Soy Fronterizo

by Carlos Morton

in National Conference

Post image for Soy Fronterizo

(This post is part of the 2014 TCG National Conference: Crossing Borders {Art | People} blog salon curated by Caridad Svich.)

My plays deal with La Frontera, the border between Mexico and the United States, where the Third World clashes with the First World, where Latino meets Anglo, and where people speak Spanish, English, and a mixture known as Spanglish or Mextex.  Here we eat tacos and hamburgers, listen to mariachis and jazz, and worship La Virgen de Guadalupe.  When we celebrate Cinco de Mayo or the Fourth of July, we fly both the American and Mexican flags.

The themes I work reflect the problems we face in real life.  The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales is about police brutality in a small Texas town.  Los Dorados and Rancho Hollywood tell of the colonization of California by the Spanish and Anglos.  Pancho Diablo, a play with musica ranchera and cumbias, is the story of a Chicano devil that quits his job in hell and moves to Houston.  Pancho becomes a metaphor for the millions of immigrants who swim the “Rio Styx” searching for a better life in “God’s Country” which everyone knows is Texas. Eventually Dios the Father comes down from El Cielito Lindo disguised as a Border Patrol Agent looking for that sinverguenza Pancho.

I claim residency on the border even though I make my home in Santa Barbara, about 250 miles north of Tijuana, Mexico.   La Frontera is more than just a line that runs east to west from Brownsville to Tijuana, it is a state of mind that zig-zags north and south for over 3000 miles. There’s also a border between the more affluence coastal communities and the “In-landers” who reside further east. On the U.S. side the border begins in South Texas and goes through Mexicanized cities like San Antonio, El Paso, Tucson, Los Angeles, and on up to San Francisco.  On the Mexican side, it encompasses Americanized cities like Monterrey, Juarez, and Tijuana.

In actuality we fronterizos flourish anywhere La Raza resides, be it Chicago, where I was born (Poet Carlos Cumpian calls us “Mex-Kimos)”, or Hungary and Poland where my plays have been staged.  Mexicanos are actually moving to Poland: Check out the website “Mexicanos en Polonia.”! We carry our cultural baggage with us and transform the places we settle, be it Kansas or New York City.  Conversely, American expatriates have turned parts of Baja California and San Miguel de Allende into American colonies, transforming the Mexican landscape.

With the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement 20 years ago, Wal-Mart and other large U.S. chains have changed the shopping habits of Mexican consumers, while in the U.S.A. spicy Mexican salsa has replaced bland ketchup as the best-selling condiment. So many Poblanos from the Mexican State of Pueblo have moved to New York City that they now call it Puebla-York.  Children in Mexico City “trick or treat” for Halloween while Anglo kids in Austin and San Francisco celebrate the Mexican counterpart of Dia de los Muertos.

The area is full of dichotomies and grist for the playwriting mill.  Over the past one hundred and fifty years, Americans have grown comfortable with the Southwestern aesthetic, borrowing the vaquero (buckaroo) ethos from the Mexican cowboy, living in adobe houses, eating chile, corn and beans, and intermarrying with the indigenous people to create a veritable new mestizaje (mixture).  Just within my own family, I claim kinship with Jews, Blacks, Japanese, Chinese, Irish, and Arabs.  This is the new multi-culturalism and we are living proof of it.

South of the border other ironies abound.  The northern Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, and Baja California Norte have historically been alienated from the central government in Mexico City.  The satellite dishes of Monterrey and Tijuana are pointed north; the middle class send their children to universities in Texas and California; exchange their pesos for dollars, bank on the U.S. side, and attend Spanish-language plays in San Diego and Houston.  While undocumented workers are banned from crossing into the U.S., the Mexican bourgeois in their new American pickup trucks are waved across by courteous Border Patrol Agents.  I once wrote in a Mexico City newspaper that Mexico should consider relocating the capital city to San Antonio, Texas because “it’s closer to the shopping malls.”

Geographically speaking, all my plays take place in what I call GREATER MESOAMERICA.  Johnny Tenorio, a play about a Chicano Don Juan takes place in San Antonio, Texas.   The Miser of Mexico, an adaptation of Moliere’s classic Miser in Juarez, Mexico just before the Mexican Revolution of 1910; The Child Diego, about the life of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, in Mexico City; The Savior, retells the tragedy of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador; while El Jardin, a Chicano parody of the fall of man, takes place in any city where the play is staged.

I have been writing plays for forty-five years.  My first productions were in colleges and community theaters, mostly in the Southwest.  After graduate school at the University of California, San Diego, I went to work as a playwright for the San Francisco Mime Troupe.  Since 1986 I have been produced professionally by the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center Theatre, La Compañía Nacional de Teatro in México City, and the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre.  Johnny Tenorio has been produced in Mexico City, France, Spain, and Germany.  Ediciones El Milagro of Mexico City translated Danny Rosales in Spanish for inclusion in an Anthology of Contemporary American Theatre with Edward Albee, Maria Irene Fornes, David Mamet, Milcha-Sanchez Scott, Sam Shepard, and August Wilson.  McGraw Hill published Rancho Hollywood for a drama text and R.R. Donnelley & Sons published The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales. Have we “crossed over?” Is this really mainstreaming?

My aesthetic is deeply rooted in the New World concept of La Raza Cosmica.  I am a child of the two dominant cultures of the New World. My father, who was in the military, took us from Chicago to live in Ecuador and Panama where we lived where we went back and forth from the Midwest to the Panama Canal Zone. My heritage is Brecht, Calderon de la Barca and Cantinflas, Theatre of the Absurd and El Teatro Campesino.  This is who I am.  I can’t deny it.  I try and take the best of both worlds.

Carlos Morton has over one hundred theatrical productions, both in the U.S. and abroad. His professional credits include the San Francisco Mime Troupe, the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Denver Center Theatre, La Companía Nacional de México, the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre, and the Arizona Theatre Company.

He is the author of The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales and Other Plays (1983), Johnny Tenorio and Other Plays (1992),The Fickle Finger of Lady Death (1996), Rancho Hollywood y otras obras del teatro chicano,(1999), Dreaming on a Sunday in the Alameda (2004), and Children of the Sun: Scenes for Latino Youth (2008).

A former Mina Shaughnessy Scholar and Fulbright Lecturer to Mexico and Poland, Morton holds an M.F.A. in Drama from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of Texas at Austin.

Morton has lived on the border between Mexico and the United States since 1981, teaching at universities in Texas, California and Mexico. He is married to Azalea Marinlopez and has three sons: Seth, Miguel Angel, and Xuncu. He is Professor of Theater and Dance at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

  • Not His-panic

    You should hear how he got the last name “Morton” that is an American story.