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 Mummy Dearest

An interview with Luis Valdez during the writing of "Mummified Deer"

May 21, 1999

San Diego Repertory Theatre

(Note: This interview was conducted after a historic tour of California by Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, which was intended to promote partnerings between Mexican and Californian high tech and telecom corporations. His visit was met with protests by civil, labor and immigrants rights groups, who argued that Mexico still had many uresolved low-tech issues to deal with. The Hollywood movie "The Mummy," a digital-effects laden monstrosity, was being heavily advertised. Valdez was working on a draft of his new play, which at this point was still called "The Mummified Fetus." I had actually come by to interview him about his play "Bandido" and a series of moderated discussions he was doing called "The Sunbelt Dialogues." I seem to recall my only notes on the subject of mummies was to ask him what he felt about the movie. Good thing I had fresh batteries in the recorder.)


Victor Payan: So Zedillo was here yesterday.

Luis Valdez: Yeah.

VP: What did you think of that?

LV: Well, I wasn't there. I was invited to a demonstration, you know, to complain, but I was doing auditions here, so I couldn't get out. Yeah, I've been tracking him, because he started up north, you know in Sacramento, or at least San Francisco, and he was supposed to come to San Jose. He didn't come to San Jose. I know people are real upset about that, you know, because the largest concentration up there of Mexicanos is in San Jose not in San Francisco.

VP: Right.

LV: But I think that, I mean what some Chicanos in San Jose were saying is that he's not entirely familiar with the realities of California, and I think that's, my only impression is that whoever the president of Mexico is, it behooves him to understand California better and better, because there's so many Mexicanos here.

VP: Right, and I think, reading the press release on your play coming up, "The Mummified Fetus," your idea of what's called "ethnic cleansing" today, in Mexican history, it seems that a visit like Zedillo's doesn't want to address that, even though that's what most of the protests were about was ethnic cleansing today.

LV: But it's been going on for a while. It's all the indigenous peoples in Mexico, and you know, from here people tend to look at Mexico and say they're all homogeneous. It's all one group. You know what I mean? But we know, those of us who are raza, know that there's a range as in mestizaje. But at the bottom of the totem pole is still the indigena, whether it's in Chiapas or whether it's in Sonora or the Kumeyaay over here outside of Tijuana, you know.

VP: Or whether it's in Colorado, Nevada, it's all the same...

LV: Or across the border, it doesn't matter. It's all indigena. Or the Tohono O'dham, given the cicatriz. They live right on the scar, man.

VP: Right, with the border crossing their reservation. Right, but it seems weird, because historically, as Chicanos, I think the dialogue in the Sixties was for affirmaiton and there was kind of the symbolic Aztlan...

LV: Which is Aztec, you know.

VP: Yeah, but going back to the African Americans, they had their "Back to Africa." Most of the African Americans who had that "Back to Africa" line never knew what Africa really signified, but as a symbol it was potent. So Aztlan as a symbol in the Sixties served the same purpose. But in the Nineties, I think there's more of an analysis, of a critique of that. So now what you're saying, now it's not just the Indians in Aztlan, it's the Indians in the North, it's the Indians in the West, it's the Indians north of the border.

LV: Really what's being said here is that there's a need for more definition. As we go along, we get more subtle, we get more refined, and the reality of Mexico is that the old romantic stereotype of Old Mexico breaks apart once you begin to examine it. And it breaks apart along genocidal lines. It breaks apart along racial/class lines.

For instance, just in my study of Mexican history, just like everyone else, because I'm interested in my past, but also as a writer, I discovered that for instance the Chinacos that followed Benito Juarez back in the 1850s to the 1870s were basically Mestizos and/or Indians who had taken the initiative and climbed on horses. They weren't caballeros. They were peones who got on horses. And up until that time, Indians were not allowed to climb on horses, you know. Same way over here. It's like when the Comanche got on top of horses, you know, they used it. They used the animals. So in Mexico, they kept the peons barefoot, they kept them on foot, off the horses and illiterate. And Benito Juarez is an outstanding example, a unique example of one Indio who managed to get educated enough to read...and look what happened to him!

So I think these are issues that we need to understand better from our perspective over here, and everybody need to understand them, because it's the world, in reality.

VP: And also, there was all the hype about Cinco de Mayo, you know, earlier in the month, and people say, you know, well it was the Mexican stand. But in reality it was the lower class peones, you know, the mestizos and the Indians who made the stand rather than the rich and the elite who were actually welcoming the French.

LV: Or it even goes back to Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla. When he...the Grito de Dolores and all that...and he had a tremendous following among mestizos and Indios. He went to the gates of Mexico City, and he, by his own initiative, pulled back, because he could see that the Indios were just chomping at the bit, man, to get in there and defend their rights. And he voluntarily pulled away. And this is one explanation as to why he was eventually executed. You see, he had the upper hand, but he released it, because as a Spaniard, as a criollo, even Father Hidalgo could not trust the mestizos and the Indios.

VP: So even he was part of the problem?

LV: Even he was part of the problem, man.

VP: So what's the solution then, if we've got all this, you know, no matter how strong or how righteous the cause, if there's always some subversion defending the status quo. What is the answer?

LV: well, the answer is I think people becoming familiar with each other. Intermarriage is part of it. Like with the raza, we hava a lot of mestizaje. You know, you can't scratch a Mexican without discovering two or three different strains, you know, which is fine, you know, so long as people know that they have those strains.

One of the things that I find real strange in terms of the US side of the dialogue, is that the dialogue in this country is real black and white. You know that?

VP: Yeah.

LV: Even among Black people. People that are patently mulattos, you know what they used to call high yellow, Octaroons, are still Black. And that's a lie. That's a distortion. Deal with the fact that there's been racial intermixture. Even among whites, there's all kinds of racial intermixture so that we can understand reality better.

VP: Sometimes forced racial intermixture.

LV: Well, especially among blacks and whites. But I mean with the Mexicano, we fall...we're either black or white. We come over here, and we're suddenly in this spectrum. So if you're dark and Indio looking, you're black actually, as far as the society is concerned. You can pretend to be white, and if you're light-skinned, you're white! You can pass! You can get in! And a lot of them do. A lot of them have.

I used to have these conversations with black radicals way back, dating back to the Sixties, and they used to say, "Well, the problems with the Mexicans, see," they used to say, "with you Spanish people, is that you turn white. You go white like that. (snaps finger) You can do it." Not all of us. You know, I used to argue. I can't. I'll never be able to pass for white. I said, I'll always be a black man in this country. But really, I'm an Indio. You know what I'm saying? I'm a Yaqui.

And so as a playwright, I'm looking for that. Just to throw a little more light on US/Mexican history, on US/Mexican immigration, and acknowledging the fact that at the early part of California history, some of the first people to arrive came from Sonora. A lot of them were Indios, and they were running away from genocide. And at the early part of this century, especially, when my relatives came. At the turn of the century, they came to Arizona and then into California.

They were killing Yaquis right and left, man. They were taking their lands. It's the same story you see elsewhere. So I want to tell that story. I want to tell that story as a playwright.

VP: I write for Pocho Magazine, and I just wrote one for their website about, you know, they do news parodies, a fake news service, about how Apaches are angry that they're sending Apache helicopters to fight ethnic cleansing, when, you know, the war against the Apaches didn't end until 1900 here. So it's the same time period that the Yaquis are getting kicked around.

LV: Yeah, ask the paratroopers where the "Geronimo!" comes from. That's where it starts, with Geronimo and then with the Apache helicopters. I mean, let's face it, if the Yaquis were from here, they'd have Yaqui helicopters. They would have eliminated the Yaquis, but it would have been Yaqui helicopters.

VP: And Jeeps.

LV: Anything sort of like you don't have to deal with the human, but you can take their symbolism.

VP: Speaking of human, I was looking at the website for your department in Monterey. I was doing some research, and I was really interested with the department name, what was it, "Art, Human Communication and Technology," something like that...

LV: Creative Technology.

VP: You see communications departments, you see technology departments, but that...you know the human interface is always at the forefront, but not the human significance. Tell me a little about your department in terms of how that name fits what your vision is.

LV: Well, I was invited by another Chicano, Steve Arviso, actually, who was the Provost there. He's now in Oxnard, but he invited me into the process. And I knew Steve from his days in Sacramento with the Royal Chicano Air Force. You know, that group of radical artists. So he was really coming from a Chicano consciousness when he asked me to participate. And I agreed, because it was an opportunity to design the ground plan for a new university, and also they offered me tenure, full professorship. And since I was the only one who was a theater person or a television/film person, I was able really to set the foundations for the institute, which is called the Teledramatic Arts and Technology Institute, TAT.

Teledramatics is a term I coined, which deals with what films are becoming, because everything's going digital. And so what we know as film, as celluloid, is actually being phased out. And we're using digital cameras, we're using digital postproduction techniques. So, you know, no one will actually be handling celluloid for much longer, in the same way that we won't even be doing VCRs anymore. It's all going to be digital and DVDs.

But with Monterey, we had an opportunity to do this quickly, so there's no theater department, there's no film school, there's no television department. They're all one. It's the TAT Institute. Teledramatic Arts and Technology. So under that we teach students how to act, how to write for either theater, film or video, but it takes all the humanities into account as well. You know, you have to have that grounding, that foundation as well as the technological. The important thing is not to be afraid of either and to do some kind of cross-hatching so that people don't go into science and forget the humanity, and so that people don't go into the humanities and forget that we live in a technological world. Especially the minority students.

And very often, this is one of my personal peeves, is that very often what passes for "ethnic" in this country is equal to non-technological, which in this day and age means illiterate. Because you can be illiterate now, not just in terms of reading and writing, but also technologically. And so it's very important that we don't get left behind. "We" being the raza, "we" being any of the minorities that are coming from another place.

VP: But even in terms of ethnic studies, like I remember I got out of college in '91. I was up at Stanford, and they were trying to get a Chicano Studies department going, and it just struck me that a lot of the Chicano Studies classes, well, there they were actually more progressive, but some that I've seen here since at San Diego State are more in ethnographic studies or cultural studies as opposed to being, you know, like when you take a literature class, you see the significance of that literature in your living culture, in your day-to-day experience and in your reference points as a person being alive today. But when they taught these other classes, it was almost like, well, this is something different. Here's the body of accepted literature, and here's Chicano authors, you know, as opposed to "these are authors." And that's what they were fighting against at Stanford at that time. Do you think that we've come a long way since then, that they're more integrated, that they'e more accepted as being more legitimate artists and writers?

LV: I don't think we've come very far at all. Actually, if you've followed the demonstrations at Cal, you know, and at Stanford, the hunger strikes in the last couple of weeks.

VP: No, I haven't seen that.

LV: They've been fighting for the survival of the Ethnic Studies, of the Chicano Studies department. I was part of the Chicano Studies department at Cal, at UC Berkeley. I taught Teatro for a couple of years there, and also at Santa Cruz. But the thing is that over the years the advances that were made in Chicano Studies have been pulled back, and a lot of universities, like affirmative action, they're rethinking it, and really trying to phase it out, trying to redefine the issues. Now to some extent, I think the dialogue and the debate here is legitimate. To the extent of how far are we going to stretch our ethnicity. The Chicano identity is transitional, as far as I'm concerned.

VP: Right, but there's always somebody new who qualifies as a Chicano. I think as you move up, I don't want to say the social ladder or the cultural ladder, but as you move into a different strata, which is more of the mainstream. I don't want to say mainstream in that you're selling out, but mainstream in that you're adapting to the new society, there's always somebody moving into that spot that you were in whose parents are recent immigrants.

LV: So the Chicano experience is always viable.

VP: Yeah, thank you. That's what I was trying to say.

LV: But the thing is what exists ahead. If the Chicano experience never changes, our young people are going to abandon it, because it doesn't work for them in terms of their future. So I don't know. The young people are going to have to redefine themselves, when they get to it. But I can already foresee that the real issue that's on the table is American identity. That has to be redefined. And so far, up until very recently, what "American" has meant is a transplanted European. So the English get in real quick, the French, you know, the Germans.

VP: And even African Americans to a great degree become transplanted Europeans if you look at the ideals and values.

LV: Well, that's a process that's historical, that's been going on since the Mediterranean, right, if you will. As a matter of fact, I think the Black/White issue in the United States is a replay of this European issue, that Europe has to reconcile itself to Africa and Africa has to reconcile itself to Europe. There are already a lot of Africans in France and in Germany. They're interbreeding. You're getting a lot of Africanized Europeans and Europeanized Africans.

VP: And in England, too.

LV: So all that gets transplanted here. And here it gets mixed in with the Indios, and you get mixed in with the Asians, and you get a whole different issue. So I really think that the issue is "what is an American?" And the identity itself, by its nature, should automatically include anyone who is of Native American origin. You are, legitimately, by birthright, an American. You were born here. And I don't mean to qualify it by calling them "Native Americans," I'm just saying, yeah, we have native roots. We've been part of the Twentieth Century all century, we didn't just get here. We've been driving cars, watching movies with everybody else, eating hamburgers, you know doing all that stuff.

So really, it needs to raise the issue of American Studies. American history has to be honest, has to be truthful and not lie and not be selective and only deal with Europeans. It has to deal with all of the peoples who have contributed something to the American identity.

VP: But that American identity, I think, part of what should be in that dialogue is the fact that choice to be different, like Native Americans, if they choose to be different, to honor their cultural traditions, which means you don't have this love affair with technology, you have more of a love affair with the natural and living in balance with the natural world. That needs to be respected also.

LV: But I really don't ditinguish between the natural, necessarily, and the technological. I know that there are some things that are very manmade and very fabricated and phony, and we live in our cities. We live in a man-made world, let's face it, that's far away from nature. And the indigena value of being close to nature being integrated with nature is absolutely essential for the survival of the human race, and that value must be preserved. But it does not mean that you can only be Native American if you don't deal with computers, if you don't deal with cars. You know what I'm saying?

VP: Right. And if you look at the Aztecs and the Mayans, those were very technologically advanced societies with the sciences and astronomy and even astrology. But I guess what you're striving to achieve with your department, that view of the sciences was in harmony with their view of nature, as opposed to being mutually exclusive.

LV: That's right. So mathematics per se is not the enemy. And if you look into the Mayan world, mathematics is basic, man, to the whole universe, and the digital aspect of it. Actually, in the Mayan mathematical system...you know we have the decimal system, which comes from the Arabs, and we use digits, for example (holds up index finger) this is a digit. A finger is a digit. So digital really is referring to counting on your fingers. And it comes from the decimal system, which is the ten fingers.

The Mayans doubled that and they went to the vigesimal system, which is based on a system of twenties, and they counted the toes. So they figured we have twenty digits: ten digits on our hands and ten digits on our feet. So all together it's twenty digits. So their mathematical system is vigesimal. And when you think about the symbols in the Mayan mathematical system, it is the line, there's the one; there is the zero, which is represented by a conch shell. It's the binary system, do you understand? It is the point, the dot and the line.

So where are we? We're in a period of technology dot com. The dot is there, the line is there, the zero is there. The Maya were digital five thousand years ago, do you understand?

VP: Yeah, and now they're assembling the computers again in maquiladoras.

LV: But the thing is we need to be able to use this to apply it to our lives.

VP: Well, this goes back to what we were talking about ethnic cleansing. I mean, when the Europeans came to this continent, the first thing they did was to destroy the information, destroy the codexes, and the religious books. That information was there back then, that view of life, that approach to life was already there, and I think for Europeans to "discover" it five hundred years later and take credit for it is just...you know, you need to look back, you need to make that connection.

LV: We need to assess that whole history again, you know. Now, I'm claiming my Yaqui origins, and I know that one of the things I have to do in order to claim that is I sort of have to let go of the pyramids. I'm not going to let them go completely, obviously, because I've been studying the Maya for too long and the Aztecs. I'm connected to that, too. But then in order to cross the Rio Petatlan by Sinaloa and to get into Yaqui lands, you know into the Mazas River and the Yaqui River, I have to get out of Aztlan. Aztlan is an Aztec concept. And I have to enter el terreno del Yaqui, you know El Rio Yaquimi. I have to come into the northern deserts. I have to come into Sonora, and I have to rethink and say, okay, what is the value of the Yaqui.

The value of the Yaqui, just to give you one example, and really it's not just Yaquis. It's Mayos, Ocatas, it's Ceris, you know, a lot of the northern tribes. The value is their love of freedom. The ferocity of their defense, that they said you got to respect me as human first, and that's the issue, not how many pyramids you build, you know what I mean? The pyramids are great, but those were built on the basis of empire also. The Aztecs were conquerors. And so were the Maya. They were a very warlike people. They were the Romans and Greeks of the New World, and everybody else, all these other Indian tribes were (like) the French and English (of Roman times). And so we have to look at history ourselves, our own history and judge it honestly. And while we may embrace Rome, the way we embrace Mexico City, we also need to acknowledge that we come from this big biological pool.

VP: And at the time, to expand it, the Egyptians were also an imperial society and culture, which took slaves.

LV: There you go. There's a price for these pyramids and these fancy buildings. There's always one group oppressing another and taking in slaves and saying "you build it!"

VP: But the difference is, when you look at the different cultures, we look at Rome and Greece as the birthplace of modern civilization, and we look at Egypt as kind of the pinnacle of ancient civilization, so there's some cultural value placed there, but in American culture we look at the Latin American cultures of the past and say, you know, they made baskets and they drew on walls.

LV: Well, I think that needs to be looked at, you know, and this recurring suggestion you know, that all the indigenas are the lost tribe of Israel. Remember all that? But in some ways, the comparison is interesting, because the Indians are like the Jews of the New World. You know what I'm saying? They were not the Egyptians. They were the slaves of the Egyptians. It's all one humanity. But if you're talking about Yaquis, you're talking about this fierce tribe that refused to get out of their own wilderness. They were free in their wilderness and they continue to this day to try to defend that.

To be in love with your own freedom does not necessarily mean, though, to be anti-technological. I think that has to be understood. And I hope all the indigenous tribes of the Americas can adjust their past with their future. We really need to participate in the present so we can get to the future.

VP: And do you think...In your research, you've talked to Yaquis today in Northern Mexico. Do you see that they're achieving that balance with technology, you know, because the internet was instrumental with the Zapatistas, and notice if you ever do a search for Native American information on the web, you'll find hundreds of really well-developed sites that have stories and histories and medicines, etc. I've seen they're very conscious of modern technology as a tool to further their culture, whereas other systems might have failed them, like the educational system.

LV: Well, the Yaquis were so decimated, like all the tribes, but using that example. The Yaquis were so decimated by this century and the wars to destroy them that their struggle has been just to retain what they had at the beginning of the century. And so considering that it wasn't until 1937, Lazaro Cardenas returned the ancestral lands back to them, at least part of them. I mean Ciudad Obregon is still sitting there. It used to be called Cajeme, which was the name of one of the chiefs, but it became Ciudad Obregon because some very powerful people came and took the farmlands, right. They belonged to the Yaquis at one point. So the Yaquis got a piece of what they used to own. And I think that reconstruction of their culture has been their priority, and I'm sure that's correct. I'm sure there are people working with them who know about computer technology. There's certainly a lot of books that are beginning to appear about the history and about the culture, and the Yaquis are participating in that. But as a people, and you can't blame them, they remain closed in self-defense. And they distrust the yoris, man. The yoris are the white people...or the mestizos. We're yoris.

VP: So they'll look at us and say...well...yeah, rightfully so.

LV: We look like yoris.

VP: After several hundred years of being killed, you earn the right to be distrustful.

LV: I mean I can claim my Yaqui roots, but if I go back there, they'll say no. You're a yori. Que traes, you know. You're on the other side. And it's true. I'll grant that.

VP: You can't blame them.

LV: I can't blame them. Not at all, because too many Yaquis made the decision in terms of bloodshed. They used to call them torocoyoris. All the soldiers, for instance who fought with the Mexican army were torocoyoris, because they were mercenaries, right. But torocoyori means betyrayal. It means betrayer. It means like vendido. And so these are very important terms, because in some ways they form the basis for terms that we use today, here in the Chicano movement, you know? Talk about vendido and being Chicano. These things have a root that goes back to the indigenas, and we don't even know it.

VP: Or we stop our investigation at a certain point. And what you're doing is continuing that investigation.

LV: I want to deepen it, man. Especially for us in California and Arizona and Texas. All the border regions.

VP: Let's talk a little bit about your play, "The Mummified Fetus," because of course the movie "The Mummy" is opening up right now, and I just wanted to draw parallels between how we perceive in terms of our westernized American culture, you know, mummies. Because mummies since the dawn of film have been horror film subject matter, with the exception of the Golem in Jewish culture, which is a different story, but mummies in Egyptian culture and in Latin American cultures, mummification was a very spiritual act.

LV: La momias de Guanajuato.

VP: Yeah, and everywhere, even in Peru. So the act of mummifcation is an act to become closer to the gods, closer to a spiritual essence, whereas in the movies it's completely different. It's a destructive, horrible, evil kind of thing, which is completely the opposite of what mummies are about. How do you view that in terms of your story, because I know the background of your story, which wasn't an actual mummification, but a biological mummification, but the significance still must be the same.

LV: Well, ultimately the idea of the symbolism of a mummified fetus to me is a symbol of indigenous America, you know. That's who we are. We haven't been born yet, and we haven't been given a chance to be born. We're mummified. So I want to deal with that as a symbol, and yet I want to tell a story that's real and historical. That's all I can say about the play. Thematically, though, I think you're right that people tend to spook themselves out by misinterpreting cultural value, and the Egyptians are part of that mix. You know they have been a source of great fascination for the Europeans, for the English particularly, who owned Egypt for a while. They're the ones who created Palestine. It was the English, not the Arabs and the Jews. It was the English who created Palestine.

But the thing is, I've been to Egypt, and people looked at me and they thought I was Egyptian. Seriously.

VP: People have told me that I look Egyptian.

LV: I was, carte blanche, the doors opened. It was amazing. This was at a time when they were killing Americans, too. And I've been to Giza, you know, the pyramids, and the Pyramid of Cheops, you know, which is the big one. And I've been into the heart of the pyramid, into the king's chamber, into the vessel that held his sarcophagus, and I've lain in it. I went in there, and I laid out in the sarcophagus, because I wanted to see if there were any vibrations coming to this pyramid. I wanted to be part of it, right. I wanted to be healed of everything.

So I laid down in this thing, and I closed my eyes, and I saw this light go on. And I opened my eyes, and these two Japanese tourists were taking my picture. So I got up right away. And the other tourists wanted me to get back down, and I said, no, no, I don't work here. This was a spiritual thing for me.

VP: Before they seal you back in.

LV: But anyway, I found that there were a lot of similarities, and I did have an opportunity, because this was a film festival, the Cairo Film Festrival, that I was at. I had an opportunity to do an interview with the press, and I mentioned that, you know, we had something in common. I said I'm Mexican, you're Egyptian. Both our cultures have pyramids. And we're proud of our pyramids. And man, you should have seen the press. They just sort of leaned forward and said whoah, what is this? And they wanted to extend the press conference, but they couldn't, because I started talking about Americans, and obviously the festival sponsors did not want to stoke...you know there's enough anti-American sentiment already. They didn't need my Chicano viewpoint, you know.

VP: Defending America even.

LV: Well, what happened, it was volatile. It's a volatile subject.

VP: What year was this? Was it '87? Was it with La Bamba?

LV: No, no, no. It was '94.

VP: With Cisco Kid?

LV: Yeah, I took Cisco Kid. They showed it. But anyway, it was a great trip, and to see what that connection was. But it's true that Hollywood takes subjects like this and turns them into horror stories. Anything that isn't, even stuff that is familiar gets turned into horror, you know, in Hollywood.

VP: So rather than search for understanding, it becomes something like you said, to spook the populace, to create misunderstanding or distrust.

LV: Well, if you've been...Well, I don't know if you've been to the Egyptian Museum. I'm very lucky to be able to do that in the world. And other people pay for it, too, which is great about festivals. But there is, in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, it's an old, sort of big, used to be great building starting to crumble, but they have exhibits. Room after room after room, all the way to the King Tut exhibit, which is in some really ratty old big exhibition hall. But I was with someone who was an Egyptian, and he was kind of pissed. Or maybe he was African. He was African. I mean they're all Africans, but from southern Africa. He was very pissed and he said, "I want to show you something." And we went into one of the exhibit halls.

And here they have kings and queens, you know, I mean centuries of them. But the one person they had up on a pedestal was a statue of a scribe. This was a slave, you understand. But what made the scribe fascinating, I guess to the museum keepers, was that he was white. So they had all these black kings and queens off to the side, and you have this white slave, and suddenly he's on the pedestal. You see what I'm saying?

VP: It's interesting. I like documentaries, and there's a couple I've seen recently that fascinated me. One that I was watching recently was about a mummy. It wasn't a mummy. She was mummified. I guess she was a mummy. A princess from, where was it? In the steppe in Eurasia, somewhere between China and Russia. They had taken her body to Moscow and the scientists were doing this reconstruction. They did this physical reconstruction. It's a two thousand year old mummy, and the reconstruction looked like a modern European woman. And most of the people in that area are Chinese-looking. They're descendants of Genghis Khan (and the Mongols). And so they're in an uproar saying, wait a minute, she doesn't look anything like that, you guys just make her look like that. And that's exactly what you're saying here. Whoever's in charge at that time chooses how to look at the past.

LV: The problem is very deep here. And I hope that in this interplay, as we get cultural exchanges and we get more aware, that Mexico will begin to see it's own reflection in Chicano works like we see ourselves in Mexican works.

VP: And is that already happening?

LV: I think there's a great deal of dialogue that's happening. It's a flow. I think San Diego/Tijuana is one of the key joints in the whole mechanism here, because there's a steady flow here. And there's really in some case very little distinction between a Chicano in Tijuana and a Chicano in San Diego.

VP: That's true and you also get Indians coming up from Oaxaca who are there on the street.

LV: Oh, the Mixteca Indians that are here. We're deep in the Calafia project in the Calafia initiative that we're working, we're making direct contact withe the Mixtecos and their representatives. Because the Yaqui thing. I'm researching something that is historical, but the most recent example are the Mixtecas. They're the ones that are undergoing...and the people in Chiapas, you know, that are living this right now. So are the Yaquis. But the Yaquis had their resolution as far as it went, you know back in 1937, whereas in Chiapas it's still a hot-button issue. And these are the conditions that lead to social revolution, and people should be very aware of the historical echoes in Mexico.

VP: And in the United States, in terms of whatever happens in Mexico. Like you were saying, they were killing Yaquis in 1905, and your (grand)parents came here. That's the echo. And people don't understand that.

LV: That was it.

VP: Well, I guess it was happening in Central America in the 80s, too, but they didn't see the echo at that point.

LV: No, they didn't see the echo. And I think again, that's a knowledge of history, you know, what is past is present, and future. So be aware of it. This is the function of writing plays that deal with history. To me, the teaching of history is one of the major functions of the theater.

 

© 1999 Victor Payan

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