Playwright Fans Flames of Bygone Latino Activism
Joe Sabedra is a liberal. Always has been. And he has no qualms mentioning it.
Yet the 47-year-old Democrat said he wonders what happened to the fiery Chicano activists he admired so much during the late ‘60s and ‘70s.
That was a time when the Brown Berets--Latino activists modeled after the Black Panthers--were active. It was a time when young Mexican Americans conducted protests supporting everything from hiring more Latino teachers to ending the Vietnam War.
“I remember seeing these people change when the Reagan administration came in,” Sabedra said, with sadness in his voice.
Over the years, he said, too many Chicano activists seem to have lost their idealism.
So the novice playwright from Camarillo has written his first play, “Man With the Master Plan,” to challenge his Latino contemporaries. The drama asks whether Chicano activists believed in what they were fighting for or whether they were protesting because it was fashionable.
Though the question could be asked of anyone involved in the ‘60s protest movement, Sabedra said his three-act play examines Chicanos and the decline of their political passion over a 30-year period.
“Man With the Master Plan” is about a prosperous Latino businessman who has fallen away from the idealism of his youth. Sabedra said his main character is an amalgam of many Latinos he has met or known over the years.
Sabedra, who works as an audiovisual technician at Moorpark College, took two years to write the play, which is drawing acclaim.
Out of hundreds of works by Latino playwrights, it has become one of three finalists in a nationwide contest sponsored by Nosotros Theatre in Hollywood, a group started by actor Ricardo Montalban to encourage Latinos in the performing arts.
During early readings, the play received strong interest from independent directors who are considering bringing it to the stage, said Marco Rea, who headed the contest.
The play’s central character is Mike, a former Brown Beret, who once fought slumlords to produce better living conditions for tenants. Mike eventually becomes a wealthy businessman who alienates himself from his family with his machismo and need to control people.
In one scene, Mike’s ex-wife, Irene, shouts at him: “You’re no Chicano, you’re just another rich Hispanic, who once was a Chicano.” She later adds, “A Hispanic accepts the status quo. They’re happy with the way things are.”
Irene goes on to say that a Chicano cannot be content as long as there continues to be high student dropout rates, extensive Latino poverty and “the fact that this society in general looks upon our raza (race) as one thing and one thing only: cheap labor.”
According to Diana Lopez, an English instructor at Moorpark College, some who have heard a reading of the play say they can relate to it.
Because the story deals with repression from within a family, a theme to which people of all races can relate, it has a chance for wide appeal, Lopez said.
“I think it’s going to be a very provocative and successful play because it’s not about the victimization of the Chicano by the Anglo, but the dynamic of a contemporary Mexican family and what they go through,” she said.
One student who Lopez accompanied to a reading of the play said she felt heartbroken because Mike’s character, who is repressive and strangely vulnerable at times, seemed so much like her father.
Lopez, 50, who was a Brown Beret while attending San Francisco State, said Sabedra’s play is realistic. She said a lot of Chicanos she knows have fallen from “that syndrome of demonstrating-revolutionary-wanting-to-change-Chicano into the mainstream, accepted conservative [way] of making a livelihood.”
Sabedra, an Oxnard native, said he supported the Chicano movement and admired those who were involved. He recalled many of the demonstrations during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in East Los Angeles. He remembers the Chicano moratorium against the Vietnam War in 1969.
He wanted to explore what happens when one man, full of “warped machismo,” transforms into a conservative businessman while his wife still holds to her ideals from three decades ago. “What happens to that relationship?” Sabedra wondered.
So, after working all day fixing projectors and taking orders for films and videos at the college, Sabedra spent most evenings during the past two years answering that question by writing his play at night.
Sabedra said he does not consider himself an activist. But he said he relates more to the character of Irene, who stuck to her ideals, than Mike. He said Latinos would have benefited more if the level of passion among those in his generation had not diminished.
“I think if the spirit continued and the struggle continued, things would have changed,” Sabedra said.