suspect that the CIA and others were involved, because there were suspicions 65:00that came up immediately, about the Kennedy assassination, really flipped me over in terms of politics, and I said to hell with you guys, I’m gonna go to Cuba. I’m gonna go see what this is about. And so by the summer of ’64, I went with a group called the SCTC, the Student Committee for Travel to Cuba. This is three or four years before the Venceremos Brigades. And so we were recruited right off campus, and they paid for everything. Cuba paid for the whole trip. So a number of us, eventually 75 American students went, from various parts of the country. We had a San Francisco contingent that flew to New York, and then met, rounded up, engaged, you know rendezvous with other groups in New York, and then from there we all went to Paris. And from Paris to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Cubana dia Version was the airline that we got on, and then all the way back, 40 hours in the air to get to Cuba. That was the only way we could 66:00go in those days. And it was an amazing trip, right, I mean it, it was completely revolutionary in every way. The revolution was only five years old. And it was hopeful, and youthful, and it created Latin America for me, it opened my eyes to the fact that I was really a Latin American, Latino, you know in that sense. Really in a worldwide sense. And obviously, it, I wasn’t the only one. I think that everyone that was on the trip changed in their own ways. And the African Americans that had been typical members of SNCC, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, came back as prototypical Black Panthers. Before the Black Panthers were organized, but they were already like speaking like Black Panthers, you know we met Robert Williams, who had written a book called Negroes with Guns, and was in refuge, in Cuba, basically. He was an exile. We met him there, in Cuba. So all these SNCC African Americans became prototypical Black 67:00Panthers. The women became total radicals. We went from, you know, the girls, you know, that were supportive of their guys, in the movement, eventually turned into radical feminists by the time we left Cuba. And much of what came later in the women’s movement, you know, was already being expressed in our group among the women in Cuba. And the male, female thing came up as an issue immediately, even before we left the island, there were, people were questioning gender roles, and saying, and wanting an equal voice, that women wanted to have their own voice in the group. So that was an amazing, it was a preview of things to come, you know. And the Latinos that were in it, the Puerto Ricans, and there were two Chicanos, me and my campadre, Roberto Rudocada, went from being Mexican Americans, or Puerto Rican Americans, to being Chicanos, you know. And whatever 68:00the Puerto Rican equivalent, what equaled, you know, the young lords. And I really felt that I needed to find a way to express this. I needed to find an opportunity to be able to speak about this. So when I came back to San Jose, we did The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, I immediately shifted my focus to San Francisco and the mime troupe, and went and spoke at the mime troupe of my, my experiences in Cuba. To mime troupe members and other invited guests, and that was a very popular seminar that I gave, right. And so Ron Davis said, he says, “That was a very interesting speech, you should come around more often.” And so I said, “Great.” And I did. And eventually I just was cast in one of their plays as an actor. ‘Cause I can act too. And I joined the mime troupe, essentially, and began, moved to San Francisco, and began to perform in the 69:00parks. And all that summer of ’65, I was performing all over the city, and in Sausalito as well, in mime troupe play, Il Candelaio, you know, by Giordano Bruno. I was part of the big bust in Lafayette Park, that had to do with censorship issues. Ronnie Davis actually took my mask, because I was the first character on stage, and he was the one that was arrested. ‘Cause as the artistic director he wanted to make a gesture, make a point. And so he, I was glad to let him do it. And so he was busted, and that set up a whole series of counter measures by the mime troupe. Bill Graham who was a business manager set up a fundraiser at the mime troupe loft, at 7th and Howard in San Francisco. And it was staffed by the different rock bands. Country Joe and the Fish, and Jefferson Airplane. And The Warlocks, that became The Grateful Dead. And there was a green cloud of pot smoke, you know, over the crowd. It was actually a real 70:00hazard, because it was upstairs, and there were so many people they had to stop people from coming in, the fire department. And it just wasn’t enough room.
LV: So Bill Graham saw the success of that fundraiser, and decided tothrow another one at The Fillmore Auditorium. And that’s when The Fillmore then became the site of the rock bands, you know. Bill Graham eventually left the mime troupe, and became a rock impresario, based on the success of these fundraisers, right. And with the projections, the oil projections, and the rock bands playing. It was a whole revolutionary turn at that point, in the counter culture. And I was right in the center of it. I mean I was right in the middle of it. But at the same time, as that was happening, my mother in San Jose was receiving copies of El Malcriado that my grandmother was sending to her from 71:00Delano, you know, from the union. And I saw these, and I said, “Wait a minute, what’s happening back in the valley? Who’s this guy Cesar Chavez, what is he doing, what is this about?” And so when the strike back out, I said, “I have to go check out, and see for myself. [INT: What strike?] What was happening in Delano was the Delano grape strike. Is that what happens, is that four to five thousand farm workers left their fields in the various ranches, there were maybe 30 ranches. It was the largest agricultural strike since the 1930s in the state of California, actually the United States. And they were demanding an increase of 25 cents. It seems incredible now, but it was they wanted, they were being paid roughly a dollar an hour, and they wanted to be paid a dollar 25 an hour. Or so much a box, they wanted a few more cents a box. If they were working by piece work. And the growers refused to raise wages. It was the Filipino workers that went out on strike first. ‘Cause they had managed to get a slight pay 72:00raise in Coachella a few months, a few weeks earlier. ‘Cause the grape season starts earlier in the southern part of the state, in the Borrego Springs Valley, and San Diego County. And then in Coachella. And the Filipinos had gone on strike, and they’d gotten a pay raise. And they figured they could do the same thing in Delano. But the growers refused to raise the money in Delano, you know. So they went out on strike. And then the United Farm Workers, the National Farm Workers Association, led by Cesar Chavez, was not involved originally in the original strike. But they were, they were challenged by what the Filipinos were doing, the Filipinos wanted to go out on strike and hold, and that meant that then Cesar Chavez and his farm workers were gonna be the scabs. So they had to choose. They weren’t ready to go out on strike yet, the union wasn’t old enough, it was only a couple of years old at best, and hadn’t been organized 73:00enough, Cesar felt, that to be able to go out on strike, but they were forced to go out on strike by the conditions. So they merged, they came together. And that formed, eventually the United Farm Workers of America, the UFWA. But it was a long protracted struggle that took five years, you know. I’m talking about the very beginning of the strike in 1965, when my grandmother was sending copies of the union’s newspaper, El Malcriado to my mother in San Jose, where I saw them for the first time. And so then I had to go check, check out the strike for myself. So I went to Delano in the second week of the strike. And there was a march happening that day. And it happened to be in the same street where I had seen the 16th of September celebrations. Now the Commissione Notifica was gone, because the freeway had been rammed through. So in what was left of the street, they had a park, and it was there that the rally was taking place. And I saw Cesar speak for the first time. And I saw the people gathering. And then they 74:00marched, and I marched with them through the dusty streets of the west side in Delano. I wanted to talk to him about this idea that I had, that, but I figured maybe I need a special time with him. And he was, seemed to be distracted, too many people were hanging onto him. And I was a little embarrassed, really to bring up the idea of doing a theater, of, by, and for farm workers. So I wanted to, to have a special audience with him. It was not possible that weekend, so I came back. And the following week, Dolores Huerta came to San Jose, to San Jose State, and I went and did speak to her. I heard her speak, I was very impressed, I said, this is no ordinary farm worker, this woman can really talk. And she was 35 years old. And just powerful. A little powerhouse, you know she had fire brand. And I said, who is this woman, and what’s going on here? And I said, I gotta be part of this, you see. So I went up to her, and I introduced myself, 75:00and I said, “I need to talk to Cesar,” I said, “About the, but let me tell you what my idea is.” So I told her of the idea of the theater of, by, and for farm workers. And she loved it, she said, “That’s great.” You know. “But you do need to talk to Cesar. And so I was still doing the show, I was doing Il Candelaio, with the mime troupe. I had commitments until late October, so I couldn’t get away on the weekend, I was performing on the weekends. They said, “No, he’s coming to San Francisco next week.
LV: So Cesar came to The Mission District, to speak. And I was there,in the evening. I went, I went right for it. I went, and again he was being pursued by all kinds of people. And eventually I ended up pursuing him all the way across The Golden Gate Bridge, I hitched a ride with somebody. All the way to the Fruitvale District in Oakland. St. Elizabeth’s Church, where there was 76:00a gathering down in the rectory basement. A Cursiesta meeting. Cursiestas are like, it’s a special course that they give for married couples in the Catholic church. A curso is a course, it’s, Cursiesta, the course takers. And so they were singing this beautiful song as I walked in. And Cesar spoke, and then everybody talked to him, and I waited, and waited and waited. It’s 11 o’ clock by this time. And finally, at the very end, I’m the last person to talk to him. I went up to him and introduced myself. And he says, “Yeah, Dolores told me about you.” I said, “Whoa, okay.” and so I said, “Here’s my idea.” And he listened, and he said, “Okay. All right.” He says, “Well, let me be honest with you.” He said, “There are no actors in Delano. There’s no money to do theater in Delano. There’s no stage in Delano. There isn’t any time to rehearse. We’re on the picket line night and day. You 77:00still wanna do it?” And I said, “Absolutely, Cesar, what an opportunity.” And he said, “Okay. Well just come out. Come on out.” And so I said, “In the meantime, are you heading back to the city?” He said, “Why?” “I need a ride.” So I bummed a ride with him. So they took me back to my place, you know, in Haight Ashbury. And dropped me off. And you know, we talked all the way. And I felt, I definitely have to do this. And so I made all my arrangements, you know, and was gone the next week. Went to Delano, and my life began. Essentially, I was, I became the person I was preparing to become until that very day. It seemed that all of the elements of my life had led me in that direction up to that moment. I arrived in Delano with no money, basically. I was living weekend to weekend, week to week. Odd jobs, and stuff. The mime troupe 78:00paid five dollars for performance, so I hadn’t been able to save very much. I was living off my girlfriend, actually, at the time. But, but it didn’t matter, because what happened is that I was gonna live off the strike kitchen, and I was gonna be on strike, I was gonna devote all of my time and energies to doing what I needed to do. I was gonna bide my time until I could do something with the theater, you know. As it turns out, it took a few weeks. Cesar did pull me aside and says, “You have any money?” And I said, I said, “Well not a lot.” He said, “Well how are you gonna survive?” I said, “I’m not exactly sure.” And he says, “Okay.” He says, “We’ll give you five dollars a week.” So that, that became the standard then, everybody gonna get five dollars a week after that, which is really curious. But you know, what did I need money for? At that time, I’d buy cigars, you know, and some beer, and that was it. I was getting my food at the strike table. I didn’t need money. I needed something more. I needed the opportunity to do what I had to do. And the real change happened when I was elected picket captain. When I was eventually elected picket captain, month later. I was able to control the picket line. So the picket line became a matter of doing chants, of singing, and of staging little vignettes, so I could do that. As picket captain, I could do that. Clanked up the trucks and do this. So that the Teatro, literally was born on the picket line of the Delano grape strike. Cesar was right, there was no other time to do anything else but that. That month that I spent in preparation for that was, was opening my eyes to see what the possibilities were, what I need to do, 79:00how could I do this? And eventually I did put up a circular, and put it up on the wall in the office. And that’s the one that, that’s on the wall here, you know. And it was announcing that we’re gonna put a Teatro together, a farm worker’s theater. And whoever was interested could come. And so I was very nervous the night that we did this, in the union office. And, but I was encouraged because the office was packed, there were a lot of people there. So I climbed up on the counter, and I began to give my pitch. What we could do with the theater, and I said, “Are there any questions?” And nobody answered, you know, and I said, “Any, anything, anything?” A woman raised her hand, I said, “Yes?” And she says, “When does the Teatro start?” And I realized these were audience, these weren’t actors. We had an audience before we had a Teatro, you know. So I said, I said, “I’ll tell you what. We’re gonna have another meeting on Sunday.” So I organized another meeting, ‘cause I knew what I had to do. I made some signs with Patroncito, a farm worker. A campesino. 80:00Contratista, contractor, esquirol, a scab. Put some string on them. And the next Sunday I was waiting for them there in the kitchen of the pink house. And they showed up again, and this time, with the help of Augustine Mira, who was the first to join, we began to hang these signs on the people, and began to improvise. And then they began, they finally got it. ‘Cause they’d say, “What do we do?” I’d say, “Well do what you do on the picket line.” So Auggie began to do a particularly obnoxious scab. He put on the scab sign, and he says, “Ah, you strikers are nothing but, blah blah blah.” So somebody says, “Okay, I can answer that.” And he put on the striker sign. And he began a dialogue, right, began to argue, the way they do on the picket line. And eventually everybody was cracking up. And then people are saying, “Oh I can do another one.” And they would hang a sign on. So that became a spontaneous explosion, right there in the kitchen of the pink house. And that became the birth of El Teatro Campesino. And that’s why our motto is, don’t talk about it, do it. 81:00
LV: The march of Sacramento came about as a result of the naturalsequence of events in agriculture. What happens is that after the harvest in the grapes, the leaves are heavy with, well the grapes are gone, you know it’s just the leaves, and the branches, and so they have to be pruned, essentially, so the pruners come in, and they prune. And then those vines that are hanging there get tied. So the tiers come in and they tie them to the wires. And then you wait. You wait for the buds to resprout, basically. So there’s a time after, it starts in January. From January, March, through March, where there’s not much to do, they’re irrigating. And they’re, they’re doing some basic stuff with the vines, but it doesn’t need a crew. Doesn’t need a lot of people. So for the farm workers in the grape industry, it becomes what they call invierno chiquito. The small winter. And there’s really nothing to do. So that was a deadly period of nonactivity for the strike, because what were we going to 82:00do then for two months? So Cesar came up with the idea that we should march. Organize a march in those months. All the way from March 17th through Easter Sunday. Twenty five days in a row. We marched over 300 miles, 360 miles, roughly. From Delano to Sacramento, the state capitol. And we went, demanding that Governor Brown help us out, and that, and that farm workers throughout the state be aware, you know that the strike was happening. And eventually, that led also the announcement of the boycott at the end of the march. That was part of the plan. But we wanted to address, attract as much attention as possible in the media. So it was really the initial sort of stirrings in the union, of this attempt to try to connect with the media, and use the media, basically, to advance our cause. And again, 1965, you gotta remember, it was, national 83:00broadcasts were, you know, not as, there weren’t 24 hour news in those days, so it was only six o’ clock news, it was basically it. Eleven o’ clock if you could get it, but not nationally. And so it was a big deal for us to make the national news at six o’ clock. What was happening in 1965 was that there was still the memory of the Selma to Montgomery march in the South. And many of the student volunteers that were working in Delano, were also veterans of Mississippi summer 1964. Marshall Ganz, for instance had been in Mississippi, working with, to register black voters, you know, in The South, in the segregation in the South. As it happens, he became one of the leaders of the union, later. He became totally bilingual too, which is great. He was a rabbi’s son, you know who became a campesino, from all appearances. He’s now 84:00a professor at Harvard, you know. But the thing is, that at the time, the march then consisted of a plan to generate more interest and to inspire the workers in Delano, as well as throughout the whole valley, to join the union and to support the causa. So we met. Cesar gathered a group of the picket captains, and a few other people in a house, a borrowed house in Carpenteria, in Santa Barbara. And we discussed it over a weekend, what we planned. It was a planning session. And night and day, you know, it was two days. Well we planned what the logistics would be. And who was gonna take care of what, you know, how we were gonna get food, how we were gonna get water. Where we were gonna stay, so different people were assigned different tasks. El Teatro Campesino was asked to perform every night. Which I felt was great, because we had been performing by this time now, 85:00at the Friday night meetings. We’d gone from the picket line to doing small actos in the Friday night meetings. The shift from our original labor camp, our strike headquarters for the NFWA, into Filipino Hall, when the two unions merged. When the Filipinos and the Mexicans came together, we got the benefit of being able to use Filipino Hall. Which is a nice, settled hall with heating, and with heat in the winter, you know which is quite a step for us, because it was a cold winter. But it was also room, it was also room enough for 300 people. It was also room for us to perform. And in the Negrito Hall, which was a little hall, it held 60 people. When we started, there had barely been enough room to have two or three people, you know, just move in there and speak. Or act. In Filipino Hall, suddenly we could do actos with five or six or seven people, it was much larger. So that shift had been an important one for the Teatro. And by the time the march started then, we had a repertory of maybe half a dozen actos 86:00that we could do. And so, as well as all kinds of movement songs, that had been developed over the few months, songs that we translated from the labor movement. Solidarity Forever became Solidaridad para Siempre, you know. From the Civil Rights Movement, We Shall Not Be Moved, No Nos Moveran. Well, I mean just all kinds of songs, also there were corridos, ballads, you know that we adapted from the Mexican tradition that became part of our, and new songs, new compositions. Augustine Mira was a composer. And he composed a few, especially for the march of Sacramento, you know. La Peregrinacion, which is the pilgrimage, was one of my favorites, and one of the favorites that people really commented on. It’s a beautiful song. So all of these songs came together as part of the program. So we had songs, and we had actos. And then Cesar wanted a declaration to be made 87:00on the march, that could express the ideas, his ideas, and the ideas of the union. So he asked me to write El Plan de Delano. Now we sat down and I took notes what he wanted me to say. What are the basic points he wanted me to hit. And these are the bullets. And so I got those, and then eventually, I went off on my own to right El Plan de Delano before the march, you know began. And I had a friend who gave me a copy of El Plan de Ayala, from Emiliano Zapata. And I took sections of it verbatim, and just changed the place names. ‘Cause I wanted it to sound, I wanted to echo Zapata. And then there were sections that were totally original, these were Cesar’s thoughts, you know because we weren’t talking about armed rebellion. But some of the high flying Spanish, 88:00you know of the Plan de Ayala, served our purposes in terms of the oratory. And once I had written it, three or four pages, I gave it back to Cesar, and he read it. And he made a few changes. But he approved it, basically. This is, this is gonna be a movement of actions, and not of pronouncements, he said, you know. Our movement will spread like flames across the dry plain, you know, so that all farm workers can see, they can do as we have done. You know, viva la causa, and so forth. And then Cesar asked me to read it at the, at all the meetings. And so all my training as an actor, you know came forth, and so I used to give a dramatic, you know interpretation of my speech. Of the Plan de Delano. At a given time. Usually before the acto, ‘cause the actos were like, kinda raucous. And after that, you just wanna end the whole rally, you know. It was a final sort of pitch. Before we all sang Lo Sotos Venceremos, right? Or De 89:00Colores. De Colores is kind of interesting because that became the anthem of the United Farm Workers. And everybody sings it too, in terms of the movement, you know it became, everybody locks arms and sings De Colores, you know, which is an innocent little song, but it gained political significance the way they were sung. What’s curious is that the way that De Colores became the anthem, is that Cesar asked me, he says, “You remember that song they were singing in the church in Oakland, when you first talked to me?” And I said, “Yeah, it was a beautiful song.” He says, “It’s called De Colores,” he says, “Here are the words. You think you guys could sing it at the next meeting?” So the Teatro began to sing De Colores. And we taught it to everybody. And that’s how it became the anthem of the farm workers, you see? It came again right through, it came from Cesar, but it came right through the Teatro, you know. And it links 90:00up to my first meeting with Cesar, to talk about the meaning of what I wanted to do, you know, the theater of, by, and for farm workers.
INT: Tell me a little bit about the actos. The structure of the actos.And how they came about.
LV: Well I know some people call the actos skits, you know, but I hesitate, Idon’t particularly like that word. I was a boy scout too, you know, so I remember doing skits in the boy scouts. The actos are really something else. The actos are really what they say they are. They mean acts. They’re political acts in and of themselves. On a more scholarly, ‘cause I brought some pre-knowledge to the action of doing actos. I studied Mexican theater history, and I knew that when the priests, Spanish priests arrived in Mexico, one of the ways that they converted the Indians to Christianity was by performing pieces called autos sacramentales. Which were traditional in Spain. And autos 91:00sacramentales were short pieces. The liturgy set to the stage. They were short actualizations, act… Reenactments from the bible and from Casta Liturgy. In order to convince, or to convert different people into religion. Expressions of faith, if you will. And so the autos sacramentales became a real tool in the conversion of the Indians. I wanted something similar, but I wasn’t calling them autos sacramentales. So they became actos argumentales, you know. This is what I called them myself. Actos for short. But the argument. The argumento. Which is a through line. It’s really what it’s about. What point are we making about the strike. And it’s usually just a single point. Nothing too 92:00complicated. We wanted to make it real simple so that people could see what we were talking about. And some aspect of the strike. And then color it with different kinds of characters. And in order to discover what an acto was gonna be about, we did a lot of improvising, we’d pick up a theme, and say okay what are we working, working on contractors, what about contractors, Don Coyote. Don Coyote became elaborated through a number of different improvisations. Who is he as a character, what defines Don Coyote, the character? Don Coyote, the patroncito, Don Sotaco. The different characters. So that was Don Coyote, Don Sotaco, and the patroncito, the three basic characters that Andy Zermeno was sketching in El Malcriado. He was a cartoonist. And he had a very definite skill, to portray these characters, and it seemed to me, the farm workers were 93:00already seeing these as cartoons, we’ll put them on the stage, you know, so the patroncito, Don Coyote, and Don Sotaco became characters. And we would add a fourth character could be another scab, or it could be a wife, or it could be whatever, you know. It could be the contractor’s friend, or, there are different kinds of variations that we used in our actors. Say we built a, the contractor, the contractor, the grower, the striker, the scab. Those were our four building blocks. And so we could improvise on those four characters. Sometimes two of them, sometimes three of them, sometimes all four. And they could operate in different ways. Once we had set those limits, then we’d get out and put our signs on, and improvise stuff, right? And we’d do this late at night. We’d have to start on Monday if possible, aiming toward Friday. We 94:00would meet Monday night, late, late, you’re talking nine, ten o’ clock at night, after the full day of rehearsing. And we’d have to be up at four. So we could only do it for an hour or so, at the most. If I could get everybody together. Or if we weren’t disturbing people that were sleeping. So that’s why we gathered in the kitchen, you know in the kitchen. Usually people weren’t sleeping in there, until late. But you know, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Those were the four nights that we had to develop any stuff, and sometimes we’d be hard put by Wednesday to know what the hell we were gonna do on Friday, you know, but we always kinda made it with something. And improvised stuff. And audiences were not picky. They were, they enjoyed the humor. They enjoyed, you know, whatever it is. I would let the actors really do what they could do. Felipe Cantu was a real important find for me. He was a campesino from Nuevo Leon, Mexico, who had been everything from a clown to a 95:00policeman in Mexico. And he has this wonderful crossed eye. And he was the father of seven children. And so he was there with his whole family on strike. But he was a natural mimic. He was like, just a natural. He could make people crack up, and laugh. He was always laughing. So even though we pulled him out as a scab, he joined the strike, and almost immediately gravitated to the Teatro. That’s what he wanted to do. And the thing is, that he became then, a source of improvisations, because he was a wealth, he had a wealth of ideas, you know, the way that he would speak, the way that he would act. And he didn’t speak English. But I’d give him certain lines, he played winter in one piece. In La Quinta Temporada. And on the back of his sign, which said winter, I had to write in big letters, I, A-Y, am, H-A-M, winto, H-U-I-N-T-O. And he would jump in, and flip the sign over and say, “I am winto.” Until he, I am winter, right. 96:00Until he memorized it. But the fact is that Felipe was, could be understood in any language. He could make himself understood. And so he, he gave, he gave a body to the character of Don Sotaco. Augustine Mira could do Don Coyote in a number of different ways. And the problem was to find someone who’d do the boss. El patron. Not too many people could do the patroncito, which was really interesting. So I had to do it myself. Okay, I had to do the boss. And I often did, until we got other people to come in. Anyway, all of this then led to the creation of the acto. The acto then is a political act. It’s a short, dramatic piece, that makes its statement in 10 minutes, and then it’s off. And it can be performed anywhere. On a flatbed truck, on a street corner, out in the 97:00fields, in the middle of the camp. We found ourselves doing actos in the camp, in the middle of some of these election campaigns. And they were so provocative that we were actually told at one point, during the DiGiorgio campaign strike, not to perform, because it would provoke violence. We were trying to do humor. But again, the point was so incisive, the point was so direct, that some of the, our enemies would consider it to be an affront, and so they were threatening to start some trouble, you know, if we acted in this way.
INT: They were so successful.
INT: They were so successful.
INT: You know, what led you to kind of leave that behind? The actos?
LV: El Teatro Campesino has developed a number of different forms over theyears. The acto is still viable, actually. There isn’t any time when the actos are not useful. They’re like political cartoons, you know, they’re always good. And there’s a, there’s a place and a time for it. There are certain issues that need to be capsulated in that way and put out in front of people. Certainly in the middle of all kinds of struggles that continue to happen. It is something that comes out of the vitality of youth, however. You know, it is something that helps young people to express themselves, at the same time they are helped by the youth of the performers. As you get older, you’re looking for other forms. You know, there’s certain things you can’t do when you get older, that you can do when you’re young. We moved from the acto into the mito, for instance. And the mito are the myths. ‘Cause we needed another form that was also short. But that allowed us to express or mythology. We need, we found the need to be able to get into the mythological underpinnings of our reality. What are our myths, what do we really believe? You see La Virgen de 98:00Guadalupe, The Virgin of Guadalupe is a myth, but she’s a faith, she’s a real living being, to most Mexicans, you know, who believe in her, as the mother of Christ, you know, for all of that, but she is the mother, she is our mother, you know. And so that kind of mythology is, is everywhere, it’s very much a part of our life, but we felt we needed to do pieces that could also investigate the nature of mythology. You could say Dia de los Muertos, for instance, is completely into this world of the mythology, the mythological world. But the living and the dead, right. And if you take it one step further, the figure that’s popular now, the Santa Muerte, has taken death and mythologized her up to another point, you know, which wasn’t there when I was a kid, no one believed in the Santa Muerte, but now it’s there because of the drug trade, or what have you. It’s there. So mythologies are an integral part of our lives, 99:00and so mitos relate to that, you know, I used to say, actos are about the diff-about the relationship between human beings, and mitos are about the relationship between human beings and God. That’s one way to describe it. And then the third form are corridos, corridos are musicalized pieces, that integrate the ballad as a form of storytelling. And they deal with historical figures, and they deal with historical incident. But they’re set to music. And so the movements are like dance like, it’s a form of dance theater, if you will, that can incorporate dialogue. And we’ve done corridos to set pieces. And they’re also short. So a program can be composed of many corridos, six or seven corridos. And some are very traditional corridos that the whole world knows, you know. And some are not, some are new, that can be written from the ground up. Our most famous corrido was La Carpa de los Rasquachis, you know, 100:00which is based on a corrido called Le Portado, you know about an immigrant that comes. And we managed to extend that all the way into a one hour piece, a full length piece. Integrated with other forms of music. But the through line is the corrido, of Jesus para Rasquachis. Who goes through the world, you know as an immigrant and raises a family. Until he dies. The whole corrido. And that became one of our classic pieces from the 1970s. And eventually that led us to the fourth form, that we’re still into now, which are called historias. And these are histories. These are the ideas that eventually resolved themselves into, into pieces of history. Shakespeare had his histories. You know Moliere had his own histories. And I think that the, that link between theater and history is very important. That you need reenactments of historical events, in order to understand the sequence of the events that led to today. What is it that makes us what we are today? And so, at the same time, they can be, they can 101:00be simplistic, historias can be very simplistic. But they can also be very complicated, and involve other forms. Zoot Suit for instance, is a historia. And that deals with a section of history. And at the same time, I mean I’ve done, I’ve done other histories, my latest play is a historia. It’s Valley of the Heart, you know. But these are histories that deal with the historical events in their time, and in order to lend perspective to where we are today.
INT: Good. Now, I’d like to see how you went from theater, how youleft the teat-not the Teatro, but the, you know, the union. You eventually left and formed your Teatro company. And how you started making films. What inspired you to make films? I mean, and we, you can talk a little bit about I Am Joaquin.
LV: Well on a personal level…
INT: The transition.
LV: Yeah. On a personal level, one of the seeds that made me a filmmaker reallyagain, exists in my family life. My dad, and my mother’s mother, my mother’s father, her grandfather, my grandfather, participated in a Hollywood film back in the 1930s. It could’ve been, even 1929, 1929, 1930, something like that. The name of the film was Cimarron. It was about the Oklahoma land rush. And it was the first sound film that was also Western, that won an Academy Award for best picture. It starred Richard Dix, for instance. And I don’t know if it was in color or not, but the film was a big production. And in order to be able to recreate the Oklahoma land rush, the film company came from Hollywood to the central valley. The west valley. It was still a lot of plains out there. And 102:00they hired as many mule drivers as they could find. And it so happens that my dad and my grandfather were mule drivers. You know these are 16, you know, in order to handle that many mules in a wagon, you have to know what you’re doing. And so they participated, as mule drivers. Now they were extras, basically, in these covered wagons, rushing across the landscape, supposedly in the Oklahoma land rush. But that was what they were hired to do. And it’s just at the beginning of The Depression. So my dad always used to talk about participating in this movie, and how good the movie, the film, the food was. Right, he was talking about the catering service. And how well they ate in those days that they were in, working in the movies. But that he was actually in a Hollywood movie. Now you can’t see him, you know, the movie’s still around. Because he was an extra, and he was among hundreds of these wagons, and people that are going. He’s in there somewhere. But he was actually driving these mules. And he was a young man, my dad, you know he was, maybe 18, 19 at the time. And so that planted a seed, early on, that my dad had been in a movie. And I remember hearing that as a kid, and saying wow, if my dad was in a movie, maybe I can be in a movie one of these days. So that, that was one of the things that was there. But the other thing is when I came to Delano, and began to work with the United Farm Workers, we had a lot of documentary film groups that were coming to the strike. And one of them actually came, was a group of students from UCLA, that arrived to shoot some scenes of the strike. And they happened to 103:00be there on the night that I was giving my pitch to the farm workers, to form a farm workers theater. And they actually filmed my talk to these campesinos. I didn’t know that footage existed until years later, when I was on the lot at Universal, beginning to plan my shoot of Zoot Suit, as my first feature film, and Verna Fields, who was one of the vice presidents of Universal Pictures, and an editor of Jaws, said, “You know I have some footage of you,” she said, “That my students took. I was teaching at UCLA in 1965. And I sent a crew of students, and they shot some footage of you, do you, would you like a copy?” And I said, “Absolutely.” And so she gave me a 16 millimeter copy of the small film that the students had made. And in the small film is a scene where 104:00I’m talking to the farm workers, to organize El Teatro Campesino. Now it so happens that it’s great for me, and great for the Teatro, you know, that… [INT: What is the name of this film?] The name of the film I think is Huelga. But it’s, it’s a tiny little film. [INT: Huelga.] Yeah, it’s, there are two or three little Huelga films. That’s one of them. But it’s in the archives, in Santa Barbara, you know in our archives. Well so many crews were coming from all over, from San Francisco and LA, that Cesar finally told me, “I want you to coordinate this.” He says, “You seem to be the natural person that you can coordinate all these documentaries, they come, I’ll send them to you, and you take them around, and show them the works.” And so I said, “Great, glad to do that.” And so I did. I ended up taking groups. A group came down from Seattle, from King Screen Productions. And I took them 105:00around. And I ended up walking into the film, they asked me to walk into the shot and talk. Okay, which I was glad to do, and that’s a, that’s one of the Huelga films, called Huelga. And that’s a little classic, actually, because it, we were able to really cover some ground there. And I took them to different places. And eventually, enough of these crews came around, that I got curious. And I picked up a 16 millimeter camera, right, and looked to the lens and see what it, what is this, what, you know. And someone said, “You wanna, just shoot, shoot some footage.” And so I shot some footage. And I began then to experience the whole idea of the documentary film style, you know in the sense from their point of view, from the production standpoint of view. I didn’t become a documentary filmmaker by any means, but I began to see the results. For instance, we went to Seattle in ’66, and I saw raw footage of the Teatro 106:00performing. I saw that they were cutting the film. They took me through the whole post production facility there. And I saw the film that they had shot in Delano, and I saw it on camera. It was in color. And I remember thinking, it looks too beautiful, it looks too colorful. The reality is a lot uglier, I didn’t realize there was so much color, right, in Delano. But on film, it looks gorgeous. It looks great. But in reality, it was much more gray to me, it was much darker, it was almost black and white, you know. So I was really amazed by it. And I remember seeing the first time I saw the Teatro on film, it seemed to me like it was a silent movie, we were moving so fast. I said, “This,” as one critic said later, “It’s Buster Keaton, you know. It’s Buster Keaton on wheels here.” and this is what the Teatro was. So you know, just in weighing these realities, I began to say okay. How can I become involved in this process even more, you know, and we separated from the United Farm Workers in 1967. 107:00
LV: That’s an issue that’s come up recently because of MiriamPawel’s book, The Crusades of Cesar Chavez, and also the film that was done by Diego Luna, you know, Cesar Chavez. And it’s gotten a lot of criticism, because it’s not, it’s just one side of the story, basically. You know the, it’s a hagiography, is what it is. It doesn’t deal with the reality of it. But the fact is, that I began to speak about something that I had not spoken about in 50 years, almost, in 47 years. And that’s the reasons why we separated from the union. And the fact is that I was purged. And that the Teatro campesino was purged by Cesar. And that comes as a shock to a lot of people. But the fact is that he did, along his career, purge some of the people that were closest to him. He got rid of them. He eliminated them. And there’s a good reason, as to why, I’m sure there’s an argument that can be made, you know, 108:00from, he’s not around to make that argument anymore. But it seems that he got rid of anybody that would threaten his control over the union, that he wanted absolute control. And that raises questions that have to do with the nature of democracy within the union, the union that he was creating. It’s a real complex issue. On the other hand, the union would argue that, that even the strike, and the union and the cause was infiltrated with spies from the other side. There were people that were trying to do harm. They were trying to kill Cesar at one point, okay. He would’ve gone the way of Martin Luther King, if it hadn’t been for a great deal of diligence. There were people out to kill him. And I understand that. I understand that. There were also complex issues involved, having to do with the war in Vietnam, that in 19, the middle of 1960s. 109:00We weren’t allowed to speak about Vietnam in Delano. I mean I had been a fervent anti-war activist in San Francisco. I had marched, you know in Berkeley, I had, I was trying to save my own skin, I didn’t wanna go to Vietnam and die as cannon fodder, you know. But, the fact is that, it was a subject that we never discussed in Delano. We didn’t wanna confuse the issue. The growers would’ve said you guys are communists. You know, I was already being accused of being a communist because I had been to Cuba, you know. The John Birch Society called me the Che Guevara, you know, of Delano. And the fact is that I had been to Cuba. And the fact is that I had participated in radical demonstrations, I had no bones about that, you know. So there, there were a lot of things happening, that prevented the union from being entirely secure about who was what, and who could be trusted. On the other hand, there were a lot of people that went to support Cesar, particularly the students, that went to support Cesar because they believed that it was something other than what it was. It was Farm Workers Union. It was a union for the benefit of farm workers. It was not the beginning of the revolution, you know that was gonna end all world ills. But some people were so idealistic that they went with that thought in mind. All of this created a lot of frustration. Two years into the strike, there was a lot of fatigue that was beginning to settle, a lot of grumbling. Cesar didn’t want the grumbling, you know. There were a lot of people that were bitching about different things. There was a certain amount of violence that was starting to happen. And for some reason, people would come over to the Teatro Campesino and bitch. We were the place where they felt they could complain about anything, complain about Cesar, they could, they could complain about the union, they’d complain about not having any money, they’d complain 110:00about anything, they would come to the Teatro and complain. They would not go to Cesar and complain. So finally one day, I said, “You know what? Why don’t we call Cesar over, you guys talk to him. Why tell me, tell him.” You know, and it was clear that people were afraid of him. And that’s come out since, that people were afraid to be honest with Cesar. So I did in fact, set up a meeting. I invited Cesar to come over to the Teatro, we had a little store front, finally. We had just gotten it, actually. And I invited all these other volunteers and campesinos to come. None of the campesinos showed up. None of them. Only the students. And so it, so I invited Cesar to the meeting, and he heard the bitches, and they ripped, quite frankly sounded sophomoric, and it was ridiculous. I said, oh, I’m embarrassed, you know. But Cesar was very pissed. He was very angry at me. And he thought I was fomenting it. He accused me of fomenting it. And I said, “Well you know, frankly, Cesar, I’m just trying 111:00to, people are afraid to talk to you.” I told him. “I’m just, I’m just trying to be an intermediary here.” And, but it, it didn’t change anything, he began to eliminate people. And eventually, he eliminated two or three other people before me. But then I was called on the carpet, and taken into the board meeting, of five people that were there. And it was just before we were supposed to go on our first national tour. We had been working on this for months. Pete Seeger had invited us to go to the Newport Folk Festival. And I had asked the union, I had asked Cesar, “Can we do this?” He said, “It’d be a great idea,” he said, “It’d be great for the boycott.” And so we set up all kinds of performances across country. In New York, in Washington, in Chicago, in Denver. And so this is about a week before we were supposed to leave, after all 112:00these, I even have an advanced party out there on the East Coast already. And I get called on the carpet. And Cesar says, “We’re thinking about canceling your tour.” And I’m saying, “But why?” You know. He said, “Because you’ve been politicking the workers.” That was, turned out to be his favorite term. Politicking. And I said, “In what way?” I said, “When have I ever spoken against the union? I’ve supported the union in every way.” I said, and he says, “Well, you’re, the word is that you’re a racist against the Anglos.” And I said, “I have an Anglo girlfriend. How am I, how am I racist?” As a matter of fact they had asked my Anglo girlfriend to leave, you know. And anyway, he, he was pretty set, you know, that what he wanted to do was to break up the Teatro, and send me to Florida. And Auggie and Danny, and the others to different places, and that was gonna be it for a while, they were gonna bring us under control. And I said, “Well I can’t do that, what about 113:00my commitments for the national tour?” And he said, “Well, we have to make other arrangements.” And I said, “Well in that case, I’ll have to pull the Teatro. From the Union.” I had a lump in my throat and everything, and he said, “Then what are you, but what are you gonna do without the union?” I said, “I don’t know. We’ll have to be independent. But I’ll tell you,” I said, “I’m still gonna support the causa.” And I walked out. And everybody was, it was the middle of the day, and everybody was really excited, and tempers were rising, and people were, campesinos came running, is it true that the Teatro’s being kicked out. Let’s march on the union office. I mean, it, it got to be really divisive, I said, “No, let’s not do that.” I said, “Let’s not do that.” And later on that day, that night, Cesar called, and he says, “The board has met again, we’ve decided to let you go on the tour. Just don’t, don’t bring this up.” And I said, “Fine.” So I gave my word I wouldn’t bring it up. LV: So we went on the tour, went all 114:00over the country, performed in all these different places. Had, were reviewed in Newsweek, and all that, all the major pu-… We had our first big splash, raised 15,000 dollars, which was a lot of money for the union. And then on the way back, I got a call from Jac Venza, over at WNET, in New York. They had shot some scenes of us performing in Central Park. And he says, “We want to do a special.” He says, “And shoot the triumphant return of Teatro Campesino to Delano. You think Cesar will go for it?” And I said, “Let me find out.” So I call Cesar. We’re still on the road, and I said, “We have this possibility of coming home, and performing in Filipino Hall with all the farm workers, triumphant return.” And he says, “Let me talk to the board.” And so I know what that meant. And so I called him again a few days later, and he said, “No, 115:00the board decided not to let you do that.” So I said, “Fine.” But that kinda sealed it, that meant that we’re out. That was it. So I talked to Jac Venza, and he filmed us anyway. They filmed us in Santa Barbara, on our last stop. And that became an NET special, you know, a National Educational Television special, on El Teatro Campesino. It was broadcast nationwide. But the fact is, that, that Dolores tried to convince us not to leave, but she said, “Cesar says you don’t know how to negotiate, you know.” And I said, “Well there’s not much room to maneuver here, you know.” But I reiterated, I said, “You know what. We’re not gonna leave the causa.” I said, “I’m a farm worker. I support this cause.” and so we separated, we moved to Del Rey, which is 60 miles north of Delano. And set up El Centro Campesino Cultural, which was Farm Workers Cultural Center. And continued to do stuff about the 116:00strike. And eventually, achieved some kind of rapro, or roprach, what is it? [INT: Rapprochement.] Yeah. We eventually got in line again with, with Cesar, got straightened out, you know, the balance. When he saw, really, that we weren’t countering, I wasn’t gonna attack the union, and I wasn’t gonna attack him personally. So really, I kept this under wraps for more than 40 years. Never spoke about it. The Berkeley Barb printed a little thing that said the Teatro had been forced out. And they wanted more. But at the time, I said, “No, I’m not prepared to do that.” And continued, really, to support Cesar, and the union, with the Teatro, and personally. One of the reasons we moved to San Juan is because we were supporting the Salinas campaign here, that followed. And, but Cesar did come around, eventually to the Teatro, he did come 117:00visit us, and he came to our 20th anniversary. I mean, I was there for the ’68 march, and the fast, rather. And I was there for the ’88 fast, you know, by his side. And the family asked me to direct his funeral, you know, when we had the 50,000 people come to march, his last march. To me he was family, you know, to me, it was like a family argument. You can’t stop being a brother with your brother, your brother’s your brother. And that’s the way I felt about Cesar. He made some mistakes, he was a human being. And there’s something to be questioned, with respect to the way that he dealt with other people years later, because as people would leave the union, they would inevitably to the Teatro. And have to commiserate, right, and talk about what, what their experience had been. But some people invested 15 years. I invested two years in Delano. Some 118:00people invested 15 years in Delano, before they left. And they left bitterly. They left with bitterness in their mouths. The only thing you can say in that regard, is that, I mean Cesar had his reasons for doing what he did. Farm workers are not in a good place today. The union is not as strong as it could’ve been. I question why Dolores isn’t president of the union. I question why she didn’t become president, with Cesar’s death, why didn’t she just assume the presidency? That needs to be asked, and that needs to be answered. I think I know the answer, but it gets too involved, you know. But the fact is, that without Cesar, where are we anyway, you see what I’m saying? It’s, he was the only leader that we had at the time, that had any national stature. And human beings are not, are not saints, human beings are human, you know, with frailties. And no situation is ever black and white. And so when you weigh it all, the negatives against the positives, I think that, that Cesar comes out in the positive field, he’s positive. He was a positive force for all of us, and we still need his image. And we need his story, you know. So any conflicts that we have, have to be handled very carefully, and they have to be explained very carefully. Because it’s very easy to criticize. But you really need to be in the other guys’ shoes before you know what he was going through. And he was a man that, that had gone to the eighth grade. And beyond that, he had no other preparation. So it was out of his grit, and out of his gut, that he was able to do what he did. And it took a great deal of faith in his, in himself, and in his cause, for him to do what he did. And for that I admire him, you know, and I celebrate him still. And at the same time, people were trying 119:00kill him. I think that needs to be put into perspective. And so, I have no regrets about supporting him all these years, I think the cause was good.
INT: Let’s go to your incursion to film. Let’s talk about I AmJoaquin. How did it come about first? It was a poem, right? The Corky Gonzales.
LV: On our first national tour, in the summer of 1967, I mean actually we werethe, you know, the whole country was in flames. We couldn’t get into Chicago because the national, no, we couldn’t get into Detroit, because the National Guard was blocking the freeway. It was unbelievable. It was an American freeway, we’re trying to get to an American city, and here are these soldiers and tanks, that are blocking the entry point into Detroit. Because blacks were 120:00rioting, African Americans were rioting, and there were dead people in the streets already. And we were told, you need to turn around. Keep moving. So even though we had commitments in Detroit, there was no way for us to communicate with the people. So we, we moved on. We pushed onto Chicago. And Chicago also broke into riots the day after we left, you know. So it was dangerous all the way through, we kept moving. And we went all the way to Denver, eventually. And Denver was, was peaceful, comparatively speaking. And it, there we were in the hands of a Crusade for Justice lead by Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales. One of the preeminent Chicano leaders of the era, you know. And it happens that Corky was also a playwright, and a poet. And so when we performed in Detroit, in Denver, we performed in a movie theater, and The Crusade for Justice had been performing 121:00one of Corky’s plays, called The Revolutionist. It was kind of a realistic family drama, but with social issues. And then we performed the actos. So it was a long program. They performed their play, and then we performed our show, and so it was a big evening. And it was a wonderful exchange, you know, with the members of The Crusade. And we stayed at Corky’s house. I mean it was, it was fantastic. And in the aftermath of all these shows and stuff, he, before we left, he gave me a copy of his poem that he had written, an epic poem called I Am Joaquin. In those days, it had not yet been published, and was in mimeograph sheets, and he said, “I want you to read my poem. And so I’m giving you this copy.” And so I said, “Thank you.” You know, to Corky. And you know, we became great friends, really. The brothers in arms, you know, the esprit de corps was very strong. And so on the way back to California, you know along the 122:00way I began to read it, and I was swept away, it was a fantastic poem, it was a history, it was a call to arms, it was everything. And so when we finally got settled in Del Rey, one of the first things that I brought out was the crus-Corky’s poem, you know, I Am Joaquin. And I told the guys, “We have to do something with this. I wonder if we could, I could narrate it and we could set up a slide show.” And so we experimented with some slides, and some of the techs, and Auggie and Danny, my brother, you know, began to compose some music. And yep, it looked like it could work, and so I called Corky and I asked his permission. “Do you mind if we use your poem. We’ll give you full credit, as the, as the basis of this slide show that we wanna do, and recite your poem.” He gave us, “Sure, go ahead.” And so we went, and we began to do it then, we began to, to perform then, I Am Joaquin, with a couple of slide trays, you know, 123:00that showed these images that were switched on and off, as I narrated and the music was live, and it was all a three way combination. Multimedia show. And it had a tremendous impact on people. And one of the people that saw us was our old friend, a photographer George Ballis. And well a year later, he bought a 16 millimeter Bolex camera. And when we got back from France, he said, “You know that slide show that you do should be on film. Why don’t we try making a film?” And I said, “Well, I mean yeah, it’s a good idea. But how could we do it?” And he says, “Well I’ll set up some cameras,” he said, “We’ll see if we can work this out.” And so I called Corky again and asked him. I said, he hadn’t seen the slide show yet. I said, “We have the slide show but we’d like to put it on film, do you mind, can we do this, do I have 124:00your permission?” He said, “Sure, go ahead.” Again, Esprit de corps, no contract. That was a serious error. No contract. George wanted a contract, so we got a contract with him. But not, not Corky. And so we went to work. And what George did, is that he set us up in a kitchen in, in Fresno. He, he had to hawk one of his cars or something. It took, it cost about 5000 to do the film. Or so he said, you know. I never dealt with the money. He was our producer, and the cinematographer. But he set up a kitchen table in the middle of a kitchen in, in Fresno. And in the middle was a window that had been frosted. Just a regular kitchen window that was frosted. And he put the slide projector on one end of the table, and projected slides backwards. And he put, mounted the Bolex camera on the other side of the table, so that it could swivel, pan, okay, zoom. And 125:00that was basically it. That was what we had. So we went slide by slide, determining what the action was going to be. We had a recorded version of the narrative and the music, that we kept turning on and off, you know, as we tried the move. Once we knew what we were gonna do with the move, we could film the move then, and actually put it on, on film. And we did this over a whole weekend. A Saturday and a Sunday. And shot in that hot kitchen, in Fresno. And eventually came out with the print, right, the work print. And the black and white work print, with the images. And then we, we didn’t have a Moviola, we didn’t have any film equipment. We had a 16 millimeter projector. And we ran the black and white work print through the projector as we changed the music. You know what I mean, we’re doing the reverse, we were adapting. So we were 126:00using the projector as a Moviola basically, turning the, reversing the camera, you know. In other words, going forward. And, but it was the basics of editing. It was the basics of dubbing. It was a crash course in filmmaking. And I began to see what the relationship was, right. And eventually we got into color film, eventually did the whole color balance and stuff. And then we took the print to LA, into a studio, and recorded the full soundtrack with the film live, you know as it was rolling. And any mistakes we had to back up and do it again, but the thing is that, we were like dubbing, we were on a dubbing stage for the first time. And shooting the film through the window of the booth onto the wall, and we were in the studio, reacting to the, I recorded the narrative separately, and then we did the music. So it was the two levels of dubbing and I had the music with the headphones, and I was able to know exactly where I had to hit. And it 127:00worked out, you know. It was a wonderful process.
LV: When we got a film together then, we had, this was already what,1970, by the time that, ’69 was when we started. By 1970, finally had a color print. And the inaugural projection of the film was as part of an art show that we organized in the Teatro, a storefront that we had opened up. And we had an art show that had come from, Arte de Barrio. It had come from San Francisco, and had toured. This was the first stop, Fresno. It toured the state eventually, but it came and we put it up on our walls, inside our old storefront. And then our contribution to the art show was the screening of I Am Joaquin, that people would see, see the art, and then they could see the movie. And that first night, when we projected the movie, it was a breathtaking experience. ‘Cause people had never seen a Chicano film like that before. And of course the movie has an impact, you know. I had seen the movie Now, by Santiago Garcia, you know, and I had been very impressed by that movie. [INT: Santiago Alvarez. Santiago Alvarez?] Santiago Alvarez, that’s it. [INT: Yeah.] Yes, Santiago, Santiago Garcia was another guy. [INT: Yeah.] Santiago Alvarez. And so it turns out that I Am Joaquin had kind of a similar impact, you know, in… [INT: Did you see Santiago’s afterwards, right? Or before?] No, I saw it before. [INT: When you were in Cuba? Must have been.] I think I’m, no, ‘cause that would’ve been ’64. It didn’t exist yet. [INT: No.] No, I saw it here, in the United States, in ’68. But then I also saw it in Stockholm, in ’68. It was at a 128:00conference that I went to, an international anti-war conference, in ’68. Powerful, powerful, you know it was Lena Horne, and the now, now, now. And [SOUND EFFECTS], you know. All of that impressed me. I wasn’t, I didn’t have that consciously in mind when we were doing I Am Joaquin, we were kinda doing our own thing, but when I saw the impact that it had in the audience, I said, it’s like Now, you know, how great. How great that it can have this kind of impact. It circulated very quickly, throughout the Chicano organizations, and it seemed to have a similar response, you know, wherever it was shown. And it still has an impact, actually, you know. It was shown in Mexico, just recently at the Cineteca, and it had a similar impact. Not as strong, not as powerful. But I think for Chicanos, it was a very special awakening, a moment of awakening. The 129:00only problem for me, was it got a little complicated, was that when we began to sell copies, we had no contract, okay, with Corky. And that led to some, some confusion. And we should’ve straightened that out from the very beginning, you know. But it, you know, we weren’t fully developed as professional filmmakers. We were coming out of the movement, and we were a little careless with kinda details. I would recommend that any young filmmakers, you know, take care of all the details, like contracts, and make sure there’s an understanding. So that there are no misunderstandings later on. But eventually Corky came along. You know the point is that he got his copy, and I told him, “If you wanna change it, you change it.” I said, “It’s your poem. You know. The film belongs to nobody, it belongs to all of us. So if you wanna make new changes, and they did. They made their own version, they recut it. And they added their own footage, they wanted more people from Denver in it. Which I understand, you know. I 130:00should’ve known from the beginning, that the, that would’ve been an issue, but ultimately it doesn’t matter who’s in it. I think that the poem speaks for itself. And that film as an art form, speaks for itself, so in that regard, it remains, it remains a piece that we’re very proud of, even though it’s a very humble little piece, you know. It, it’s part of the library of congress now, you know it’s part of their collection. [INT: So that encouraged you, did it kind of inspire you to think of film more as a route that you could take?] I approached filmmaking from a number of different directions, but certainly, I Am Joaquin is, is my first film, so to speak, you know, first time I saw myself as a director, really directing the content of a film. Almost from its initiation, you know, its, as, starting with the text, which was the poem. But then finding 131:00visual imagery, you know, that reflected that, or added to the text. That’s kind of a function of a director to begin with, is you begin to visualize, and you begin to translate words into images. And then feel some movement. It was actually a wonderful way to begin. Because the, the options were really limited, but that helps when you’re just starting out. I remember thinking as a filmmaker, as a director later, saying well, if I’m out here in the blue, in 360 degrees, how can I decide where to put my camera, how am I going to, how am I gonna figure this out, you know. Eventually as a filmmaker you have to find your own method, you know, your own way that you’re gonna cover and film something. But at that time, it, I was glad to have the limitations put upon me, in that kitchen. Just to have zoom, pan, swivel, whatever it was, as my only 132:00options, because the, it was an ABC, it was a, a beginner’s manual for me. And that’s very important. On another scale though, we also began to put actos, and different pieces onto, onto the screen, onto television. And I Am Joaquin was followed by Los Vendidos, for instance, at KNBC. Now I did not direct that, you know. It… [INT: Right, yeah, that’s what I noticed.] It, but I directed the actors, you know. I wrote the piece, and I directed the actors, and the television director put the cameras, he got the credit, he got the Emmy. All right, or… [INT: That’s right.] For moving the cameras. And I learned my lesson after that, you know, that we had to straighten out the, what the credit director means, you know, in television. Who’s directing what, ‘cause I was setting all the actors in place, and he was just aiming the cameras, you know, we kind of splitting the credit. But he got the credit, he got the Emmy, like I was saying. But I did learn from that experience, again of staging Los Vendidos, on a set. And a pyramid. And then seeing how he worked out the camera movements, right. How he called the different, the switching from different cameras as to what the movement was. And we kinda talked about that we were going to do that, what we were going to do. And so I staged it so that he could shoot it. And so that was a learning experience for me. And performing in it, but also being able to step back and see. Los Vendidos, I don’t know if you’ve seen Los Vendidos.
INT: I have.
LV: Have you seen it?
LV: Well see, I decided not to do Honest Sancho. I could’ve done HonestSancho, Felix Alvarez did Honest Sancho. Which was kind of the lead role.
LV: Now he had been doing it on, in the actos, I had done it. I couldjust easily have said, “You know Felix, I’ll take it, you know. And he wouldn’t have complained, because I mean, again, it’s a role that I gave to him. I could take it away, put it in. But I could’ve put myself up there in front. I decided to do the peon, I decided to do the guy under the straw hat, and then show up at the end, because I wanted to see the process, you know. In other words, I wanted to see the action, you know. And I’m trying to think o the director, George, hmm. It’s terrible. He ended up directing 20/20 for years. And Barbara Walters specials, and… [INT: You remember everybody’s name, I’m surprised you don’t remember one name.] Yes, it’s George something, it’ll come to me. I do remember Kurt Browning, Kurt Browning directed El Corrido, which was La Carpa de los Rasquachis that we did in ’74, taken to, on location then, we went, you know I’m mentioning this, the evolution of technology.
LV: And in 1969, ’67, when we did the Annette special, that Jac Venzaproduced, they had to bring a semi truck out from LA, KCT, KCET, to Santa Barbara. And the studio was in the truck. They had to take out the peds, the pedestals, three pedestal cameras. And put them on the, in the theater. And then we ended up performing for all these cameras. The Teatro was ready in 15 minutes, we put up our curtain and that’s it, we’re ready to go. They had to take hours to put the lights, and all these cameras in motion, and we go. Okay that’s 1967. In 1972 we were in the studio, at KNBC. Peds. In 1974, we were on location, we were in the studio, part of the time at KCET, and then we were in a compact video truck, working out of a compact video truck in Placentia, in the only little piece of field that was left in LA. And so we saw the technology beginning to evolve, you know. Suddenly you go from a big 18-wheeler, down to a little pickup truck, with a compact video in 1974. You know, and it’s what, 133:00it’s, it’s seven years. That’s the difference. And then of course eventually, it all gets, it’s your phone now, you know, it’s a little suitcase, you can do whatever. But at the same time that we’re seeing this evolution of technology, I am learning, and we are learning about the relationship between what we do on stage and what we do in front of cameras. And how that moves, right. So the, El Corrido was virtually a, a small film on video, basically. And yet it was one of our stage pieces. So it, it worked out. We’re out location for the first time, you know we’re outdoors, shooting some scenes, quasi cinema, you know. And it was a learning experience, that’s ’74, right. And ’77, we get invited to, we’ve been in France. Actually before we left France, in ’76, we had a dinner with some friends in Paris, and an old friend of the company asked me, “What’s the Teatro gonna do next?” 134:00And off the top of my head, I don’t know why I said it, I said, “I think we’re gonna get into the movies.” And she says, “Well that’s an odd choice.” I said, “Yeah, I don’t know why I said that. But I think we’re going into the movies.” When we got back, there was a phone call waiting for me, from Michael Schultz, in San Francisco, and he invited me to come to his screening. And then to come talk. So I went to see him. And he had just completed a movie called Car Wash. And he was preparing a new film. A Richard Pryor Vehicle, and he wanted me to check out the script. And he says, “I don’t know what this is, why don’t you read this and see what you think.” So I read it, and it was terrible, the farm worker part was terrible. I said, “You know. The rest of the script is funny,” I said, “But this part about 135:00the farm workers is really bad.” He said, “That’s why I had you read it,” he says, “Why don’t you rewrite it for me? And we’ll pay you.” And so I said, “Great, let’s do that.” And so, especially since he paid rather handsomely. And so I rewrote, that was the first time that I was hired then, to rewrite a screenplay, certain scenes. For Richard Pryor Vehicle. Once I had done that, and he was pleased, he says, “How would you like to be in it?” And I said, “Well I would like to, but I have to think of the Teatro.” “Well just bring the whole Teatro,” he said. So we all got to go be in a movie, right, it was called Which Way is Up. And that was in ’77. So there we are, on the set, right, in Piru, in Fillmore, working out of Universal, and going off to do Which Way is Up. Really acting as ourselves. I got to do a Cesar Chavez type figure, you know. And Danny got a nice, my brother got a nice lead, you know, with Richard. And the rest of us were involved. The only critical moment came though, when some of the actors, my sister included, could 136:00not be, well, had to be extras. Not everybody could be players, you know, so, so those that were like SAG actors, one group, very few. And the rest of the company had to be extras. So when lunchtime came, and we got fed by the catering service, my sister and her group got fed out of a little trailer, you know, with a little lunch bag. And she came complaining all the way over, you know mad as hell. She was like, “How come you guys get to eat.” Anyway, but that was the only real hassle. Other than that though, it was a joy to be there, but Michael, after I finished my scenes, Michael says, “You’re a director,” he says, “If you wanna stick around and see how we do this, you’re welcome to.” I said, “Great, thank you.” And so I did. I hung around. Johnny Alonzo was the cinematographer, and so you know, we became friends. And I began to see well, I guess the lesson that came out of it is, I can do this. That was the thought. I can do this. And the movie actually worked out, I mean it was a fun movie. It 137:00was funny. I think one of the, Richard Pryor’s best films, ‘cause he’s playing three characters, you know. Funny guy. And working with Richard was amazing. But, that’s ’77, so what followed in ’78 was Zoot Suit, see what I’m saying? And then after that, Broadway, and after that, back to the studios. So I’m shooting Zoot Suit by ’81. And it’s a baptism by fire, because it’s my first feature film. But it’s not my first experience. Not by far. I have already been introduced to cameras, I’ve been working with the visual medium all this time. Maybe people were not aware of it, you know that I was doing this and learning as I was going, but you know, you learn by doing, you learn by seeing, you learn, you learn by imitating. And so I was able to see how calm Michael Schultz, African American director was on the set. Wasn’t screaming, wasn’t shouting. He was just being very calm. And I said, 138:00“That’s the kind of director I wanna be, I wanna be very calm. I wanna be, I wanna be cool, I wanna be, I wanna have it under control.” You know what I’m saying, you have a choice. There are some that are screamers. I’ve never liked, I’ve never liked screaming for, at the Teatro, and I’ve never liked screaming on, on a movie set. So you learn as you go, it’s organic. If you’re fortunate, life gets you there. Your own life, the energies, and, propels you to the right conditions where you learn what you need to know, to do what you have to do next.
INT: Wonderful. Wonderful. So tell me about your collaboration withLupe, and how you met her, and then how that all developed into you know, also an artistic collaboration?
LV: My wife Lupe and I were married in 1969, on the Teatro stage in Fresno. Butwe had actually met maybe three years before. I didn't really know I was meeting her at the time, because it was during the spring of 1966, when we were on the march to Sacramento with the union. And we were stopping in all of the small towns that were separated by 20 miles or so. A person can walk 20 miles a day, and so our march was going very quickly through 20 miles a day. So every 20 miles we stopped at a small town and had a rally in the evening. And we came to a little town Southeast of Fresno called Cutler, that had a little park in the middle of the town. And I was in charge of setting up the rallies, so we'd march half the day and then take, after lunch we'd go ahead and take the truck and begin to setup because the marchers were going to be there in a couple hours. And we'd have to set up lights and sound and the banners, all of that, and get 139:00it ready for the march to arrive. I was in the middle of doing that in Cutler, and campesinos were starting to gather from the town that were not on the march, they were just coming in to see us. And a contractor showed up with two Doberman pinschers. And they were growling and they, people knew who he was and so they split out of the way, moved out of the way and he came forward. And he came to me, and I was up on the truck adjusting the mics, and he starts talking to me in Spanish. And he says, ""Why don't you go home, go back where you came from? Why don't you speak English?"" And so forth. He was Mexican-American too, as it turns out. I didn't know that, he didn't look Mexican-American, but he was. But he had Army fatigues on and he was obviously in a belligerent mood. And so when you rattle on like that in Spanish, I had the mic on, so I said, ""What's your 140:00problem man?"" In English, right? And people cracked up, you know, that I could speak English and then we began this exchange of repartee. He was a little surprised that I could speak English. And so I spoke to him in English, I spoke to him in Spanish, I said, you know, ""You're making fun of me, but you're the clown."" And people laughed and laughed, and eventually he got so pissed off that he had to leave, he took his dogs and left. Now among the women that were there in that park that afternoon, without my knowledge, was my future mother-in-law. So the rally was for that evening, she went back home and told her daughter, Lupe, who was going to junior college at the time in Visalia, about this wonderful exchange and about this guy that had spoken up. And she didn't understand the English parts, but she understood the Spanish, and she 141:00said that I had spoken ""muy bonito,"" you know? Real well, beautifully. And so she brought her daughter to the rally that night. And Lupe saw the Teatro Campesino perform for the first time. And according to her, she had never seen anything like it. Never seen Chicanos, never seen Mexican characters on stage, and of course she was really moved by the whole rally and the march, and she said she felt like running away with the circus, but she was still in school and there was no way that she was going to be able to go. Okay so flash forward then two years later. By this time, the Teatro Campesino is in Del Rey, and I had been invited to teach a course at Fresno State, part of the experimental college for OEO students that were just coming in. EOC students that were just coming in. That's economic opportunity for students, and it was a special class, designed for Mexican-Americans called La Raza. It was one of the first Chicano 142:00studies courses I think, in the state, if not the country, and so I was the teacher. I was hired to teach this class, and among my students was Lupe Trujillo. And she at that time, we met; actually she came to our performance a few months before at the church in Fresno, when we performed I Am Joaquin for the first time. We performed some new actors for the first time, and this beautiful clump of five Chicanas comes up after the show, to talk to all of us, and all of the guys in the Teatro were swept away, because we had never seen this many college educated Chicanas. And there they were and they were very political and they really loved the Teatro. And among them was Lupe and her sister Celia and some others. They were all friends and so a couple of them ended up in my class including Lupe. And Lupe was really the persistent one, 143:00because she kept coming to visit us then at Del Rey, and just with that much closeness, she eventually ended up coming to do the actos, so I cast her. I said, ""Would you like to perform with us?"" And she was willing, and so we cast her in the actos. She graduated from Fresno State college with a degree in Spanish, but she became a bilingual teacher, she became on the West side of Fresno. And also teaching primarily African American children, which was really wonderful. And after her work, she would come back to Del Rey and hang out with us and train. And got involved in some of the actos, and so she became to perform with us. She was in the Teatro for about a year, before we became personally involved, actually. I was involved with someone else, that complicates the issue. But the fact is, that after a performance in Berkeley, she was in The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, my first play, at a party, someone asked her what she was going to do with herself, you know, for the rest. ""Are you going to stay with the Teatro?"" And she says, ""Oh probably not, I'll probably get married and lead a boring middle class life."" And I said, ""Well, that won't happen if you marry me,"" is what I told her. Just off the bat. I mean, I wasn't proposing, but I was, I just happened to say it. And she looked at me, for the first time seriously and she says, ""Nos casamos?"" And I said, ""Sure. You know, why not?"" And that was the beginning of our relationship. It began with a proposal, and but I'd known her for a year already. I knew that she was intelligent, I knew that she was bright, that she was very political. That had the campesino background. I met her parents, and actually Lupe is now the same age that her mother was, when her mother and her father moved to San Juan 144:00Bautista, back in 1974, 'cause they moved here. Like my parents moved here. And so when I met her parents I also in a sense fell in love with them, could you believe that? It was family, you know? It was, I saw my future with this young woman, and I said, ""Yeah. I love the mother and I love the daughter,"" you know? I can see the continuum.
LV: I tell her now, and I repeat it from time to time that she'llalways be 24 to me, and that's true. She always will be 24 to me, she's the way that I met her. But she's also resembling her mother now, in many many more ways. And her mother was a very wise woman, she was again a campesina, but a very lovely human being, and we saw her all the way to the last days of her life. She almost got to be 90, you know? But she was wonderful, she was the 145:00mother of 10 children and so forth, you know. Nine children. Lupe was the baby of the family. So in marrying Lupe, I married into this family of you know, Lupe's older sister is in her 80s now, so they were a large family, with families of their own. All the daughters you know, there were a lot of nephews and nieces, so it was an amazing fusion here. Because I come from a large family. So it made a lot of sense to me, to see their family go through their rhythms and to see how that matches or doesn't my family. And we had a lot in common and a lot that was different, but nevertheless we had a lot to share. More than that I think that we have shared all these experiences over the years, is that my proposal to her came shortly before we went to France, and she was on that first trip to Europe to Nancy, France and so we got to know each other on 146:00the plane. You know? We got to know each other on the flight. I mean a personal way, in a personal way. And we've been flying ever since, you know? We go everywhere together. We spend a lot of time in airports, that's something that we have in common. And we're fellow travelers in the most literal sense. She's a very spiritual being, very steady. I tend to think in terms of relationships that we all assimilate each other. That we all absorb each other, through osmosis, you know, just being close you become like the other person. And I think I've become a lot like Lupe; Lupe's become a lot like me. She used to be real reticent to get up and speak, but that has disappeared over the years and she's quite eloquent when she wants to be, she can get up and talk to a meeting. It doesn't matter, she can speak her mind. She's very frank. I've often said that she keeps me honest politically, because she married the political being 147:00that she met, and so she's a constant reminder for me to stick by my principles, you know? She doesn't necessarily agree with all my opinions, she doesn't have to, you know? But the fact is, that she has a mind of her own and that we support each other, that's the important thing you know? She gave me three wonderful sons, and they all love their mother, and they've had the benefit of her love and her attention, and their help throughout, you know? And one of the things that you can do as you go along, is that you can influence your children in a good way, and I think that she has given them a real example of faith and belief in self, and also attention to detail. She takes care of a lot of details that they learn through her. And so we've had a tremendous life together and it's still there, it's still booming. There wasn't a day that doesn't go by, when we don't express our love for each other. I think it's a matter of constant 148:00maintenance, you know? That you've got to express your appreciation for somebody and never get tired of saying it, that's all. On the contrary, what happens is that if you really express your love for somebody, and you do it on a regular basis, it keeps you healthy. It charges you, it releases certain energies and chemicals in your wellbeing, you know? That make you healthier. So it's the key to everything that I've done for the last 50 years almost now, you know? That Lupe has been my partner. I dream of her when we dream, when I dream. She's always with me in my dreams. I'm not alone, and I think that's the key to an important relationship, you know? You have to navigate your way through life, you know, nothing is a straight line. And we've gone through so many changes you know, with kids and the different events that can happen in your life. The 149:00careers, ups and downs and yet, the one constant has been my relationship to her and when we travel I say, "You know, as long as we're together, I'm home. It doesn't matter where we are." And I think that also is part of the secret of just maintaining your relationship with your loved one.
And how have you worked together? Collaborated and work?
LV: At the beginning, when Lupe joined the group, she was part of the ensemble,and so she learned to improvise with everybody else. She learned to participate in our discussions. And when we got married she was perhaps a little reluctant, you know, to interfere. But she would read everything that I wrote, you know, she typed the acto book singlehandedly. I wrote it out longhand and she typed it and prepared it for publication. But as time has gone by, she's become more and 150:00more of a collaborator with me. We literally collaborated on a number of screenplays, for instance, a lot of people don't know that she was hired to co-write our screenplay about Frida, Los Dos Fridas, you know? And we did that under contract and she got paid. She had to join the WGA, she became an authorized writer. We worked on an adaptation of the Rain of Gold, you know, by Victor Villaseñor, for a four-hour miniseries for television at one point, and we collaborated on that. Literally sharing scripts and then changing each other's work. And my other scripts that I have written on my own, she has also read and edited at different times. She responds. She's my first responder in that sense, that she's the first person that sees whatever I write; my plays, or 151:00my books, or my scripts for films. And I trust her judgment, I think she has a good eye and a good sense of what the public will respond to, you know? Even when we choose movies to watch, I trust her judgment in some ways more than mine, you know, because I have certain things that I follow and these are my idiosyncrasies. But she's generally accurate in terms of what it is that will work, grammatically and story wise you know? In other words she has more successes than I do in terms of choosing. We take turns choosing what movies to go see, and I think I've had more duds than she has. I've had a couple of great successes, of films that I've seen that have been great choices, but then some that have been terrible choices. Well she's more consistent. When she chooses to go see a film, it's because she's researched it a little bit and found out more about it. And she has that sense of judgment, you know? She's not perfect, I mean she's also had a couple of duds here and there, and we laugh about it. But in that sense the collaboration extends into our personal life, right? And she and I share duties; we're a married couple, you know, we've been married for 45 years, so we share what we do. I should probably cook more, you know, but she has a real sense of the upkeep, maintenance of things, the reality of things, you know? Whether it's the house, or whether it's the career or whether it's all the paperwork that needs to be done, I couldn't exist really without that kind of help. And ultimately there's a part of me that just wants to fantasize, that wants to dream, that wants to put ideas together and be a writer. You can't be a writer without somebody worrying about the realities of your life, your details. Even if it's your health sometimes, she reminds me that I have a doctor's appointment for instance, you know? But if the shoe is on the other foot and I have to be a caretaker, I'm willing to do that. If I have to cook, bring her medicine, whatever, I'm willing; that's it, that's the bargain. That's what we do. And if someone is sick, you need someone to take care of you. And certainly the idea of someone cares, to begin with is the reason why marriage exists. Be it whoever it may be, right? I mean, it doesn't matter, the marriage as far as I'm concerned, people are free to marry whomever they love, you know? I have no particular limits on that. But in my case, I mean Lupe has been a tremendous, tremendous asset in my life. I can't begin to count the ways. It's just made me what I am. I am her, you know, what can I say?
INT: That's very sweet. Now another collaboration that you've had hasbeen with your brother.
INT: Can you kind of talk about the nature of that collaboration?
LV: Daniel and I are flesh and blood, and so our roots go way back, and I canremember the night back in 1950, when he was one year old and he could not go to sleep, and he was padding around the house, you know? And at that time we were in a big old farmhouse, and I used to sleep in a cot in the front room, basically. An Army cot, which we'd lay out. And I remember hearing his feet, padding from the bedroom toward me, and then he came over to me and he got into the cot. And so we began to sleep together, from that moment on. He was one until I left the house at 18. He's nine years younger than me. So he was nine when I left the house, I graduated from high school and went to college. And really a serious change for him, it was a real evolution for him. By that time 152:00though, he was hooked on the idea of show business, particularly music. When Elvis became big in '54, '55, Danny was five and six at the time, so when he went to the first grade, he wanted to do an Elvis routine, really just pantomiming, using the Elvis record and then coming out as Elvis. Now here's Danny, little short Indian okay, and the very short hair, he had a butch haircut, but I painted some sideburns on him, you know, with a pencil and that was good, that was the Elvis. And then he got the ukulele and got out there and he started wiggling around like Elvis. That was his act for the first act. But I had to set him up, I prepared him, I rehearsed him. And that formed a relationship, a bond there between us because I was setting him up to perform 153:00and he was willing to perform, particularly in terms of music. Later on when I saw how determined he was to be able to play the guitar, I had a friend of mine, a close friend teach him how to play the guitar. He was a guitarist. So we got him a guitar. A used guitar, and my friend taught him, took him under his wing, after school, and Danny learned how to play the guitar. And he was still rock and rolly, he was a rocker, and particularly since I was out of the house and he was still at home, he got a little waylaid there by his friends. He started goofing off actually, he wouldn't pay attention to his studies and was having a lot of fun with his friends and doing music, you know, he tried to look like The Beatles there for a while, which was kind of wild. But more than that, his friends turns out, were getting themselves into trouble, In San Jose, and my 154:00mother would eventually mention that Danny's friends were up to no good and she was worried about him. But by this time I was already like in Delano, you know? I was gone, I was in San Francisco, I was in Delano. And I'd say, ""Hello,"" to him you know, he was my brother, you know; I did leave him my dummies. I had Ali Nelson and Marcelino, and I left them in the suitcase and he used to take them out and play with them. To this day, I don't know what happened to them, and he won't tell me. He says they were stolen. I think he hocked them. Actually. But he won't tell me the truth. Anyway, he managed to dispose of my dummies, and they were gone forever. And there's no way I can get them back. But Danny was looking for cash by this time. He was hanging out with friends, and I found out there were some shenanigans that were going on, they were rolling drugs actually in the park, in San Jose, and so my mother told me. Oh actually, 155:00it happened around the weekend that we went to Delano, to San Jose. We went to San Jose to perform in a backyard restaurant, in the backyard of a restaurant. It was a gathering place in San Jose. And it had a high fence, and there was a sunken backyard, with picnic tables. And it was an outdoor afternoon event. And we were setting up the Teatro stuff, when I saw Danny and his friends come up to the fence. And instead of coming in the front of the building, they would have allowed them because I had told them, ""I'm waiting for my brother."" They jumped the fence. And when he jumped, the friend jumped the fence, a cop that was standing guard saw them. And he came after them. And so the friend scattered, but he managed to catch Danny, my brother. And he collared him and he was getting ready to take him out, and so I went up to him, and I said, ""Listen 156:00officer, this is my brother. It's all right, I know he jumped the fence, but he was invited to come, he's okay, he's a guest."" The cop said, ""No, I gotta take him."" And so they took him anyway. They put handcuffs on him, and they took him out and they put him in the squad car. Now by this time, all these Chicanos that are gathering for this function, see what's happening, right? So they start following. And by the time they get Danny out into the backseat of the police car, there's a hundred people out there surrounding this police car, and they refuse to let it move. So he calls for backup, and even more Chicanos showed up. The whole event was out there around the police car, and I'm standing there, arguing with the cop, I'm saying, ""What are you arresting him for?"" I said, ""There's no complaint. He had a way to get in here."" Whatever the argument was you know, the guy didn't want any backtalk. But eventually so many people were blocking the two cars that showed up, that they released Danny on his own recognizance into my hands. They said, ""Okay,"" then let him go. And of course 157:00everybody cheered, you know, and they're fingering the cops. And it was just kind of a raucous event, the cops took off. And Danny went in and we performed and he saw us perform. And he actually picked up a guitar at one point, started playing. So I took him home, and my mom says, ""They're gonna get him. The cops know who he is, and when you're gone they're gonna pick him up. One way or another, they're gonna get him. So maybe it's better that you take him with you."" And so I figured she was right. I said, ""Yeah, he's gonna end up in the can here, you know, with nobody defending."" So I said, ""Let's go buddy. Let's go to Delano."" And he said, ""Fine, let's go."" And he grabbed his guitar and climbed in the van with us and took off. And you know, it was like a duck to water man, he took off, he went with us. And he was in Delano. I had him spend 158:00one night in where I was sleeping, by the second night he was sleeping with the other guys and starting to really find his own way around Delano. And mixing with Augie and some of the other guys and beginning to sing, and really got into the strike. He got on the picket line and then became a member of the Teatro, you know? He was 17 years old. And then 18 eventually. The thing, the real ironic part is that a week after Danny was in Delano, the cops came looking for him. And they wanted to know where he was the previous week, I said, ""Well he was here."" And people were saying, ""Yeah."" They all vouched for him, he was here. Cesar says, ""Yeah, he was here. What's the trouble?"" The trouble was that his friends had rolled another drunk in St. James Park and this time somebody had come up dead. So some of his friends went to prison. So by one 159:00week, Danny's life could have been very very different. So our mother's instincts were right, you know? She says, ""Take him, because there's gonna be some trouble here."" "
LV: And so Danny like ended up becoming a key performer immediately. Weadded another guitar, to the group. Of course he was a natural comic, a natural actor. He had all the instincts, I may say so he's a Valdez, you know, in that sense he had the natural instincts and I really was able then to do more with the Teatro, because he became part of the group. He hadn't been a farm worker the way I had been a farm worker. It was mostly San Jose raised and born and he'd seen some... actually he was born in the Valley, but he was raised in San Jose. But he had spent most of his time in the city. But once he connected to 160:00the campesino experience, he was there. And he was composing songs and so our life together has been a collaboration ever since he was an infant if you will. But certainly since Delano, since 1966, you know, after the march when he came to join us. He has been an integral part of the Teatro Campesino you know, one of the founding members. Lupe's a founding member, my wife is. My brother Danny, together with Augustine and Felipe Cantud and Phil Esparza, there's a number of longtime, 40 year members, that I consider to be founding members of the Teatro, but Danny is the oldest now, besides myself. And he's got his, he's a grandfather now, he continues to compose and direct and has done stuff with us here. By extension, his son Emiliano is now the director of our new educational program. Who's devolved on his own course, but we've been able to merge paths 161:00here because we're all working on using the arts in terms of education. But Danny continues to be a director, a composer, an actor. He's performed a lot, he's a five-year-residency with Su Teatro in Denver. So he's been coming and going, spending winters in Denver, which are cold. And he's almost done, so he'll be back, this fall, after his five-year-residency. And they've tapped into him as a maestro because he has so much to give. I consider Danny to be a real brother, I mean he's a collaborator. We share the same visions. We've had our differences in the past, no question about that, but in all my major pieces, from Zoot Suit, you know, to La Bamba that I did in Hollywood, I mean he was involved. He was one of the major players in Zoot Suit from the beginning. With 162:00respect to the music, but also respect to the story, I mean he became Henry Reyna, and he portrayed him on the stage with Eddie Olmos, they shared the stage. And also on film. And he was a musical director, working to the soundtrack, of Zoot Suit. Going all the way to England actually to record the soundtrack. I never went to England, he went, he took care of it. He took care of business. Working with Lalo Guerrero, and Shorty Rogers, a number of other musicians. And in La Bamba, La Bamba came about because in some ways because of Zoot Suit. We were on Broadway, getting ready to open, and we were up in Danny's dressing room in the Winter Garden Theatre, which is right where Seventh Avenue becomes Broadway; where they meet. And again, this is before the show, and kind of patting ourselves on the back for having gotten to Broadway, you know? The continuity from Delano to Broadway is really amazing, because this is 1979 and 163:00it had only been 13 years, you know, 14 years since Delano, when he went to Delano. And we're nervous also because it's opening night. And we suddenly hear mariachis. And what we say is, "Okay we've done the '40s, we have to come back and do the '50s, we need to do a musical about the '50s. What can we do?" And at that exact moment, we hear mariachis playing. And we look out the window, down to Seventh Avenue and there are mariachis playing down there. Now we didn't know that the mariachis had been sent by the president of Mexico to serenade us on our opening night. But what they were playing, was a familiar song. We looked at each other and we said, "La Bamba!" And so, out of that came the idea of doing La Bamba as a musical, as a stage play. In the five years that it took to get to the movie, it turned into a film. But Danny took the lead. He became one of the 164:00associate producers, but initially the project was totally in his hands. He's the one that pursued it, he's the one that was looking for the family. He was the one that was looking for details about Ritchie Valens, he couldn't find anything, because there were no books, a few articles. Before the internet, we couldn't find anything. And so whatever he collected, he shared with me. But then one day here in San Juan Bautista, we were both living. And people at Daisy's Bar, he suddenly met Bob Morales, who turns out to be Ritchie Valens' brother. And it turns out that after searching all over Los Angeles for the Valenzuelas, it turns out they were living in Watsonville, you know, which is a half hour from here. And Bob was in the bar, he'd come over to Daisy's from time to time, and there he is then, the living, breathing, Bob Morales, the brother of Ritchie Valens. And so Danny then connected with Bob. He went and 165:00visited Connie Valenzuela, the mother. And then he introduced me to them. And also Danny had a manager, who had developed his album with A&M, and album called Mestizo, and that was Taylor Hackford. So when it came time to put the whole package together, that we needed a producer, we needed the rights, Danny went to his manager basically, Taylor Hackford, who was also a director; he had done An Officer and a Gentleman, and he had New Visions, a production company in Hollywood. Danny then connected with Taylor, Taylor connected with the family. The rights were bought, and the music, the catalog, everything. And then Taylor turned to me and said, "Would you like to write the screenplay?" And of course I did, and once he had the screenplay, he asked me if I'd like to direct it. And 166:00of course, I did. And so there's the collaboration. And of course Danny originally had wanted to be Ritchie Valens. He had wanted to play that, way back when we were considering it as a musical, but on film it's a totally different, he was too old by the time the film got made. And so he was very graciously took a supporting role, you know, the part of Ritchie's uncle. But he was there all the way through, on the set every day. Backing me up when we had problems. And I had differences with Taylor too, because he was a producer now, and I was the director and suddenly we get those typical director/producer conflicts on the set. But Danny was always there to smooth things over, so from Zoot Suit to La Bamba, to numerous plays that we have done here over the last 50 years. Danny has been an integral collaborator, and he continues to be to this day. We continue to talk about things that we still want to do in the future. 167:00
LV: The origins of Zoot Suit are also embedded in my own personalhistory. And I was commissioned in 1977 to write a play about LA history. And the Sleepy Lagoon case, 1942 and the Zoot Suit Riots, 1943 seemed to be real seminal events, to try to build a story and try to build a play. But I had been aware and conscious of pachucos for some time. I had written a play already in 1970 called Bernabe in which the moon appears at a zoot suited figure. And I was so fascinated by that character I thought this character needs a play all by himself. And so I'd been fascinated with pachucos because they appear very early in my memories. I was a kid in the 1940s, but I was old enough to know that I was looking at something that was kind of a rarified being here on the streets. The way that they dress, you know? Old enough to know that some people 168:00considered them to be dangerous, and there was a guy that I met, about the time that I got hooked into theatre, by the name of CC. Now CC was a pachuco in Delano, and his running partner was one of my cousins. A cousin by the name of Billy Miranda. Now I dedicated Zoot Suit to my cousin Billy, to his memory, because although Billy was short, very "güero" you know, light skinned with almost blue eyes, kind of hazel. Curly hair, a real favorite with the women because he was a real gentleman, a real ladies man. He looked like [INAUDIBLE] actually, you know, the Mexican movie star. But underneath it all he was a bit of a cabrone, you know what I mean? He was a bit of a hood, and he could suddenly turn on a spit, and could fight with guys twice his size, that was his 169:00problem. I have a brother like that. That does that too, picks some guys that are much to big for him. And that may have been the source of his trouble. But he liked big women too, I mean so he was small, but he liked big women. So but Billy was running with CC, and CC was a lot more Indian looking. But they, Billy from time to time used to live with us, because my mom was his favorite aunt. And so he'd come and sleep and I remember being in the same bedroom. There's Billy, I would be out working in the fields and Billy's working with us. But he was a pachuco. And when he got dressed up in his zoot suit, I mean he looked very very special. And again, he wasn't very tall but neither was I, I was you know, five, six at the time so I'm looking up at Billy, I'm saying, "Wow, look at him." He looked special. And CC would come in and there's CC, you know, CC and CC's brother, they're pachucos. Now I knew that I couldn't emulate them, 170:00openly. But I admired them. So what happens is that Billy unfortunately died a violent pachuco's death. In 1955, he was 25. He died of 18 knife wounds to the chest, in Phoenix. And he died, young, you know, he was 25. A terrible event [TRAILS OFF]. CC survived though, CC went on. And he joined the Navy and served in the Navy and in those days, the movie theaters were segregated. In other words, the blacks and Chicanos and the Filipinos and the Asians sat on the sides or up in the balcony, and the white people sat in the middle. That's just the way it was done. No one questioned it. So CC was all right when he was a pachuco and sit on the sides, but he went off to the Navy. So he comes back and puts on 171:00his civvies, and goes to the movies. Now he's serving his country, so he decides that he's going to sit in the middle. So he went and sat in the middle, in the orchestra section of the Delano Theatre. And the usher came running and says, "Oh, you gotta move, you know?" And he wouldn't move. So then they called the manager, and the manager comes. And CC still wouldn't move. So they called the cops. And the cops showed up and just picked him up, they took him away, you know? And all the friends saw, "Uh oh, CC's in trouble man." And so they took CC to the police station and they have him there for a couple hours. Now there's no law that says you can't sit in the middle. They were looking in the law books. He wasn't breaking any laws, so they had to grill him for a couple of hours and intimidate him, see if they could just scare him out of it, but CC wouldn't budge, you know? So eventually they had to release him. They released him after two hours, and his friends were waiting outside the police station. And when they saw that CC got away with it, they all cheered, "Hey man, CC got away with 172:00it." So what happens is the following weekend, all his friends went to the movies, and they all sat in the middle. And that was the beginning of the desegregation of the Delano Theatre by the pachucos. Now I lived this, this is not a fairy tale. I saw this happening. And it happened all the way across the valley. That these theatres began to desegregate. Now, when I decided to go back to Delano, to work at United Farm Workers, I told my mom I was going back. And she says, "Oh, you're going to work with CC?" And I said, "CC? Is that vato still around?" And she says, "Mijo, don't you know who CC is? He's Cesar Chavez." [INT: It's a great story.] So that's the story of CC. [INT: The pachuco.] And so when I came up and was doing the conceptual work for Zoot Suit, and decided to take on the pachuco, I was really tapping into my childhood memories. And among those, one of the figures that contributed to that 173:00statuesque pachuco in the play, is CC, my cousin Billy, and all the pachucos that I met, you know. They seemed like giants to me. And so the only way that I could represent them is almost as a mythological figure, you know? Which the pachuco became. And I think that you know, I captured something. I don't think that Cesar would have become the apostle of non-violence in the Chicano movement if it had not been for the fact that he was a pachuco to begin with. Not necessarily a violent one, but a courageous one. He had a certain level of courage, you know? And coolness under stress. Because Cesar ultimately was cool. The cool of CC became the cool of Cesar Chavez, the apostle of non-violence. And that's a connection, not too many people know unless they were there. Unless they saw it happen as I did. There it is. 174:00
INT: There it is.
INT: Let's talk about Zoot Suit. What was your research process? Theimportance of the musical score. And there was a moment when you said emphatically, ""This is an American play."" That's it.
LV: The whole pachuco experience is about cultural fusion it seems to me.Because if you're going to talk Zoot Suit, you have to talk about its roots in the African American experience as well, is that the origins of the zoot suit are mysterious, they're like the word itself, what is zoot? Where it comes from. Where did the word pachuco come from? Nobody knows for sure if there's any specific event or place that you can name. And the same way with zoot, they don't know what zoot means. It means cool. They know that. But beyond that, where did it come from? How did it get there? No one really knows. What is clear though, is that the expression and the style of the zoot suit itself came from 175:00the young African Americans. Some say Gainesville, Georgia. Some say Harlem. And that it came about the time that Gone With the Wind showed up and that Clark Gable was seen wearing what is essentially a zoot suit as Rhett Butler, with a white jacket and the pants. And they're not exactly peg pants, but the fact is that there's the long coat, there's a fingertip coat that he's wearing, which is a 19th century style, that kind of was brought back with the elegance of the zoot suit. The zoot suit itself lends I think a certain stylistic élan you know, to the human body, whether males or females wear it. Something about the cut of the cloth and the style, the inverted pyramid. The broad shoulders, you know, with the tight cuffs that project a feeling of elevated consciousness, if not highness, to be high, you know, is to be wearing the zoot suit. It's like 176:00that. Inverted pyramid. The 19th century had that figure. It was also present to some extent in the figure of the anarchists from Europe, at the turn of the century, so when they evolved as zoot suits in the 1930s, whether from Clark Gable or any other antecedents, it was very much a product of what had come before. And African Americans found a way to dress up and still be cool. And African Americans like all people of color, it seems to me, have a need to be able to find their own style that fits, not just their skin tone, but also their history. And it's tough to think of... African Americans in a tight Edwardian suit, you know, that you might find in England, right? You can see them, anybody can dress like that, but it somehow doesn't fit, you know? It's like seeing 177:00Cantinflas wearing a Savile Row suit, which he did at one point, with the cane and the hat. It just doesn't seem to click, this is Cantinflas, what are you doing dressed like this? And you saw it with black people, so if they were going to dress up, it had to be something with some style, it had to be something with a certain pizzazz. And the zoot suit fit that. And along the same way, the Mexicans, the young Mexicans being dark skinned in many instances, and also Latino, needed a little something that had a little more pizzazz you know? So the idea of the zoot suit really fit; it was a good fit. And it was cool, at the same time that it was dangerous, which made it even better. And so to tell that story then, I mean how do you tell that story? Well, you have to address what is America. Because I think that if Zoot Suit represents anything, it's American identity. In the 1940's when young people were dressing in the zoot suit style, 178:00or the short skirt for all that. Because the counterpoint for the women was the net stockings with the short skirt, the fingertip coat over the short skirt, the skirt was shorter than the coat. The pompadour, lots of hair. All of that. Tattoos in some instances, you know, very carefully placed. All of that was part of a style that was very much a way of life in America and nowhere else. You wouldn't see that in the middle east, you wouldn't see that in Europe exactly. You wouldn't see it in China. You wouldn't see it in Mexico. It had to be in the United States, and it had to be in the ghettos. It had to be Los Angeles, or Harlem. Or Gainesville, Georgia as the case may be. And it became a style then that young people picked up being emblematic of their American identity. And 179:00because it does become from so many sources. It's an expression of American cultural fusion, that the American identity is a fusion of different cultures. Not a lot of people may combat that or fight that, you know, or contest that, but the fact is I think it's true of our entire historical and cultural process. That we have fused cultures in order to create something new. And so the zoot suit is emblematic of that. And I wanted to be able to express that visually on the stage but also on film when it finally became a film. And the suit in a way speaks for itself. The cut of the cloth is all that you need. You put the zoot suit on anybody and you're there. You're in the 1940's. And it's popular now, you know, Chicanos continue to dress up for weddings and special occasions. People are a lot more casual now then they used to be though, they're not at all 180:00as formal as they were then. But Zoot Suit, my play was about that period, so I decided to dress the characters in their period costumes. It's also a story about the evolution of social justice. The criminalization of really black and Latino youths which continues to this day.
LV: The zoot suit case was important because it was at the time,merging with technology of radio. That because of the radio and the abundance of radios in America, the word about the zoot suit case, the Sleepy Lagoon case, and the Zoot Suit Riot spread very quickly. Together with the newspapers. Mass distribution. And so it created mass media. And mass media, and consequently the Zoot Suit Riots were a mass media phenomenon, it was something that was provoked 181:00by the mass media of the time. Which makes it again, for it's time a very American event. Because the world did not have that many radios at that time, all over. Or newspapers. And so it fuses with American history in that sense. But it also contests racism. The case is really one about questioning racism. The mass trial of the 22 members of the 38th Street gang was a reflex that reflected the racism of Los Angeles. And the Sleepy Lagoon case, the defense committee, and eventually the overturning of the guilty plea on appeal, I think is a reaffirmation of American values in a sense that social justice is possible. And it's possible through community action. It's possible that you could raise enough money to defend these guys, and to get them released. After doing two years in prison, but they weren't hopelessly lost forever. I think 182:00that's an important- It was one of opening shots of the civil rights movement. It's identified now, becoming when it did, in the mid 1940's, '42 to '44, and you know, 10 years before Brown versus Board of Education, the ruling from the Supreme Court that desegregated the schools. All of these are little steps you know, in the same progression. Leading towards the 1960's eventually when there's a huge seismic turn in American history. And so I wanted to deal with all of these issues in some way. I couldn't do it with a kitchen sink drama. I couldn't do this with two or four plays, or four character plays, you know? I couldn't do it as a one-man show. It literally had to be an epic drama. Or a movie, you know? It had to be huge. And so I was given a limit, when I was commissioned to do this at The Mark Taper Forum, I was told that as a New 183:00Theatre For Now, the play, they could afford to give me 12 characters, and that was it. And I'm saying, "But there were 22 members of the gang?" They said, "Well, figure it out for yourself." So I didn't even have enough members to do the whole gang, you know? So I said, "How can I do this?" So I had to go symbolic. I ended up with four characters of the gang, right the most interesting ones as far as I was concerned. You know, Henry Leyvas, who became Henry Reyna, because I had to fictionalize them. Joey or "Chepe" Ruiz was the clown of the group, added some humor. Tommy Roberts was really Bobby Thompson, the Anglo pachuco. And then Smile's kind of the older, married one. So these four became emblematic of the 22. That left me eight characters. Alice McGrath became really important. And there was some grumbling later on about why I chose just to focus on Alice, she was one of hundreds of people involved in the Sleepy 184:00Defense Committee. But she is the one that kept the contact with them in prison. She's the one that actually visited the families. She's the one that actually had a one-to-one relationship with the guys. And Henry actually wrote her love letters. So I said, "This is got to be the main link," you know? As opposed to others that I could have chosen, that were also activists, some of them famous. But they didn't have the personal relationship that Alice had. And this proved out, because when I went to meet finally Alice; actually I went to do my research by talking to as many of the living participants as possible. I started in Los Angeles. I quickly realized I had to talk to Carey McWilliams, the author of North From Mexico, who by this time had been the editor of The Nation for 20 years in New York. And he was teaching at Columbia University. So I went to visit him in his apartment, with his wife Iris, and she was very protective of him because of his health. And he seemed old, you know, but spirited. Actually 185:00he was only 71, I'm three years older now. But I had to go there, and interview him and she gave me, his wife Iris gave me 45 minutes. I ended up eating up two hours, you know, because he got into it, he got into it. We got into a talk about the case and about the guys. And of course for me it was an honor, because North From Mexico which I had read back in 1959 was one of the classics of Mexican American experience. And to meet the author, who had written so many other books, you know, Brothers Under the Skin, you know, Islands in the Sun, all that was a tremendous honor and so here I am, presuming, talking to him about stuff. And finally after two hours, I still hadn't gotten to a point where I felt that I found a through line. So I said, "I need a personal line to tell this story." He says, "Oh well you need to talk to Alice McGrath." So he gave me 186:00her number. She lives in Ventura, California. So I thanked him, and I said, "Maybe you can come see the play in Los Angeles when it opens?" He said, "No, well Iris and I don't travel across country so much anymore, we'll wait 'til it gets into New York." Or something literally like, "When it comes to Broadway," which was [MAKES NOISE] forget it. But anyway, I went back to California, and called Alice and set up a meeting. And I went to visit her. And so we met, and oh I had just, it was like opening up a treasure chest. She took me to the special collections library at UCLA, she showed me the letters, she gave me personal, you know, I recorded all of her reminiscences. Not only was she one of the major characters, she became a major source of information also, a major source of contact with the guys. Because they wouldn't see me. I had tried to 187:00see them, they wouldn't see me. But through her intervention, see they still respected her. They finally said, "Okay, I guess he's safe, if it's okay with Alice, we're gonna do that.
LV: The first indication to me that Alice was the right person, wasthat she took me to see the Leyvas family. And they lived in East LA, and I went to the mother's house. And the mother and father were still alive then, and the father was dying of cancer. But he was still very much alive, and they were very happy to see me into their home and the kids were there, the daughters. The brothers. And it was a huge family, I thought, "This is an amazing family." Because they could relate to each other, and of course the only person that was missing was Henry, was Hank. And they were still grieving his loss, even though he'd been dead since '72. It's five years, you know, six, yeah five years later. 188:00But it's as if he just died, and maybe it was because the father was dying too, that was the problem. The father got all excited and he brought out his tequila, he wanted to talk about the Mexican revolution. And the daughters had to ply, get the tequila bottle away from his hands, because they said, "You can't do this anymore, you can't drink." He was insisting though man, he wanted to take his shots. But we made a tremendous connection, but it was because of Alice, you know? And so that, it was through her intervention then that the guys eventually began to trust me. Although we did have one great big, Alice was not in this, noisy confrontation at the 38th Street bar where the gang used to hang out. It's now South Central LA, city commerce, but in those days it was a Latino, now it's African American, but the bar is still Chicano. So I went there with my lawyer, 189:00and we're trying to negotiate and they insisted we all drink beer. So as the evening, the afternoon progressed, we drank too much. You know, even my lawyer was tipsy by the time we were finished. But it was a table pounding and all these guys wanted to expound what they felt and you know, they weren't going to be cheated and too many people had talked to them over the years, and they got very emotional. And so finally they said, "How do we know you're not lying to me? How do we know you're not going to run away with all this? How can we trust you? How do we know you're telling the truth?" And I said, "What can I tell them?" I looked at myself. I said, "Well, I swear to you, that I'm telling you the truth, on my mother's life." And they were all silent, you know. They looked at each other. "Well okay." Mama, you know. Their Mama love, that's what did it. They understood I couldn't do it, I couldn't possibly be so cruel, as to 190:00swear on my mother's life, you know? So they revealed that side of themselves, which I thought was interesting. A couple of real toughies too, they had just gotten out of prison, you know? They were not all innocents, by any means. But most of them were grandfathers. Most of them were just old Chicanos, you know? Still hip in their own way, still talking slang, certainly the Sleepy Lagoon case was central to their lives. Some of them never realized why I had to just have four characters, they never got it and why did I change the names? They didn't get it. "Why didn't you include me?" one guy told me. I said, "You're in there, but you're composited." "[NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE] I don't know what composite is." So it was a tremendous experience because the research sometimes, you just do it in books, and I had enough of those in the Sleepy Lagoon collection at UCLA, the special collections. But the idea of being able to deal 191:00directly with the participants was very very special. And I realized I was walking on some living organs here, you know, I had to tread very carefully. I couldn't just stomp my way through this. And you can't satisfy everybody, you know? But I think that generally as time went by, they were pleased that the case was remembered and that they were remembered as a result. They got to be interviewed and they came back into the limelight. Alice certainly came back to life as a result, and it was a phenomenal case in the sense that it was a live wire, it was a live nerve that was still there in the memory of Los Angeles. I saw it as an open wound. Not a physical wound, because nobody was killed during the Sleepy Lagoon, or the Zoot Suit Riots rather. But it was a psychic wound. When those zoot suits were ripped off those young people, in the streets of LA 192:00in 1943, it was like being pantsed, you know? It's like being pantsed and what happens is, and they were literally pantsed, it's like having your dignity stripped away from you. It's like having your American identity stripped away from you. Somebody suddenly saying, "No, you're not American. No you're a criminal." And that's the Latino experience. We try to emphasize yourself, you say, "Okay I am an American." "No you're not." [MAKES NOISE] Same thing happened to the Japanese. They were trying to say that during World War II after Pearl Harbor, "We're Americans!" "No you're not. You're enemy aliens, into the camps." And so the whole notion of legal/illegal, relates to the whole idea of who's criminal and not criminal, in our society. And I think anybody that's not white, frankly is suspect. It doesn't take a great deal to upset the cart, you know? If 193:00you're Asian, well keep your nose clean but if anything happens in Asia, the Chinese and the Japanese get wild again, you're a criminal. You know? And Mexico I mean, has been an endless source of criminality, as far as Americans are concerned. You know, everything from the banditos of Mexican movies, of Westerns, to the gang movies of today, to you know, the idea that the criminal aspect of the non-white peoples, is part and parcel, part of the American viewpoint, is something that needs to be dealt with. I mean, it by artists, from every perspective.
INT: Why do you think this has happened?
LV: Well because it's convenient actually for one, I mean, I've begun to analyzeit in these terms. If you look at it historically, before 1492, Europe was pretty much filled up. But take it even further, 1619, when the first slaves arrive on the Eastern shores. Europe was pretty much spoken for. The land belonged to the barons. The land belonged to the kings. The land belonged to the heralds, to the dukes. The poor people, the serfs, had no land. They were just indentured servants basically, forget it. So with the ""discovery of America,"" suddenly this all this new open free land. Now whether you're Española coming from Spain to Mexico, and claiming las encomiendas, you know, the haciendas, these huge, and saying, ""I have 100,000 acres here, because of the king, the king gave me this."" Doesn't matter that it didn't belong to [TRAILS OFF] it belonged to somebody else, it belonged to the tribe. ""It's mine now. And all 194:00the people on it are my slaves."" Well, maybe the Anglos didn't do quite that, but they did claim the land. What they did is they cleared the land of Indians. They said, ""Gotta clear the Indians out, because the land is mine. I can't have native inhabitants here, the land is mine."" And so the whole process of the Westward expansion was a process of Indian clearance, right? They kept moving the Indians further and further West, all the way from the East Coast into the Oklahoma Territory all the way down the Dakotas, until the Indian wars, the Indians finally made their last stand, right? Before they were rounded up and put into reservations. They could not be trusted with control of their own lands, because they were not seen as fully franchised human beings, they were non-whites. They were savages. How can you give them land? They're savages. They can't even be Europeanized. They tried, they tried with the Indian schools to make them European, you know? Keep them learning their language, cut their hair, but they're still savages underneath it all. I mean let's face it. I mean this 195:00is what the culture was saying. And the Mexicans really even spite of the fact that there's been a lot of interbreeding in Mexico, and were mestizos, have run into the same problem; although it's by degrees. If the more Spanish you look, the easier it is for you to integrate and to act Anglo and become Anglo actually in the United States. If you're really Indian looking, there's no hope. I mean come on, you're not white. You're obviously not white. Asians have had a similar problem, the problem is, that they're very smart. We know that. They're also ferociously brave, they're antagonistic warriors as we learned with Japan, I mean these guys would die for the Emperor, to the last man! So it wasn't because they were cowards, you couldn't accuse them of cowardice. And you couldn't accuse them of being stupid. The only thing you could accuse them of is they have slant eyes, that's the problem. Some of them aren't even that dark. Some of 196:00them are white actually. But they have slant eyes. So no good, you know what I'm saying? They're criminal because of that. And so I mean racism works its wonders in so many different ways, but the fact is that it takes a long time, it takes many generations for people to finally see the truth, to change their minds, to go beyond that. And I think that there wasn't time back at the beginning of the 17th century or the 16th century, for people to work out their racial problems. There was too much land to cover, too much land to work. All these people coming from Europe suddenly found themselves with a possibility of having land, of becoming homesteaders. Free land! The Oklahoma land rush that I mentioned? Man if you can get out there and put your stakes, you've got a hundred acres baby, get out there. A thousand acres! Claim it, it's yours. Actually it's not, it was the Indian's. It belonged to the Indians. But the homesteaders would say, ""Get 197:00out there."" And when they came to California, I mean these were ranchos already, they belonged to somebody. Mariano Vallejo, for whom the city of Vallejo is named, had 300,000 acres. He was reduced down to 30 acres. How? Well squatters used to come. Squatters came and just said, ""Open land."" No it's not open man, it belongs to somebody. ""No, it's open land. We're Americans. And Vallejo, well he's a spic. He's a Mexican, you got no right to this land."" And so that aspect of the world has been handled in a certain way and from a certain viewpoint by Hollywood. In Westerns, we've learned the story of Westward movement from the perspective of the white people. And it's a wonderful story, I believed in it. This is why I was scared when I saw The Last of the Mohicans because I saw myself as Gary Cooper. I identified with Gary Cooper. I was not 198:00identifying with the savage Indians, forget it. I wasn't going to do that. But the fact is, that there is another way to look at it, there's the other way; the Indian viewpoint. And Hollywood pats itself on the back when they see, make movies like Dances With Wolves, you know? I think Kevin Costner has done a wonderful job of standing up for Indian rights, he's done some wonderful videos you know, with the history, and [TRAILS OFF] that's great, it's better than nothing. It's something. It's a wonderful film, I like it, I like it. On the other hand it's very specialized, that he ends up with a white woman rather than an Indian woman, right? I mean it's curious that he ends up with a white woman who was taken by the Indians. Couldn't they have taken the leap that maybe he could have ended with an Indian woman? Is that possible? No, because a squaw is not possible. And squaw means vagina, a lot of people don't know that. Did you know that? In the Indian language, it means vagina. It's like saying, ""Here's 199:00my squaw, here's my [MAKES NOISE] Here's my c-word."" You know what I mean? She's my c-word. And so it's a bad word, that became part of the American lexicon, because that's the way the Indian women were seen, as squaws. And when they had the Indian wars, with the American cavalry riding into Indian villages, they would in some instances, the soldiers would come out of these Indian villages, having slaughtered the women, would come out with the spears, and on the spears were the pubic hairs of the Indian women. And they would wear these pubic hairs as a trophy. They'd go and they'd cut... you know, I mean the whole vagina, they would just cut it off and then they'd put it on a spear. These were squaws. And I mean that's the ultimate desecration of another people, when you think about it. Now, are white people the only ones who are capable? No 200:00everybody's capable, everybody. Everybody, doesn't matter what their color is. Everybody, there's inhumanity in every direction. But I'm talking about American history here. You know, I can talk about Mexican history and talk about the desecration of the Indians there, you know? We can talk about that. Or the Indians with the Indians, they were doing it to themselves, actually. Or the Africans doing it to the Africans. But we're talking about American history and so when we embrace that and say, ""Okay, this is our story. We need to see the Western expansion from another viewpoint."" And Hollywood has not told that story yet. Hollywood has not told that story. It has not really told the story what happened in California, it has not told the story of the Santa Fe ring and what happened in New Mexico. It has not told the real story of The Alamo. It has not told the real story, and so as a filmmaker, I don't see that as a disappoint, I see that as an opportunity, you know? Somebody's got to tell this 201:00story, again. Now, will it be accepted by the market, by the American public? That remains to be seen. It takes great intelligence to slip one in there, you know? It takes great intelligence to change peoples minds. It takes time. And so, but I think that history is a living thing that can be reassessed and recalibrated with each generation. And we have the tools to do it now. We have the tools with film, the technique, the art form, the devices, to do that with exquisite finesse, if we are willing to do it. You know? I'm not satisfied to say that today's films are as far as it goes. It's going somewhere, but it's not far enough yet. We need to move further. Okay. "
INT: Now with Zoot Suit, it was very successful, and how did thesuccess of the play become a means of making the film itself? And what was the experience of making the film as opposed to putting on a play?
LV: There was an article that was published in the LA Times last year, and I hadto contact them because they said that Zoot Suit was a success, because it was seen by 40,000 people in LA. And I had to write them, I'd say, ""You know, it was not 40,000 it was 400,000. Okay? It was half a million people that saw it."" And already like there was a mistake somewhere that the real value of the experience was cut by 9/10ths, they cut off, they took only 1/10th. And as a matter of fact it was half a million people saw it, and it made millions of dollars in profit. For a play that's amazing. It brought so much money that the center group was able to buy the Aquarius Theatre in Hollywood. But with that success, that commercial success, the box office success of Zoot Suit, is attributable to the kind of impact that it had in the city. That it was such in 202:00a live nerve center, which was the Zoot Suit Riots, and the Sleepy Lagoon case which had been there. And also because Latinos were now ready and willing to come to the theatre. You know, it was no accident. That at least half of the audiences were Latino. The other half was Anglo and mixed groups. Asians and African Americans you know, any night you could go and see a very interesting configuration of audience, you know?
INT: And I have to say, I mean just personally I don't know if it's out of youknow, but I felt an enormous excitement from just seeing our people being represented. It was to me, it was so emotional when I went, I wanted to cry.
LV: Hmm. I think the fact that Chicanos were able to see themselves on thatlevel, in that scale right? At the Aquarius which again, this big stage, or at the Mark Taper Forum, the Center Theatre Group, which after all is located where the Mexican barrio used to be, you know, Temple and Grand was the heart of the pachuco community there, in the 1940s, and that was removed and the music center was rebuilt in this place, in the Bunker Hill section. But the fact that in 1978 now, so many thousands of people were clamoring to get into this theatre to see a play, really spoke to the need right? The pressing need for people to see themselves, to reaffirm their own existence by seeing themselves reflected. And ultimately it's good business, I think one of the things that Zoot Suit definitively proved, at least in Los Angeles, is that a Chicano play could be a commercial success. We were box office. Hey people, we are box office. And I think that has opened a way for others that have come along and you know, celebrated their own box office successes. Maybe not as much as Zoot Suit; Zoot 203:00Suit was kind of a phenomenon, because of the riots and because of the memory. But it didn't need to be, every object didn't need to be, it just needed to open, you know? But the fact is that the whole of show business, I think was shaken with Zoot Suit. The one wrinkle that I didn't calibrate for myself was the trip to New York. I had early on, seen the possibility of having a play that was so successful in LA that I could go from there into a movie. I saw that. What I didn't calibrate was this trip into New York. Because I'm not from New York. A lot of people are, you still have to set your sights in New York if you're in the professional theatre, and I had been there with the Teatro, you know, we had already won an Obie, I mean it's not a new thing for me. But the 204:00idea of going to the Broadway theatres was something else. As a matter of fact in 1974, they had this thing called the Fat Conference at Princeton, the First American Congress of the theatre. And there were Joe Papp, I don't know if you know these names. Joe Papp, Jane Alexander, the Shuberts the lawyers actually, the Shuberts they owned the largest collection of Broadway theatres. Gerry Schoenfeld and Bernie Jacobs, anyway, they presented something at this conference that I found particularly boring and so I happened to comment, make a critical comment that people didn't like some people, and so we started to get into an argument, but it had to do with, the theme of the conference had to do with the survival of Broadway. And so my comment was, ""It doesn't matter to me if Broadway dies, I don't have anything to do with Broadway, Broadway doesn't 205:00have anything to do with me. Why should I care?"" Okay that got some people angry. And so it ended up after that session, we ended up in the hallway, and I ended up talking to Joe Papp, and then we were joined by the Shuberts and then Jane Alexander came in as a referee, because we started to argue. And it was kind of loud, and I was still insisting that Broadway had nothing to do with me, and so the Shuberts came and said, ""Yes, Broadway is for you, Broadway is important."" I said, ""How? When? How?"" You know? And Joe Papp who's had the Public Theatre and understood what I was talking about, was trying to bridge the gap, and was trying to say, ""No, but you can make it, we need to set up the ways,"" because he's the guy that did Chorus Line, right? And so I'm in there, arguing with them and Jane Alexander like I say is trying to keep the peace. And it got to be this explosive moment after the conference session, of that session, and then we all went to lunch, right? And okay this is in 1974. Five years later, Zoot Suit is opening night on Broadway. I'm in one of the Shubert theatres, matter of fact I'm in the largest of the Shubert theaters, which is 206:00the Winter Garden Theatre, where My Fair Lady premiered. Guys & Dolls. Beatlemania. In other words, this is a mother ship. And there I am with Zoot Suit. So I'm standing by the wings, looking out trying to catch a glimpse of the audience coming in. And Bernie Jacobs come in behind me. That's one of the producers, and he says, ""Do you see? I told you we'd get you to Broadway."" Now he didn't do it exactly, he was an investor, right? But it cracked me up because it was true, I had five years before I thought Broadway would be the last place on earth that I would have ever be, but there I was. "
LV: What brought me there is this rather strange confluence of eventshaving to do with Zoot Suit, New Theatre For Now, Gordon Davidson. How did I meet Gordon Davidson? I met Gordon Davidson when Peter Brook came to San Juan Bautista. Peter Brook the great director, who's still alive, God bless him, you know, he's 89 now. But this was 40 years ago, 41 years ago. And he brought his International Center for Theatre Research for two months. Of the three months they spent in the United States that summer, two of them were here in San Juan Bautista collaborating with us, in the old warehouse. They put out the Persian carpet and we performed this Sufi piece, you know Helen Mirren was part of the company, she was 26 years old at that time. And then the Teatro Campesino. Now why would Peter Brook come here? Peter Brook came here because we had gone to Europe, and he had seen the Teatro Campesino perform in Paris. As a result of that, he decided to contact us, to then come visit us here, to see if he could 207:00bring his company here. They had been in Africa the year before, and now they were coming and they wanted specifically to come to work with the Teatro Campesino. Now one of his books, The Empty Space, he talks about the holy theatre, the rough theatre, you know, we're the rough theatre. Which he considered to be primal. And so this amazing company came, very sophisticated company came and they mixed with our un-very sophisticated company, and yet sophisticated in other ways, to merge. But as a result of this fusion, we had all kinds of other artistic directors from all over the country dropping in to see us, just to visit, just to say hello. One of them was Gordon Davidson from Los Angeles. I had never met Gordon. He came to see Peter Brook. He met Luis Valdez in the process. So what happens then is that a couple of years later, he 208:00invites the Teatro to come to the Mark Taper Forum. We go to the Mark Taper Forum for a couple of weeks, you have an opening. We sell the place out. He says, "Wow." And then what he finally decided, "How would you like to write a play about the history of Los Angeles? We're working with multicultural playwrights." Yes that was the intention, I was the first one they asked. So I wrote Zoot Suit as a result, see the chain of events? I mean it's Peter Brook coming here, Gordon, [MAKES NOISE] and eventually then, Zoot Suit ends up on the Los Angeles stage. What amazed him was that they had this little announcement, this little blurb in the LA Times that I was writing a play about the Zoot Suit Riots, and the Sleepy Lagoon case. That created a rush for tickets. They sold 209:00out, the whole run. The New Theatre For Now run, the two weeks, before I had even written the play! That amazed him. They said, "This is amazing." So I wrote the play, it was my first draft basically. We called it Baby Zoot. It was okay, it was an experiment. But audiences were going wild about that. I wasn't artistically satisfied, I had to rework it. They weren't even satisfied either, so anyway I took notes and by the end of that run, they had already asked me, "We want you to do it for the main season. Go rewrite, but we want it for the main season. Eight weeks." So that was in April, they wanted us to be back by August so we could open. And what happened then is that I went home, came home, rewrote the play completely. Restructured it, and before we were even opening, before we even opened they had sold out the whole eight weeks. The box office was dictating where we were going. And they said, then they went in for the 210:00reviews, they wanted to know what the reviews were going to say. The reviews were great. Opening night. And Cesar Chavez was with us opening night, so the thing is that... after that, it was almost from opening night on, because the reviews were great, the whole run was already sold out, they decided we're going to extend, and so we started talking about going to the Aquarius in Hollywood, right? So while the play was running, I'm checking out the Aquarius, you know? We've just started the run in LA, I mean at the Mark Taper and we're already looking at the Aquarius. So we open up at the Aquarius one week after we close at the Mark Taper Forum, we open at the Aquarius. They had to remodel the place, they had to repaint it, they had to do all kinds of stuff, you know. But we ran for 11 months. Zoot Suit ran for one year, judging from The New Theatre For Now. We performed close to half a million people. It made over five million dollars at the box office, which is phenomenal amount in 1978, for a movie, for a play. And so yes it was interest in a movie, right away. But this came this call to go to New York, and again I wasn't sure about New York, but the reviews coming from New York were good. They say, "You should come to New York." So suddenly we're in New York, rehearsing you know? Getting ready to go into the Winter Garden Theatre. And there were other signs there as well, that it wasn't going to be as easy as that. But you know, at the Winter Garden it was 1500 seats. We're packing the night, every night it was packed for previews. Standing ovations every night, for previews. Okay? And then the reviews come. Then opening night comes, we have our party at the Sardi's and at another hotel for the overflow crowd, and the critics took the long knives out, and they just butchered it. And that killed it, you know? That killed the play. 211:00
LV: Again, how you get all the way over there and then fail is a realsad tale you know? I had had preparations before, to tell you the truth. From the time that I was in high school. Because I used to do forensics, I used to do dramatic interpretation and humorous interpretation. And my first year in 1956, at the Northern California, I won the Northern California Speech Finals in Humorous Interpretation. And the following year I won the Northern California Speech Finals in Dramatic Interpretation. Now in order to do that you have to go through three preliminary finals, three rounds, semi-finals, and the final. So I went first place, first place, first place, first place, first place. And that's how I became... Northern California champion. I went to Santa Barbara. First place, first place, first place, first place, seventh place. I got the last one. 212:00We had the question, why did I get the last position? When I was first place, first place, first place, [TRAILS OFF]. Last place. They said, "You bent at the waist." And I said, "I bent at the waist. Where is that in the rules?" He says, "Well it's not allowed," they say, "It's not allowed." In other words, I'm bent at the waist. And the next year, I'm doing dramatic interpretation, a piece I had rewritten. And we're over here and first place, first place, first place, first place; the finals were in doubt, and we're waiting for the results, and I saw this blonde young woman who had been with a competitors, suddenly start squealing all excited and so my teacher went over there, Mr. Farrell went over there, and went into the judges chambers to try to find the scores, and then there was this long delay, a long delay, a long delay. And then he came out. And I said, "What happened?" And I saw the young girl suddenly crying. And he says, "You've won." And he says, "I don't know if I should tell you this, but this is what happened. I went in there looking for your scores, and there were seven finalists, but they had only six scores, and they couldn't find your scores." And I said, "Where were my scores?" He says, "We looked in the office and found them stuffed behind one of the files." They had stuffed my scores behind the files. And so they thought there were only six finalists. They were going to give it to the young woman, she ended up getting second place. So I won the Dramatic for Northern California. I go to Santa Barbara again. First place, first place, first place, first place, fifth place. You understand?
LV: Okay, so New York, for me, from LA to New York; first place, first place,first place, first place, first place, [MAKES NOISE] You understand? From the critics. It wasn't perfect, I can understand how it you know, it might have been seen from a different viewpoint, but the same critics that were praising us, before we went to New York, suddenly slit our throat. What was that all about? [INT: How were the audiences?] The audiences was leaping to their feet. And so in other words, my experience in high school inoculated me against the experience in New York. I just felt a great sense of reality coming back to me. I said, "Okay, I know what's happening." It isn't my lack of talent, it isn't my lack of intelligence, it's not a real reflection on me, it's a reflection on this attitude that exists. But maybe I'll have better chance by making this into a movie, right? I was offered half a million dollars for the rights. Peter Guber, who later became head of Columbia pictures, he offered me, we had a 214:00meeting at the Pierre Hotel in New York, before the opening, New York. And he says, "Half a million dollars, I have the check right here." My lawyer was there. He says, "You'll be half a million dollars richer if you just sign." I said, "Wait a moment, do I get to do the screenplay?" He says, "Well, we'll let you have one crack at it." And I said, "What about the direction?" "Well that's out of the question." So I said, "Well, no thank you." Right? So farm worker me, just I said, "No thank you." "You can keep your half a million dollars." So when I got back to LA, I started going around. I had worked up a treatment, and frankly I wanted to open all stops, and I had a conception of the pachuco... see, the pachuco's a super hero. He's mythological, he's Tezcatlipoca actually, Aztec God of the school of hard knocks. That's why he's black and red. But there 215:00have never been Chicano super heroes. Maybe the X-Men will now have one, you know, but in those days no, Superman, Batman, no. A Mexican super hero? [MAKES NOISE] But the pachuco was, because he's mythological so he could strip but he gets up again, you know what I'm saying? He can fly through the air, he can snap his fingers. So I was doing that on the set, on the stage; in the movies, I really wanted to actualize it, I wanted him to be on top of a skyscraper, just [MAKES NOISE] you know? I mean, I wanted him to be really cinematically super. And so I wrote that screenplay. And every time that I spread it around people were saying, "This is a 20 million dollar movie you're talking about here." And I said, "Yeah." You know? "No, never get done. Too much. Who do you think you are?" You know? And so it's true, they didn't buy it. No one bought my 20 216:00million dollar screenplay. Finally I get a call from Ned Tanen, president of Universal. He says, "Come on over, and let's talk." And so we talked, and he says, "I just want to film the play. Just do the play." He wanted to put it on video. And then bump it up to 35, which would have been ridiculous because they didn't have digital video then.
INT: In those days.
LV: They did The Gong Show Movie, it looked terrible. And so I said, "No, it'snot even worth it. I wouldn't try." You know? And so it wasn't until I got Davey Myers on it, that's my cinematographer, that we shamed him to give us film. And so we got 35 millimeter film. We got three, we were going to shoot a three camera shoot, with video. It turns out it was three camera, 35 millimeter cameras. Three crews to shoot this sucker, you know? Much easier to shoot two cameras than three. Three is real difficult, unless you're going in for a real tight shot. But it was baptism by fire for me, you know? Fortunately I had Davey 217:00Myers, I had Bud Smith as my editor, Jacqueline Cambas really, she got the credit for cutting it. And then me, you know, neophyte feature film director. Baptism by fire, I had to do it, there was no other way. And they gave me 13 days. 13 days and a million dollars to shoot it, that was it. I had a wonderful producer named Peter Burrell, who figured how to borrow stuff and got stuff out of storage you know, from Universal lot, and we shot it right on the stage of the Aquarius. But I wanted to shoot a movie inside the movie, inside a play, you know? A movie inside a play. Inside a movie. So boom, boom, boom, and I didn't want to hide the fact that we had an audience there. You know, so I showed it. And you know, I just saw the film in Mexico City again, at the Cineteca, three weeks ago or so, and there's a new digital copy and the movie looks fresh, I'm 218:00very happy that it's maintained its freshness. Because I think it's not locked into the period things that would have made it I think age worse than it does, you know? But it's aging very well because it's self contained. And I think that's part of the secret, the simplicity of it is what keeps it moving. And the most encouraging thing for me is that young people can really relate to it. They think it's a new movie. They see it and they go, "Wow, when this come out?" So all of that, see what I mean, how do you turn a negative into a positive? You've just got to keep going for one. Keep moving, but you know, be true to your dreams, keep flowing.
INT: Did Zoot Suit ever travel to Cuba? To the New Latin American FilmFestival in Cuba?
LV: It has been shown in Cuba, I showed it in Cuba. [INT: You went there.] AtCasa de las Américas though, okay?
LV: And I knew Fredo Guevara who was the head of the Havana Film Festivalfor a lot of years, he passed away recently. And he certainly wanted me involved, he wanted us involved. But I did not go to Cuba between 1964 and 2010, that's how long it took for me to get back there. Partly because when I was in Delano, with the farm workers, the right wing used my trip to Cuba as an excuse to attack the farm workers again and again and again. And to attack me, you know, as being a Cuban agent. And they have no way of understanding what the true meaning of Cuba is, you know, to people that really believe in the island, you know? And it's not so much a racial thing, it's a social thing. It's a social conscience thing but if you're aware of Latin America you understand the importance of Cuba, right? And the ridiculousness of this embargo that's still going on. It's crass politics and influenced to some extent, although this is changing, by the Cubans in Miami you know, they've been sharpening that axe for a long, long time. They don't want the federal government to regulate Cuba. And I think really it's a vendetta. It's not until Fidel dies. I think once Fidel dies and Raúl dies, it will become a different ballgame. It's just that, it's just vendetta.
INT: Yeah. Now tell me your relationship to any other Latin American you know,interchange that has happened between the Teatro Campesino and yourself, like say Argentina or you know, I don't know, other places. Has there been any of that?
LV: Well I've had, let's say with Cuba, you know, again the Santiago Álvarez, Imentioned that with Now, but his other films as well along the way, I met him in Spain actually you know. I was one of the judges at the Ibero-American Festival, the 23rd festival in Huelva, Spain some years back and met a lot of Latino 219:00filmmakers at that time. I met a lot of Latino filmmakers in Mexico City, I mean they all go there for various reasons, and they've been coming and going over the years. Met García Márquez, you know, Gabo there as well, and we talked, you know. Actually at that time I was talking about The Old Man With Enormous Wings, I wanted to film that. Someone actually eventually did it.
INT: Birri. Right.
LV: But some of the old timers in Mexico, Gabriel García Márquez, you know, wehad a [NON ENGLISH DIALOGUE] of his films at the LA County Museum a few years back, and I got to meet him, go to his house, you know, it was a wonderful experience. As far as Mexicans concerned, Lino Fernandez was interesting because he liked Zoot Suit apparently, he really liked Zoot Suit. And so when I was getting La Bamba together, I thought about the snake man and I actually wondered if it might be possible for him to do it, so I put out a feeler, and it turns out that, ""Yeah he was interested."" But in those days, he had his accident. He was in a motorcycle and eventually he died as a result of his accident. And so I was communicating with his wife, and he could no longer talk on the phone. But I was saying to him, I knew that it was not going to be possible, but I called anyway just to say I'm still waiting for you, when you're ready maestro, you know. I'm still interested. ""[NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE]"" But he was too far gone, but that would have been a tremendous honor, you know, to work with him. As far as other filmmakers are concerned, Luis Puenzo, I met Luis Puenzo who ended up doing Gringo Viejo, you know, The Old Gringo. But really in 220:00passing because I was the director that was outgoing, and he was coming in. See what I'm saying? I was working with Jane Fonda, and Carlos Fuentes at the time.
INT: That's right, that's right, yeah.
LV: He had to develop the screenplay for that, that I was going to direct. Butwhen that didn't work out, I just decided to completely withdraw from the project, open the field.
INT: What happened with that project?
LV: It was made, you know that.
INT: No, I know.
LV: What was the problem?
INT: Yeah, what was the problem?
LV: The problem was is in Carlos' novel. It worked for the novel, but it's aterrible idea for a movie, is that the revolution is moving along and suddenly it gets stopped and it can't move on, and it kind of pauses to contemplate, you know, certain problems. And it doesn't move again until after the hero dies at the end, you know. And so that's, when it goes static like that, when it gets stuck,se [ne] stanca you know is the saying? 221:00
LV: It's not good, because movies have got to move, you know? And so the endingwas very nice, it's good opening, and then suddenly [MAKES NOISE] it comes to a dead stop and then it can't move. And in a novel you can do that. Because you're not moving, you know, you can do that, you can go round and round. But in a movie it doesn't work as well. You've got to have a follow through. And I think that was the real problem. I was trying to tell Jane and Carlos that without insulting Carlos Fuentes too much.
INT: That's a delicate situation.
LV: Yeah, yeah. And actually I was basing it on Ambrose Bierce, and thecharacter that Gregory Peck ended up playing. You know Ambrose Bierce, you know, the iconoclastic writer and I love his work. I love Ambrose Bierce's stories. The horror stories and civil war stories are great, and of course The Devil's Dictionary, fantastic. What a brilliant mind. But he had a relationship with his 222:00daughter that was never resolved, and so I was hoping they would follow that tact, you know, bring that through, but it was not in the works. So I withdrew. Now, Jane Fonda was noble enough to pay me for my services, so it was player pay, and I got paid for not directing. That's a wonderful experience. At Hollywood prices that's a lovely experience there, right? When they pay you for not directing.
INT: Not doing it.
LV: Or not having any of the headaches. What's interesting is that she's justgoing in to commence the work on Gringo Viejo finally, Old Gringo, and I'm coming out having had a very successful meeting with all the execs about La Bamba, so we crossed in the hallway, ""Well good luck."" ""Yeah, okay."" Boom, boom, boom. [INT: Perfect.] Yeah, so one of those Hollywood stories you know, it was a good one for me, anyway. " 223:00
INT: Well you know, so this is happening to you, and there's otherfilms that are happening too with the Chicano kind of group of filmmakers, right?
LV: Yeah, yeah.
INT: At the same time.
LV: Well I've been aware of you for years, you know, so what, 30, 40 years now, no?
INT: Well, I'm a documentary filmmaker, not so...
LV: That's all right, so it's a [NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE] and you know, I thinkdocumentary filmmaking was the first line of defense for us. You know? It was really essential, it really was, is. Still. I love documentaries. I think they serve a very specific purpose. I get a little impatient sometimes with movies, because they don't get to the point, right? What's taking so long here, you know? Because they're not interested in the point necessarily, but I like documentaries because they do get to the point, you know? And I think that given the Chicano experience it was so important to have key documentaries out there, right?
LV: That literally were documenting the way of life and Jesús Treviño was atremendous influence in this regard, he and Luis Reyes I mentioned joined the Teatro in 1974 for a year. They were working on a series of films that McGraw-Hill was developing and we were all in competition. Well we, Jesús, Luis Reyes and MOCTESUMA ESPARZA were the competitors. But McGraw-Hill wanted to know who was going to do the whole series, the 12 films. Educational films about the Chicano experience. And it turns out Moctesuma won, he came out ahead of all of us. That was the same year that the Teatro had to go to Mexico City for the Quinto Festival. So we were developing two films here that Jesús and Luis both were doing, one each. And we acted in them and you helped with the music, and even some of the scripting. But Moctesuma beat us to the punch. [NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE] You know what I mean?
LV: He ate all the groceries. Were you involved in that competition by any chance?
INT: No, I don't think so, no, no. I don't know what happened, that's what I wasgoing to ask you. What happened with all those films?
LV: I have never seen them ever since, you know? I know that Yo Soy Chicano,well that's a [separate?] with it. Growing Up Chicano was the one that we did and-
INT: No, the ones that were kind of in the process of being made?
LV: You know, I don't know.
INT: No, you don't know?
LV: I have no idea, after they left here, I mean it was gone. Jesús and Luiswent back to LA, and of course Jesús did some wonderful things, you know, Raíces de Sangre you know, which is very well respected in Mexico to this day. Which I thought was ahead of its time in some ways, but then they have to be, you know? By the same token I mean like Eddie Olmos for instance came here, when I was working on Bandido, my Tiburcio Vasquez play and we talked a lot about Westerns. And he left here and teamed up with Robert Young and did With A Pistol In His Hand, right? Which was a great movie, you know. 224:00
INT: It was a great movie.
LV: And so I mean we're all sharing these ideas and I think that it's a rich mixand there weren't all that many people, you know. Rudy Vasquez was, do you ever know Rudy?
INT: I know the name, but I don't remember.
LV: Ah, okay. Well Rudy and Jeff Pinochet I think were the ones that-
INT: Oh yes of course, Jeff Pinochet, the Pinochet brothers.
LV: Yeah, [OVERLAP] but they took Zoot Suit to the Russian Film Festival, whereit won an award, it won a Russian drum and they hand carried it all the way back, they said all across Siberia. Back to me. They hand delivered it, which was very interesting. [INT: Wonderful.] But yeah, I've appreciated what all these efforts, you know, by different people, but I wish there had been more contact with Latino filmmakers, you know, in Latin America. It was hard enough just to contact the theatre people. [INT: That's right.] But film is a little 225:00more carry-able, you know, so little portable, so it's amazing we have not had. I was surprised that I had to go all the way to Huelva, Spain to meet some of the Latino filmmakers over there. Somehow, we ended up in the same spot, you know? In Southern Spain. Yeah.
INT: Now tell me about the making of La Bamba.
LV: La Bamba was shot in the summer of 1986, and it was an eight-week shoot,which was more comfortable, you know? We spent our first week here actually, in San Benito County, because I wrote the story, it started out in the Santa Clara Valley, it started out in Campbell. But Campbell was nowhere what it used to be, it was full of houses now. So we came here and actually caught an area that is no longer the same either, full of houses now. But we caught the opening shots, you know, with the hills and the orchards. All of that was what we caught at the 226:00last moment here in San Benito County. And it was nice for me to start here, to start in San Juan Bautista, you know? To do our dailies here, do the rushes in this building you know? Boom, right here, at the Teatro. That was great, it brought things together. But from then we went on to LA you know, we did a lot of shooting in LA, we shot in Calexico, doubled Calexico for Tijuana. We shot in the outskirts of Los Angeles, you know, for various scenes, And it's amazing how the pieces come together, you know, it's feature filmmaking, so the interiors sometimes in LA and the exteriors in Mexico, I mean it's that kind of stuff. You combine things as they go. I had a wonderful support actually, because it was Taylor Hackford and his company. So he, being an old friend, he was very 227:00supportive of the idea, and of my becoming the director of my own script, you know? And he didn't exactly have the greatest respect for Zoot Suit, which is interesting, you know, because it was unusual for him; he's more of a doctrinaire filmmaker, so he wanted me to really stay pretty straight. Pretty straight forward, you know, in terms of the shooting. I wanted to do some other stuff...
INT: What did you want to do and what did he want you to do?
LV: Basically, I wanted to move the camera a lot more, you know? We were, youknow, on dollies and then tracks for most of the time. There's some specific things you know, that are no longer in the film and no longer in the script so it doesn't mean anything, you know? But that was, there were just some little things that came up. I wanted to improvise on the set, and he was very much 228:00against it. He wanted us to follow pretty much our storyboards you know? Which was wise in its own way. But there were things you discover along the way as you go, right? And you have to have a lot of experience to be able to improvise on the set. And stay on course at the same time. I understand that in terms of speechmaking, I understand that in terms of writing even, you know? I felt confident enough to be able to risk that in 1986, but at the same time I mean, we did fall behind schedule. There's always things that you were always behind. And in some cases it involved for instance, my mother-in-law, Lupe's mom, who played the harmonica in the movie. She's in the campfire and she plays one of the Mexican songs. And Ritchie's playing on the guitar and she's on the harmonica, and she's singing. Now, I didn't know she could play the harmonica 229:00until my father-in-law died. And he died in the mid-80s, '84, so this is like two years later. And she had just re-picked up the harmonica, after he died. And none of us knew that she could play the harmonica. And my wife asked her, ""Why didn't you play the harmonica?"" And she'd go, ""Your father never liked it. He never let me."" So Lupe got her a great big honaker you know? She got her a nice harmonica and she began to play, and then on birthdays she would play on the phone, you know, Las Mañanitas, and so I saw her play and I said, ""I've got to have her playing in the movie, I've got to put her in this campfire."" So since we were shooting here, we thought, okay the campfire and I'll just shoot her there and she'll be in the movie, right? Which pleased her enormously. But 230:00we ran behind schedule, okay? And so I never got her, well we were here. And so I said, ""I'll have to pick you up in Los Angeles."" So she was happy with that. So we go to LA and we have different locations and we're in the Valley in LA, and there's this riverbed that I said, ""Well this can look like the camp,"" you know? And it was close to another location right next door to another location. So we set up the campfire, just like in the camp, right? And we waited until nightfall, it was a night shoot and we're shooting. We went, we ran over, it was late. It was late, and my mother-in-law showed up in the afternoon and she was ready to go to work, as soon as it got dark. "
LV: We shot my mother-in-law's scene finally in the riverbed in theValley in Los Angeles. But it was four o'clock in the morning. By that time she was exhausted. But she was a champ, she went in there, and she played her number and got it on camera. The problem was that she got sick. She developed a cold, and then that developed into bronchitis. And it was real bad; she got home here 231:00and she was practically having pneumonia when she got back home. She got so sick they had taken to the doctor, and she was so ill, they had to helicopter her to Stanford Med, the Stanford Medical School to treat her, because she almost died as a result of the infection that she got. By again, overexposure, by waiting so long to do the film. I didn't know about this, this was happening when I was still, I went on shooting my movie. My wife found out about it, but then she eventually told me, you know, that her mom was real sick and she almost died. But then she recovered. She recovered and the family's real grateful you know, that the mother's in the movie because they get to see her playing her harmonica. That always brings a tear to their eyes, you know? But La Bamba is that way, you know, the opening scene of the camp, is drawn from memory. I tried 232:00to find photos of the labor camps of my childhood, under the trees. And there weren't any. We didn't have an Orthea Lang taking pictures in the 1950s. Nobody was out there with the migrant farm workers. And so my parents lived here in San Juan by the time we shot and the location was in Hollister, and so on the Sunday before the Monday when we started to shoot, I took my dad, my mom didn't want to go, but I took my dad out to location. And he walked around the camp that we had set up under the trees. And he said, "What is this? You recreated the Chargin Ranch?" Which was one of the places where we had worked in San Jose. He recognized it. He said, "It looks like the Chargin Ranch." With a sense of amazement, because it was this reality, you know? And then the next day, I'm here, my mother-in-law and my wife and other women cutting apricots, you know, 233:00like they had, again that one time. They were skilled, because you never lose it, but it was amazing to be able to capture those bits of reality, you know, from my farm laborer life. And it was done through families so, there are a lot of little details that come through when you're a filmmaker and you can capture images from your life and you put them together. And La Bamba is really full of them. No one would know, but they don't know the difference, but it's there. And trying to recreate Pacoima was a real challenge, trying to find dirt streets. Pacoima no longer has dirt streets, you know, it has maybe one half of a dirt street left, but it was more common back in the 1950s, you know. And so it's a challenge to be honest with yourself and then to find that honesty reflected in the reality that you choose as a director. Which is why in a way I'm grateful that Taylor was wise enough to recognize that I had to shoot the movie. He's an 234:00accomplished director, but he didn't have my eye. He didn't have the experience and I didn't want to be Mr. Assistant Coordinator you know, consultant there. I didn't want to do that, because I had already had that experience in television, you know, when somebody else took the credit. I said, "No. Either I'm going to direct or you got the script, that's it." So he let me direct.
INT: Yeah, and I think it shows through in the film.
INT: In the success of the film because it has that sensibility.
INT: And that's what people love.
INT: Which was the same with Zoot Suit, you know? That they see themselves.
LV: The other thing too that a lot of people, I've spoken about this before, isthat after the movie came out, I had a couple of Chicanos come up to me, occasionally, kind of secretively, embarrassedly you know, saying, "[NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE]?" Why did you cast a Filipino as Ritchie? Lou Diamond Phillips, right? 235:00And actually I mean Lou is half and half. He's half Filipino, his mother is Filipino, from the native Philippines and she looks native Filipino, but his father was an American sailor, you know? An Anglo. And so he's cross cultural, he crosses that fusion. Ritchie, the real Ritchie Valens was very Indian looking, but he was tall and very light skinned. Now Connie was very light skinned. "Güera" you know, as we say. And Ritchie was able to go being Ricardo Valenzuela and become Ritchie Valens, because he looked Italian. He had you know, curly hair, he was a big guy, muscular, and when people saw him, they said, "Okay, it looks like he's Italian, yeah. So Valens, yeah. He must be Italian." I thought he was an Italian. When I first heard La Bamba way back when it came out, I said, "Man, somebody's singing in Spanish you know, wow. Ritchie 236:00Valens, must be an Italian." You know? It wasn't until later that I discovered that Ricardo Valenzuela and that was the seed for the movie really, saying, "Wow. How did Ricardo Valenzuela become Ritchie Valens?" But in the casting I have to deconstruct then. How do I do this? How do I cast? If I cast somebody as dark as my brother Daniel for instance, it won't be real. Because unless you're African American, no one that dark could get into the Rock and Roll- And even then African Americans were limited beyond a certain point, right? If you're going to be a big hit, you almost had to be white. Had to pass as white. And Italians were marginal anyway at that time, they were just starting to come in. And so that was the problem, and so when I met Lou Diamond Philips, and saw this strange combination in his face and in his manners, I said, "Okay that's one problem that's solved. The other is, he's not Hispanic, he doesn't speak Spanish, but he's got a real charming personality. He's got an innocence about 237:00him that I really like." And that ultimately shows on film, right? And so I said, "What the hell? I'm going to go for it. I'm going to make this work. I'm going to turn him into a Chicano." And so it's possible you know? It's again, for me it's not a racial thing as much as it is a combination of other qualities, right? It's skin tone yeah, but also manner. I mean are you an agreeable person, you know? I had to find the Ritchie that was an innocent basically. The guy was 17 when he died, you know? Everybody that ever talked to him said he was very innocent, so I think Lou Diamond had those qualities. Anyway, it's another element, another twist in the story, that a lot of people don't know about but it's there, you know, because it's part of the underbelly of the story.
INT: Well it worked. It worked.
Now we have other films that you've done, but I would like to justgo ahead and talk a little bit about your collaboration with Lupe and the script that you were writing and that whole process, that whole something not being fulfilled, right?
LV: Yeah. I was aware of Frida Kahlo a long time ago, you know?
INT: Could I just interject, let me just say something. Another thing I wantedto point out was that, Frida Kahlo began being an icon because a lot of the Chicanas started you know, bringing her up right?
LV: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
INT: That's before the Hayden Herrera book, novel. So they had the sense ofownership around Frida Kahlo. Now.
LV: The figure of Frida Kahlo is really fascinating you know, to me I mean she'sthe mother of all of us, in a cultural sense, in an artistic sense. All of us being, all of us that identify with her, certainly the Chicanos and the Chicanas that identify with Frida. But the Mexicanos, Mexicanas, the Latinas, you know, whoever the women, young women, that identify with Frida, they do it for various reasons which in my case, given her personality, given her persona, as it was captured actually in the film of her day, I sense someone who is like family. I mean the way she speaks, the way she talks; very familiar you know? I mean she's my mother's generation, I see someone that could have been an aunt, could have been part of the family. And I feel as if I could have known Frida, that I knew Frida. And that Frida became me, that Frida gave birth to me. And in some ways her gestures as an artist together with Diego you know, and Orozco and Sigueiros and Petamor. I mean, all of these radical, artistic people in Mexico in the 1920s set up an ambiance that fed the Chicano movement directly. Culturally 238:00speaking. You know, we were born out of that, we were inspired by that. And in my case I became aware of Diego Rivera and it was through Diego Rivera that I became aware of Frida Kahlo, because you can't deal with one without running into the other. And the books about Diego Rivera, I began to read those, his biographies. And in 1972 when El Teatro Campesino went to Mexico City for the first time, we ended up in Coyoacan visiting the Mascarones. And they were just three blocks from The Blue House, you know, and Allende and Londres, you know, they're the corner house there, that Frida lived in. And we went there. It wasn't as big of a museum yet, in 1972. I mean it was a museum, but it has changed, over the years, it's changed hands, you know? But in any case, I was 239:00approached in 1990 thereabouts, if I was interested in doing a film about Frida Kahlo. Now, I knew the film that Paul Leduc had already done. And Paul Leduc's film is I think a fascinating piece of work with Ofelia Medina in the title role. And he's a filmmaker's filmmaker, in a sense. He takes his time. You know, he's not going to go for commercial values, he's just going to shoot something, if it's a scene that drags on, it just drags on. That's all it is, he holds on these long shots. In Frida's case, he got into her story without any explanation, so you had to know something about Frida before you could really understand what's happening in his film. You had to understand the curve of her life, you know, the trajectory of what the events. Because he didn't bother to explain. He said, ""If you don't understand, then stop, yeah that's it."" You 240:00know? And so I saw it as a very esoteric film, but I knew about Frida so I could understand it, I knew what was happening and I thought Ofelia Medina's portrayal was uncanny, I mean she was incredible. You know, as Frida. So I felt, that's it, it's been done, you know? But then I’m approached by people over at New Line Cinema, and they said, ""You want to do a Frida Kahlo movie? Based on Martha Ramirez's book, you know, El Pincel de la Angustia, The Pit of Anguish, The Brush of Anguish. And well I had to think about it, and I said, ""It's really something that a woman filmmaker should do."" I knew that right from the get. And, ""But certainly it needs a woman's point of view,"" I said. And so I talked it over with my wife, and I said, ""Would you be willing to work on the screenplay with me?"" So she agreed, and so I went back to the studio and 241:00I said, ""I'll do it, but I want to work with my wife, and collaborate essentially."" They said, ""Fine."" Sarah Richard was the vice-president of New Line Cinema at the time.
LV: Now when I first arrived there, they had had their first bigsuccess with Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and so they were expanding and there was a lot of carpentry happening, it was a lot of chaos, you know? And I knew that Bob Shaye, who ran the company, he founded the company, was in and out, in and out, and I was really dealing with Sarah. As it turned out, Bob Shaye wasn't always a supporter of the project. It was kind of like letting Sarah do her thing, but he was patronizing her. As it turns out, you know? But anyway, I had my misgivings about the structure of the place, it was a lot of chaos. But I decided to go for it, just to try it. 'Cause there hadn't been a Frida in English, I said, "Maybe we can make it work." And besides, it's a wonderful story, you know? And how many different angles can we 242:00get? And so we started the trips then, Mexico City and back and meetings with Martha. The preparation of a treatment, eventually a screenplay, you know? And we, Lupe and I collaborated on it for several months, and came up with a workable screenplay that was called Las Dos Fridas, The Two Fridas. And what it dealt with is Frida and her alter ego, right? I mean the, one vulnerable and the other one eternal, it's that one that's in pain and the other one that's above pain. And so one is able to comment on the other, you know? And how in order to survive, Frida had to become the other, you know, in the sense she... and so, it was a very interesting idea. Almost theatrical, but you know, we kept it cinematic and went in and out all over the place in Mexico City. And really wanted to make the film eventually. I started to work with people in Mexico, in preparation, to try to get as many resources, maybe even some funding from 243:00Mexico. I met people at IMCINE, who were very interested in pumping a million dollars into the project, which was not inconsiderable. But they were going to help us with locations and any consultants that we needed. People from Diego's family were still around, and people from Frida's family were still around. And somehow the script got around, people saw it. And people in the government were helping out. But it was a controversy, it boiled down to this, eventually people in New Line Cinema were saying, "More sex, less communism." And people in Mexico were saying, "Less sex, more communism." And that was the dichotomy, that was the clash. And I was working between these two polarities, you know? Trying to balance it out so that we could do a movie that had some grit, and that was 244:00exciting. And it was also kind of fantastic, little magic realism and stuff, you know? And you find the appropriate locations, the accident that Frida suffered, you know, where that bar penetrated her body. That took a while to figure out, and to find the trolley to do it. Eventually dealing with the Trolleyman's union, they had one period trolley behind bars setup in an exhibit at the central terminal. And they were willing to let me take it out, put it on the tracks again, okay? Of course we have to pay for everything, pay for the restoration of it's mounting and anyway, it got to be a tremendous thing. And we were dealing with, oh Frida's costumes, I mean her dresses, the reproduction, all of that. I was already lining up designers, set designers, costume designers. I had experts to back me up. And but New Line refused to commit, okay? They kept postponing. They approved the script, they finally said, "Okay, 245:00you can start casting." And so I saw everybody! I mean I saw everybody. Of all colors. In Hollywood. Big names, Julia Roberts said, "Well, yeah," she said, "But why me?" She said, "Don't you need a Latina?" Yeah of course. But the studio wanted us to see everybody. Okay? The studio wanted us to cast.. Jodie Foster. And we said, "Why Jodie Foster?" "Oh, because she's a lesbian." That was their logic. And people, Frida's family in Mexico say, "No, no. Frida wasn't a lesbian."
LV: So you know, as I say, we saw this whole panoply of actresses in Hollywood.The studio wouldn't approve any Latinas, and we couldn't see any Latinas. They said, "Nobody's bankable." That was their position. Almost from the get. That was coming from Bob Shaye, who was the president. He was saying, "You don't have any bankable, these Latinas, so how are we gonna make this movie?" He was already cutting us off. And I'm trying to play the game, you know? I should have seen it, but I was trying to find a way to get in there. And I'd say, "Well, let's focus on Diego." I said, "What if I can find you a star for Diego? Can we do an unknown for Frida then? Someone that will become a star with this role." He said, "Well who do you have?" I said, "Well let me find somebody." So I went out there, I got Raúl Juliá, and Raúl Juliá eventually agreed to do it, okay? To play Diego. I came back with Raúl Juliá. "Okay, how about Raúl Juliá?" "Yeah, he's good. He's good." They said, "But then who's gonna play Frida?" I said, "An unknown." "No, it can't be an unknown." You know, going back and forth, right? So Raúl wouldn't do it unless it's play or pay. Meaning that they pay him whether he did or not. Once he signed the contract, they had to pay 246:00him a million dollars. That was the deal. And Sarah Richard agreed to that. So the studio was committed. They had to be play or pay by a certain date, or they pay Raúl a million dollars for not doing the movie. Okay. And so, in the meantime we're over here trying to push on the Fridas, and I'm trying to find a way to get them to agree to give me an unknown, okay? They still wouldn't agree.
LV: My problem was, here's my problem, is that I was called into thepiece as a writer, and I didn't come in with an original script. I came in... contracted to do a script based on another work. They had bought the rights to Martha's book, okay? So they had the rights to Martha's book, they had me as a writer coming in. Now, they liked my screenplay. They could keep my screenplay. 247:00They could make me walk. That doesn't mean they had to give me permission to direct, they could keep my screenplay, and then they forced me to walk. In other words, they make the situation so bad for me, I walk. I get fed up and say, "You know what? Boom." I knew that from past experience, that's what they were trying to do. At least that’s what Shaye was trying to do, from my perspective. He was trying to get me to walk. Get me frustrated. I don't know who they would have put in there. But that's happened to me again, I mean it happened to me after that, that someone made me do that, they made me walk. And they put in somebody, somebody cheaper. They could just pay off. And it didn't work, you know? So I was caught, and I was trying to get them to the point where they were committed to Juliá, for a million dollars, to have been a better negotiating position, you see what I'm saying? Once they were committed to pay 248:00Juliá a million dollars.
LV: Raúl Juliá, excuse me. Yeah, yeah. Once they were committed to RaúlJuliá, they were already a million dollars into the budget. And so that was mine, that was my pressure point. And so that week, I get a call from somebody, who... someone leaked the fact that I was considering Laura San Giacomo. And Laura San Giacomo was one of my chips that I was using to play the game. But someone leaked it to the press, and they said that I was casting Laura San Giacomo. Okay, so then I get a call from a Latina, that I had worked with before. As a matter of fact I saved her job. And she happened to be actually my costume designer, in La Bamba. And she says, "I'm over here in my house, we have a whole bunch of Latinas over here, and we understand you're casting Laura San Giacomo." And I said, "Not yet, but she's in the running." I like to be honest. 249:00She says, "Well, we refuse to support her and if you don't cast a Latina we're going to boycott you and if you don't hire me," she said, "And if you don't hire me," and I already had a Mexican set designer, costume designer. Because that's one deal with Mexico. "Then we're going to picket you." And I said, "Sylvia, that's blackmail. That's blackmail." I said, "You can't blackmail me, what are gonna do to try and blackmail me? She said, "Well that's the way it is." And so I said, "Well, can you wait until the weekend? At least wait until Saturday? If you're gonna picket me, picket me over the weekend. Or picket me next Monday." I couldn't explain to them about Diego. You know? She said, "No, we're going tomorrow." I said, "Look, do me a favor, just wait until Monday, then you can picket." And they refused. So on Wednesday they're out there with, dressed up as Frida, and the Latinas out there picketing me, okay? And New Line 250:00calls up and says, "Uh oh. We can't offend the Latino community, we're canceling this project." And they had told me they were gonna stick by me. You know, it didn't matter what would happen, they were gonna stick by the project. And the fact is that, they saved themselves a million dollars, because they dissolved the project. They didn't have to pay Raúl. And... well, they essentially blackmailed me and blackballed me at the same time. They shot themselves in the foot, because how many times can you do this, to a Latino filmmaker without eventually shooting yourself in the foot? And you know, I had some friends out there, people I'd worked with. So I was pretty crestfallen about it. I was really disappointed. That it had come to this, you know? The Chicano movement 251:00had come to this, and really people were out there just trying to get their jobs, trying to get jobs, and I would say, "That's petty." And so none of us are gonna work, it's as simple as that. But I'm the one that gets the blame for casting non-Latinas in the movies. I mean, that was ridiculous, you know what I'm saying?
LV: That I would be the one that gets hung with that yolk, and I couldn't getover the absurdity of it. That it seemed to me that it's the ultimate insult. And the dumbness of this move, because maybe they don't realize what a chess game sometimes, to get a movie done. Is you have to move your battleships into the right places, and put your pressure points where you are, in order to tip the scales, you know? It could be that New Line Cinema would have refused 252:00eventually, to make the movie, you know? But I'd rather that they would have cancelled it themselves, rather than use me as the excuse. Because once they agreed with the Latinas, once New Line make themselves look good by saying, "Oh, we're going to support these Latinas. And our bad director here was casting non-Latinas, so we're not gonna work with him."
INT: So you were sacrificed.
LV: I became the scapegoat.
LV: And so you know, I gauge my shots a lot more carefully now. Because youknow, you stick your head out there, and you've got to see where the noose is. You've got to see okay, whose gonna pull the... where's the trap door, you know? The trap door is here, am I standing on a trap door? Because they're gonna boom, they do that.
LV: And so you know, you learn the game as you go. I'm not bitter about ittoward anybody, I'm just kind of wiser now, as a result of this result that really Chicanos and Chicanas are no different than anybody else. I mean there's a lot of backstabbing that goes on in Hollywood. It's just not Latinos, it's everybody, you know? People cutting corners to get the deal and it's an ugly bit of business, you know?
INT: Now, at this point I think during these events you made a commentthat said, ""There's no artistic freedom for me in Hollywood."" What were, you know?
INT: So these were the consequences of that event, that you became kind of...did you become disillusioned?
LV: I became angry for a long time. You know, for a few years. It happened tocoincide in those years, with the death of Cesar Chavez, the death of my mother, the death of my father, the death of my mother-in-law. I was going to a lot of funerals, you know? In the mid-90s. And it was just kind of debilitating emotionally. And I shifted my attentions to CSUB, the creation of a new 254:00university over here, just for the purpose of health, you know? Just you'll say, ""You know what? I want to focus and do this other thing, I'm not gonna be in the outhouse for a while, you know? It just... I don't think I want to be there."" Now, Eddie Olmos and others kept reaching out to me, and I appreciate that a lot, that the people were supportive in their own way, you know? Robert Morse came up to me actually, at a gathering in Hollywood and expressed his condolences , you know? For what they'd done to me. And I was really surprised, you know, that he knew about it and that he could sympathize and empathize, you know, with me. And there were others that expressed what a raw deal it was, right? They sent me stuff. But I don't think that people, like what I said was 255:00that, ""I'm going to withdraw the Frida project, until a better time."" Now this is before Salma Hayek. And this is before Jennifer Lopez came on board, right? It resurfaced, the Frida project resurfaced toward the end of the '90s, when Francis Coppola read the script. And so American Zoetrope picked up the rights and they wanted to film it. And so I got into a race, and by that time it was a race with Salma. And we almost made the film together, I won't go into the details, you know, but then Jennifer, you know, wanted to do it and then she was being offered all kinds of things and eventually she jettisoned us to go make another movie. They were paying her as much as our whole budget was going to be. And also, I mean it does make a difference, Salma's Mexican and Jennifer is not, 256:00I mean it's as simple as that. So who is in there? In Mexico they tell me, ""It's too bad you and Salma didn't get together, that would have been a great movie."" And maybe so. Maybe not, I don't know. But the fact is that, the script survives, believe it or not, the script is still there. Paul Rodriguez bought the script out of the studio, he owns it. It might make a film one of these days. I was asked in Mexico most recently, ""Why don't you just do it in Spanish?"" And that's a real possibility.
LV: Yeah, because it's really different than what Salma did, you know,eventually. And so you know, it's a tradeoff. It's really a tradeoff.
INT: It's like you know, I think that there's not just one film aboutone thing that could be made, like there's not one film about Cesar Chavez.
LV: No, no, not at all, I have one myself, you know? But you know, that'sanother story all together, okay? I don't know if you know about that one?
INT: Well, I know a little bit. I guess we're gonna close, but I want you totell me in a short, concise manner, that one, about Cesar Chavez.
LV: I had been pursuing the film based on Cesar Chavez's life for 10 yearsbefore he died, I hope you know that. After Zoot Suit, and he was there. He was there for the premiere of the play, and the film. I approached him, I said, ""I want to do your movie. I want to be your, I want to do your life man. I want to do something."" And he was always hemming and hawing. Now it is, I think a question of his character and who he is, that he hemmed and hawed, you know? Because I think he wanted control over his own image, his image was very important to him. And what they said about him, and how the public saw him was part of his maneuverability, his ability to deal. So he wasn't gonna turn over his image to Hollywood while he was still alive, that was not possible. When 257:00Cesar died in 1994, I was in Mexico, traveling with the president of Mexico, Salinas de Gortari. What I was working on, I was trying to get the government involved in a deal to help Chicano filmmakers make movies in Mexico. And to get Mexican movies invested in Chicano films in the States. It was going real well. But in order to seal the deal, I had to have a long conversation with him. So another friend of mine in Mexico, Margo Sul set up a trip for me with the [NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE], what they called a traveling commission. And so I accompanied Salinas de Gortari and his entourage, completely across Mexico that day. And we left out of, in his airport one, in the hangar, el hangar presidencial, the presidential hangar in Mexico City, and flew South. We flew to 258:00Tuxtla Gutiérrez, where we got off on the tarmac and got into Army helicopters, and choppered over the Lacandon Jungle, past Palenque, to the Río Usumacinta, the border with Guatemala. Landed in a field, got out, jumped into some jeeps and drove into the jungle. And there in the clearing was a new clinic that Salinas de Gortari was going to dedicate. And there was an assortment, an assemblage of Lacondon Indians gathered in regalia. And so the hospital was dedicated, and then we climb back on the jeeps, back to the choppers, back to Tuxtla Gutiérrez, and we flew all the way to Puebla, near Mexico City. Another hospital, another gets embarkment, get into other helicopters, we chopper over the city, and he dedicates another hospital, where there was a fresh road that 259:00had just been made. And we came back, we got into a huge plane, this was really Mexican Air Force One, Benito Juárez it was called. The smaller one was Emiliano Zapata.
LV: This one was Benito Juárez. And it's like Air Force One, it's a 747. Andit's got offices and it's got sections, partitions. And so I was there waiting for my group, my meeting with Salinas de Gortari. And so we flew from Puebla all the way to Hermosillo, where there was another dedication, another hospital. And then we spent the night. A hundred miles away or so, maybe 200 miles away. No, a hundred miles away. In San Luis, Arizona, Cesar was asleep. That's where he died, that night. That night I was in Hermosillo. And the next morning, we get up and as we're landing in Monterrey, the chief of staff calls me over. Like gives me a little signal, just as Salinas de Gortari's coming out of his office, 260:00and they meet and I'm there too in the pasillo, in the aisle, and the chief of staff is saying to Salinas de Gortari, ""Senor Presidente, I have the sad news to tell you, that Cesar Chavez, we just got word Cesar Chavez is dead."" And he looks at me, and the president, Gortari looks at me, you know. And it hit me, and I'm saying, ""What? Dead? What?"" And so we got off the plane into a jeep, another jeep you know, and we're heading into town. And as we're heading to town it's like a kick to the throat. I choked up, you know, I began to cry. Tears. And the driver sees me, hands me some water, you know, and so I'm in shock, you know? So I had to find a phone from somebody, and one of the staff there, the presidential staff had a radio phone. And I called California, I called the office and they told me, ""Yeah, he's dead,"" you know? I said, ""What happened? 261:00Was he killed?"" They said, ""No, no, no. We don't know yet, but we've got details."" I talked to Phil, you know, I talked to my wife. And they said, ""The family's called, they want you to come home and make arrangements."" And so I said, ""Well I've got to get back to Mexico City and then I'll be there tomorrow, you know, as soon as..."" So we flew from there to Monterrey. Monterrey to Reynosa, all that one day, right, and still. And then that night on the way back to Mexico City, I finally get to talk to Salinas de Gortari, you know, in his office there in the plane. We no longer talked movies, I was gonna talk movies, but no, we talked about Cesar all the way back. And planned another meeting, you know, about the movie deal. But then I flew back. I flew back to California, San Juan, and my wife and I then drove to La Paz, just as Cesar's body was coming in. And it was just the family, that was gathered and Richard, Dolores you know, and the others. He hadn't even embalmed, it was just him, you know? So it was very sad you know? Really moving and everybody's weeping, you 262:00know, it was terrible. And you know, we're trying to figure out what happened? You know, because I had planned to stop in Arizona, at the trial on my way back, you know. Cesar had pretty much isolated himself by then, you know? He didn't have too many people. I was still his friend, you know what I'm saying? I had reestablished my relationship, years and years before him, so whatever he was doing it wasn't affecting me directly, and I felt I needed to support him, you know? But then he's dead, you know. So we go through that whole ceremony, we finally make preparations for the march. It takes a week, you know, thereabouts. We have 50,000 people show up, you know. We did get five 35 millimeter cameras to shoot the whole thing. I placed them in various locations, we shot the whole march. All that footage went into the Union Archives. And then I finally get 263:00home here, and I'm exhausted. And I get a call from my agent in LA, and he's saying, ""Listen, somebody's up here trying to sell the Cesar Chavez story, to the movies. You better get down here.""
LV: And so I you know, I had to go down there, I mean hell it was... Ihad to go down there. So I did, I went and talked to people. I finally got into Warner Brothers and talked to the vice president, Lorenzo Di Bonaventura. And I pitched him an idea, I mean I had to! And he bought it, you know. And what got him is that I said, "You know, when we were at Peoples bar in 1965, the song that kept playing over and over was I Can't Get No Satisfaction," 'cause it was new then, it was the Rolling Stones. And he said, "The Stones! Wait a minute." That was his hook, right? "It's a rock and roll movie." With the Stones in the 264:00background, yeah. Cesar Chavez movie with rock and roll. [INT: God.] Anyway, Miles Davis would have been better for Cesar. But anyway, so I got a contract. I did get a contract, and then my duty was to... I told him, I said, "I can do this, but I need to get the family's permission." He said, "You don't need to, Cesar Chavez is dead. He's a public figure, you can make whatever movie you like." And I said, "Yeah, but I owe a moral obligation to the family." And so I did, I went and spoke to the family, and I said, "I'm gonna write the screenplay." So they said, "Okay. We want to see it." And so I began to work then. Through all of this nonsense, okay? This is '93, right away, my mother dies a few months later. I mean I'm working through all of this grief, and trying to work on this movie. And really the whole process went for another five years. I mean, in terms of drafts and moving. And Lorenzo eventually went from 265:00vice president to president of Warners, so it was a main line, I mean I had a main line. I couldn't get the family to agree, to let me do my version. I did 11 drafts. Which is, you know, not unreasonable. But these are 11 drafts of seven different ideas, okay? I mean of different approaches. When they didn't like one approach I'd go another, you know? More biographical or more action oriented. My main through line was the attempt to assassinate Cesar. And so I wanted to key the reference of Martin Luther King, they killed Martin Luther King, they killed Robert Kennedy, the next guy was Cesar. And so I really made heavy implications that he was the one, he was being targeted with Robert Kennedy to be killed in the kitchen in 1968. And there's evidence for that. That if he had been in the 266:00kitchen, where he was supposed to be, by the way. But his back gave out on him. 'Cause he had a bad back, and his back was so bad, that he had to go back to the hotel and lay prone for a while. Because he was in pain. But if his back had not given out, he would have been in the kitchen. He would have been on the dais, with Robert Kennedy instead of Dolores, and then he would have walked into the kitchen with Robert Kennedy. And they would have both been popped off. You know what I'm saying? [INT: Yes.] So I was working on some of that, I was thinking this is a feasible through line, and I was using a Vietnam veteran as a possible assassin. You know? And so, well the family just wouldn't go for it, I had... [Because of?] Dolores. I was dealing with Dolores, and the controversy of Dolores. And Dolores is a fascinating character, she deserves a movie of her own, I mean she's an amazing, amazing human being, you know? And for a woman to be the mother of 11 children and to have accomplished what Dolores has accomplished in her life, as a leader and as an activist, that's phenomenal! It's just really amazing. I don't know of too many women in human history that have been able to achieve that much. And it's all that she, 11 children is an achievement, but to also be the labor leader, the founding co-founder of a labor movement and continuing as she has all these years, to inspire, you know, millions of people. Wait a minute. Where's the story? You know? Let's get the story out there. So I wanted to deal with her stature, a little more. I wanted to give the Filipinos some credit, I mean all of that, you know, because again I saw it, I saw it at the beginning. But my scripts were not acceptable to the family. And eventually they moved, they went elsewhere without telling me. Without letting me know, they gave the scripts to somebody else. And again, it's... you know, I was paid for my efforts, I'm not complaining, I'm just saying it's too bad, you know, that again, the Cesar Chavez that I carry in here didn't make it onto the big screen. Nobody's stopping me now, I mean I can still you know, Thank God I'm still healthy, I can still get it off, you know? But the point is, that a lot of people don't know these stories, they don't know how hard it is to get a movie done.
LV: And also, here's another thing that perhaps is an unacknowledgedlight motif. People have been in Hollywood, particularly people who've had some success in Hollywood, know what it is. And I've had this conversation. But if you are a minority or if you're a woman, or both, and you do have a commercial success, then there are different conditions for your being. There are people 267:00who are gonna come at you. They're gonna come at you to squash you, is what they're gonna do. You know? And you have to find a way not to get squashed. Because that part of Hollywood is a ball crushing operation. That somebody's always trying to crush somebody else to prove their worth. And you know, you don't just defeat somebody, you crush them. That's the idea in Hollywood. And so, because it's a pecking order that is set up, and everything is like marked and ratcheted in certain ways. And so only certain people go to the top echelon. Only certain people. Very few people of color get up there, you know? And there are no Latinos up there yet, to speak of. But if you go up, if you say, "Okay I'm moving, I'm moving here, I'm going up." I say, "Oh watch that one, watch 268:00that one." [MAKES NOISE] Because it's maybe a nobody that's doing that to you. Somebody that's not successful can do that to you. You know? And I think that's part of what happened in New Line Cinema, with me. So I was trying to get this thing going, you know, and I couldn't get the president to agree to meet with me. And I cornered him one time, I really cornered him in his office, I said, "Let's talk." "I don't have time right now." And I'd say, "But I want to talk to you about this project, you know?" And I even said, "Hey, we're contemporaries, man. We've covered the same territory. I know you started." So I mean as one producer once told me, "You're too articulate." You have to learn to play the game, you know? And the game unfortunately sometimes for me is, I can't hold my hat in my hands and go, "Si Señor," you know? I can't do that and I even had this confrontation with Taylor Hackford, I mean to the extent that he was my 269:00friend, until then he gave me the power, and once I had the power, he wanted to take it back. And I said, "I can't give it back to you, I'm a director, you know what I mean? This is my movie. Get off my set." And he like got off my set, he really did. But it didn't make him feel good, after that. Yeah, there's a room for humility here, there's room for understanding, but on the other hand, they don't treat Robert Redford that way. Or anyone that looks like Robert Redford if you know what I'm saying, okay? I don't know how they treat Spike Lee, you know, he has his own struggles. But the fact is that it's okay. Because it's not just one group or one ethnicity that has these problems. That's the nature of the game in Hollywood. It's a tough game. You know? And you have to be real tough to survive it, and then to profit in it, to thrive in it. Man, that's an amazing thing, you know? And I've had a lot of irons in my fire, a lot of arrows in my quiver, you know as they say? I've had a lot to do with a lot of things. I mean I'm not just a filmmaker, I'm a Teatro person, I'm an educator, I'm a husband, I'm a father, I'm a son. I had to do all those things. As a good son, I had to bury my parents. Okay? I mean, and I'm the one that could afford to pay for their funerals. So I had to do that, on the one hand. Hold their hands until they were dead, basically. And I wanted to do that, I wanted to be there, and I didn't worry about movies in the mid-90s because I had my parents, you know, I had to accompany my parents to the door, and say goodbye to them. And on the other hand, giving birth to a university was an interesting thing too, I held the hand of students, you know. To do that, I don't regret it. But you know, I wish I had three lives and one would be dedicated to filmmaking. 'Cause [INAUDIBLE] all my life just to be in movies, it was tough on my family. It was tough on the commute, it was a real tough commute for me. For two years, they're coming and going, you know? Just to LA and back. Coming back on weekends, you know? I made it a point, but it was compression/decompression, compression/decompression. Man, that stuff can drive you nuts after a while. It's all right when you're working, but in your human moments, it produces some stresses and strains, you know, my kids were, well at that time they were teenagers, and I could tell there was rebellion setting in. And I'd say, "I better set them straight, I better be dad again for a while, you know? So they can see me." And a lot of families go broke, they go [MAKES NOISE] bust. And I wasn't willing to make that sacrifice either, not my family, you know? So I've lost a film or two, you know? That's all right, I still have my family. 270:00
INT: Well, what do you think all these contributions that you've madewith the Teatro, with your films, what do you see as you know, your legacy?
LV: Well, I think that in terms of what's left, you know, I'm a writer so thescripts that are left, they're books, they're plays. And that's always a lasting thing. I think the books, the written literature probably lasts longer than the other stuff, you know? Even the movies will probably be the books of the future when people go and try to find history, they'll look in the movies. But even so, books are less perishable than film, in some ways. Plays if they're well written, and they're still relevant can last for hundreds of years, we've seen that, you know? I was inspired by Plautus, the Roman playwright, you know? I was 271:00inspired by the Greeks, I was inspired by Shakespeare, I was inspired by a lot of people, you know? They came along. And so I hope that the simplicity of some of the work that I've been able to accomplish will survive, and it appears to be doing all right. A lot depends on how the memory is preserved, you know, whether these plays will be produced again and again or inspire others. I think my films seem to be doing okay, at least you know, a couple of them. They're there. If you're a filmmaker how many films can you hope to be remembered for? You know? If you're a playwright, I mean you're lucky if you have one or two plays, you know, that people can remember you for. And I think that Zoot Suit is already part of the canon, you know, of American literature. It's in anthologies with 272:00people I used to study when I was in college. I don't know how long it will last, but it's there, and that's encouraging to me, as part of the legacy. I think more than anything also, will we finally arrive with the Mexican-American experience, is that the level of literacy that we do finally have literature. Which wasn't there when I was a student, even in college, it wasn't there. I know because I edited the first anthology of Mexican-American literature, it was called Aztlan, you know? With Stan Steiner back in 1970. And I know how hard it was to get materials for my first class, I had to mimeograph stuff, in order to get it out there, but I don't pretend to be the first and you know, I'm certainly not the last. It's just... but what I have been able to achieve and accomplish has been a stepping stone for a lot of people. I think the example and the final analysis is probably worth more, that I'm secretly proud of every 273:00time that I hear of Latinos or Latinas calling themselves playwrights or filmmakers, and I claim a little bit of that. That I say I'm proud of that, because when I was again a student, there weren't any. And now there are quite a few by comparison, you know? And more as time goes by, people see that, ""Oh, I can do that now. Because he's done it, I can do that."" And I'm sure when they study the details of my struggle, maybe they'll see themselves, they'll say, ""Oh, he went through that too."" You know? I was a little amazed when I did have some successes that people assumed that it had been an easy road in some way, you know, that somehow it had been automatic. And they don't realize that these are struggles, you know? That have to be fought, and that they're some losses. But you can't let that destroy you, you know? You just gotta keep going. 274:00We've all left pieces of ourselves in the field, you know? That's the nature of the beast, and... I try to find the common denominator that connects us to everybody. And some of that is an understanding of the history, some of that is understanding of human nature. Some is understanding the way human beings are. We just happen to be a very combative, murderous species, the human beings. You know? And we're also very generous, and self-sacrificing. That's the contradiction. And how do we balance it? How do we find a way, you know? And how do we keep people from prejudging so quickly? And my hope is that if you can tell a story real well, with all the details, at least I enjoy movies and books and plays that present aspects of the human being, and they don't have to be 275:00absolutely right or wrong or absolutely black and white. They can be a lot of grey and it can have a lot of subtlety in it. But I really love it when it gives me an impression of the human being. I said, ""Oh, those are the conflicts, those are the real conflicts."" So I strive then, even today in my work, to try to find that kind of subtlety. Subtlety has always been there, but I've been rough for many years, you know, deliberately rough. 'Cause it had to be rough. But as time goes by under better controlled conditions, I like a certain amount of subtlety.
LV: And my latest play is called Valley of the Heart, and people keeptelling me, "It's a movie, film it! It's a movie." Because it is, in a way technologically, we're using a lot of visual imagery, moving video and stuff in the back of the actors. Again, something that we worked out, there's a nice shot, a master shot of Heart Mountain concentration camp in Wyoming for instance, and our videographer, or video technician, a student at Santa Cruz, David Murakami, took it and added a snowfall. And so all during the scene there's this snowfall that's falling over this concentration camp in Wyoming. He turned what was essentially a daylight shot of the concentration camp in broad daylight into a snowstorm. It's really amazing. And then other effects, you know, fires, sun's coming up. I mean, these are visual effects that you could introduce into the theatre now. But you have to find away to do that without interrupting the quality of what you're saying. So my story is really about two families, and it's a story that I've carried for a long time, because I 276:00mentioned that my dad had taken over the ranch of a Japanese-American farmer. And I finally came back to that, I had to come back to that, to deal with it. I dealt with it a little bit in Zoot Suit, but it was two plays and I had to cut that part out. Because it was true of Henry's family too, that they took over the ranch in LA, of a Japanese farmer. But I said, "It's got to be a different place," so I reset it in the Santa Clara valley, the Valley of the Heart's Delight. And it's a love story between the eldest son of the Mexican family, that are sharecroppers. With the daughter of the Japanese farmer that they're sharecropping with. The Yamaguchis and the Montaño's. And of course the parents wanted her, the daughter, to marry a nice Japanese-American suitor, you know, this young man, middle class. The parents here [BACKGROUND NOISE] are a little bit scandalized, but you know, they're just fighting for their survival. What's interesting is that in 1947 or thereabouts, I had a friend back in the Valley, 277:00who was half Mexican and half Japanese. And his father was Mexican. His mother was Japanese-American. And they lived across the street in a shack. The kitchen I remember was cardboard boxes, that was the wallpaper. Now thinking back, seems a little unusual a Japanese woman would be there, but that was not unusual after World War II, they just didn't have too many places to come back to. But she had married a Mexican farm worker, and he had gone into the camp with her. And they'd had a son. And he had by that time, grown up and he was close to my age. And we used to play together. And his name was Benny, and his father was Benjamin, and his mother was Thelma. And so when I wrote my characters, the father became Benjamin, and the wife became Thelma. And the son is Benjigo, okay? I mean, so I saw my friend for one summer and then they were gone, I 278:00haven't seen him since. It's been 60 some years, you know? 65, 66, 67 years since I had that summer with him. But I'll never forget eating at their house. That she could cook Mexican or she could cook Japanese, I never knew what they were gonna eat. So I always hung around playing with him until dinnertime okay? And they would ask, you know, she would say, "Do you want to eat?" And I'd go, so they'd serve me, and that was always good. If it was Mexican food, that's fine, no problem. Lot of [NON-ENGLISH DIALOGUE] you know? But then sometimes, she'd come up with rice balls, that'd she make for her son. And that was an amazing thing to me, to get a rice ball. With a plum in the middle. You know? And that was exotic man, I was saying, "Look at this." And that's something I've 279:00carried with me, and so at this point in my life, I said, "I've gotta do this. I gotta do this." And so I wrote it last year, you know, we workshopped it. And we're bringing it back this year, because we want to tour it, we want to take it around. We've had a lot of support from the Japanese-American community. We're gonna have another reading at the Japanese-American Citizens League convention in San Jose. But we're gonna run here from August through October. And people have been waiting for it to come back, and it's gonna march from here across the state, and perhaps across the country, I don't know, we'll see. But the work continues. And that may become a film too, I would love to film it, you know? But it has to be under the right conditions. And there are other plays, other things that I'm still working on. I'll keep working as long as I can. You can't 280:00say that writing is physically a task, you can do that as long as you can type, you know? And even then as long as you can narrate. But next year, 2015, El Teatro Campesino is going to turn 50. We're going to celebrate our 50th anniversary. And that's a landmark. That's a landmark for a human being, but it's quite a landmark for a street theater. Quite a landmark for the theater farm workers. I never expected that we would be here 50 years after our origins, because our origins seemed so uncertain. But we've been going full blast ever since, and it'll be up to the next generation to figure out what to do with it, you know? With the legacy of El Teatro Campesino. But reaching 50 is going to be a great satisfaction I think, to many of us. Particularly the cuarenta y tantos, you know, the 40-somethings that have been in the company this long. And I'm 281:00very proud of the fact that we have, oh half a dozen to eight people you know, that have been together for 50 years. Us just, well 40-some years.
INT: Thank you Luis. What were the greatest lessons you've learned inyour career? Yes, no answer.
LV: The greatest lessons I've learned in my career is to be flexible. It's theold metaphor, you know? Be more like the grass, rather than the oak tree. The oak tree can fall in the middle of a storm, the grass just bends, it keeps on growing. [INT: What would you describe as your proudest achievement?] My proudest achievement without a doubt are my children, my three sons. They are the continuity of whatever I am and I'm proud to see that they're all in the arts.
INT: What were your most difficult and challenging times or experiences?
LV: I think probably in conflict wise it was the 1990s, you know, with the deathof my parents and making that transition. 'Cause you know who you are up until the point that your parents die, and then you have to figure out who you are after they're gone, because you're next in line for one, but it isn't as simple as that. It's just that a lot of things change for you in your life. At that point, chances are you're approaching the latter part of your life, so you have to figure out what you're going to do with this time. And the death of a loved one, particularly a parent, it's little bit like a whirlpool, you know, that threatens to suck you in. And you have to swim a little bit harder, and you have to fight a little bit longer to come out of it and we all do, but we're never the same again. You're not the same. Without a parent there, you are on your own. Very literally.
INT: How do you think the industry has changed in relation to the Latinocommunity over the years? You think-
LV: What has changed?
INT: The industry, the film industry.
LV: I would like to say that the film industry is learning to relate to theLatino community, and I think they are. They're learning certain things. They're learning about it's economic potential. I don't think that they're learning how to tap that economic potential very well, because the decision makers are still dealing with a handicap, they don't understand the community that they're dealing with. And it isn't enough just to portray Latinos as negative personalities, as drug addicts and whores, you know, the old images. And movies do deal in stereotypes, any way you've got it, you got a lot of ciphers, you know? A lot of characters that are nothing, one or two get to be human, the rest are just furniture. You know, really gathered around. So when they deal with 282:00racial and cultural questions, there isn't enough room there to be subtle, you have to do it a lot. You have to tell a lot of stories. And unfortunately, as far as ethnic groups are concerned, they're still given token treatment, you know, that if you have one movie about American Indians, that's enough, that's all they can deserve, you know. Or one or two movies about Latinos and that's enough. You know? African Americans, they're faring a little bit better these days, they're more fully integrated, I think because the burden of guilt is so heavy on America with respect to black slavery, you know? Perhaps with others, take on the burden of guilt for Latinos a little bit too much, they say, ""You know what? I don't want to have to worry about that, let 'em fend for themselves."" And yeah, Latinos can fend for themselves, but not everyone. Not everyone, and a movie that deals with our reality, more movies that deal with our realities will help everybody in some ways. I'm not asking for a lot, I'm 283:00saying, ""Just cast one or two people in some movies, and let them be Latino, that's all."" You know? Let them be like everybody else, but it's a doctor or a lawyer, you know, policeman, you know. At least let the leads be Latino, just let them be Latino, you know? What's the problem? But the fact is, that the system isn't geared to think that way. If you're Latino, it's because Latino equals [MAKES NOISE]. The potential for criminalization, you know, the whatever it is. You know, the problems. And not very often, the positives. What are the positives? Or what is it that has defined the Latino, to begin with, right? And as a matter of fact, we're part of the American melting pot, we're part of the phenomenon of the last 500 years, and we've been melding in Latin America for 500 years. So a lot of values that have been coming. And not just Spanish and Indian, I'm talking about all the races of the world are there. You know? And 284:00the Jews are there, the Lebanese are there. The Asians are there, the Chinese, the Japanese, Vietnamese. They're all there. And they're all blending and you know, increasing this pot, making it a lot more interesting in terms of what Latino is. That's not even beginning to count the indigenous peoples and what all of the indigenous peoples have brought to the mix. And that's a powerful one. I think until America and the world as a whole acknowledges the humanity of the indigenous peoples, it cannot be an honest brokering, you know, of our truth. You've got to acknowledge what that means. What does that mean? I tell young people, you know, we're survivors of a holocaust here. Happened 500 years ago. 90 percent of our people died, because of smallpox. Because of oppression, because of what have you. And you that survived to this day, you look Indian? You're a survivor man. And not only that, you've been given antibodies. You can deal with it. You can deal with this. We can change the world and make it a better place. But you're not gonna get anywhere by hating somebody. You've got 285:00to love yourself. You've got to start there. Hating somebody does never solves anything. Hating is just a good way to get cancer. You know? That's how you get cancer. Try swallowing more hate, you know? And you'll get there. But the fact is that, that story is not being told yet. That's all right, because it gives us license for the future, you know, other people will tell these stories. But I think the repetitiveness of the need for more and more stories to be told every night through all the mass media, is an increase in the opportunities and as we get more producers in place, they'll realize there's tremendous economic potential here. There really is.
INT: Okay. Who for you are the most talented directors in film today?
LV: Oh my God, that's a good question. That is a good question. I'd have tothink about that. [INT: It's a hard question.] It is, because I don't know all their names, you know?
INT: That's right. There's so many.
LV: There are a lot more, I mean I'm really impressed, thanks to Netflix, I'mreally impressed with the work that's coming from other corners of the world, right? I mean Asia's just going, it's explosive what's happening in Asia, you know? Huang Jianxin, I mean, I think he's a great filmmaker, you know? The Chinese filmmaker. INT: Mm-hmm.
LV: With Gong Li you know, and his films spark something I think that arejust tremendous, you know? I'm very, you know, Yasujirō Ozu, you know, I just happened to discover another one of his films the other night, you know, on Hulu. I'm very impressed with his steadiness, I'm learning a lot from Yasujirō Ozu, just in terms of capturing daily life and how his patience, and his focus on family life, it's really quite a testament for a filmmaker. And a lot of his 286:00films are similar, I mean he does it again and again, and I respect that too, that he was able to do that. Keep coming back to the same themes, and he died relatively young too, actually I think in his early sixties, you know, when he died. But obviously I've been into Asian films for a while now, I began this whole thing, I've just investigated Asian realities, but you know some of the Latino films that are being made. El Infierno, have you seen that? No, I'm not exactly sure.
INT: El Infierno?
LV: Yeah. Do you know El Infierno? That's on Netflix.
INT: It's about a town?
LV: It's about a guy that goes back to Mexico.
LV: And he's been in the United States.
INT: Right, yeah.
LV: And the town is completely changed because of the drug trade.
INT: I haven't seen it, I've been want-
LV: And everybody's violent as hell.
INT: Yes, I want to see that film.
LV: Well it's on Netflix now, but we had to go all the way to Cuba, we saw it inHavana. You know, in 2011, you know, I heard about it in Mexico.
INT: Some time ago, yeah.
LV: Yeah. And I've met actually some of the actors and the filmmakers, butthat's some gutsy filmmaking, okay? That's taking place there, and it's going somewhere. I'd love to see it, you know, where that's going. And Diego Luna I think, short of Cesar Chavez, we won't mention that, 'cause I don't think that's his best work. But he did a documentary on Julio César Chávez, Diego Luna.
INT: The boxer.
LV: That I like more, you know, I think it's a wonderful film. I'm also becomingvery aware of some of the historical filmmakers, Fernando de Fuentes, I don't know if you know his name.
INT: Yes, yes.
LV: You know, Vámonos con Pancho Villa, which I saw again in Morelia for thefirst time, the festival in Morelia. And I now have a copy, which is probably the most accurate representation of Pancho Villa. He's the one that did Allá en el Rancho Grande, I mean he defined the Mexican identity, this guy, with his movies in the 1930s and he was some of the first sound movies. And I'm saying, well, hell I mean, I thought Ismael Rodríguez, you know who did La Cucaracha and all those people, certainly Emilio Fernández, whose a great director.
INT: Right, yeah.
LV: You know, Emilio Fernández.
INT: But I think were talking here about filmmakers today, the modern day filmmakers.
LV: The modern filmmakers, yes.
INT: You can mention a couple.
LV: I wish I could, yeah.
INT: Well you mentioned the Chinese director, he's a modern day filmmaker.
LV: Well he is, absolutely yeah. I wish I could remember some of these, I haveto pay more attention to these Europeans, you know, that I've been watching as well. But they're coming from Poland, they're coming from Israel, they're coming from other places. Palestine, you know, they're putting stuff out that, and I should know their names by now, but...
INT: That's okay, don't worry. Don't worry because I have another question for you.
INT: If you were to attribute your success to something or someone,what or who would it be?
LV: My success? Okay.
LV: Well, believe it or not, it would be, it's very odd. I have a brother, Ihave an older brother who has not gotten old too happily now, you know? 'Cause he was a real striver, but he was an overachiever of sorts, you know? Early on. And that's part of his frustration now, that he didn't overachieve as much as he wanted to, in his life. He's three years older than me, so he's 77, you know? And he's sick, he's gotten ill lately. But he's the one that taught me to reach. He's the one that... life has always exceeded his grasp, you know? He's always reached out, tried to grab something and saw it, ""It's gone,"" you know? Before he can grab it. And he went into the sciences, he went into another world over there. I almost did too, but I was really drawn to the, believe it or not, the solidity of the arts. For me they were more solid than science in some ways. I could grab hold of more substance in the arts than I could in the sciences. Mainly because the sciences, becoming a scientist would have meant I'd have to change my whole lifestyle. And I wasn't prepared to do that. And also because, someone that looks like me, would run into real difficulties in the scientific world. I realized that there were limitations. And I think that's part of my brother's problem too. But the thing is that in the arts, I could make my own way. In the arts I could manage my own image, you know, I could change my image, 287:00and that's why the theater, you know, and films have done for me. I've been able to manipulate the image, you know, at least so that's why it seems substantial, it's all made of air, but it seems more substantial, you know? But the idea of grasping, of reaching out came from very late night conversations with my older brother. Late at night when things were terrible. When we sometimes didn't even have enough to eat. And we talked about what was going to be. You know? And he painted a picture once on a window shade, which was in our room, and anytime we moved we took that window shade . Just had barren window shade, and he pulled it down. And on it was the Earth and then a space station. That he painted. And the space station was floating above the Earth, just like in 2001. And years later I went to see 2001 with him in LA, when it came out. '68. And that's the shot, you 288:00know, the space station, it reminded me of that painting because it hung in our room, oh must have been '53, '54. And we could go into outer space just through that painting. And I was always grateful that he did that, because it was the dream. It was that reach. You know, he never made it to outer space, he launched rockets, you know, out of Vandenberg, under military contract, you know? But nevertheless, the dream was to escape the bounds of Earth, the gravity, you know? And the gravity at that time seemed to me all those forces that were trying to pull us down, all those forces that were trying to keep us down. And we needed to escape and so the idea of a rocket became a metaphor, just to power up and just keep going. And that's who he was, that's who he is, you know? He 289:00powered up as an athlete and he powered up as a student, as an intellectual. And I was right there with him, we're powered up man, we were you know, fired up, ready to go as Obama says. And that's... so I you know, it's, he'd be surprised perhaps to hear me say that, maybe not. But that's who inspired me.
INT: It's beautiful.
INT: Thank you so much Luis.LV: Oh you're welcome. You're welcome.