By Joe Contreras, Latin Life Denver Media
“It was a tough watch. Moving and challenging to the soul. Begs to ask many questions of self and our future.” Manny Almaguer.
“This play had me in tears. What do we want our America to look like in the year 2050”. Ruth Sanchez.
“Twenty50 helped me recognize that each generation maintains an enlarged sense of claim of what their America means. How do we keep our unique cultures while maintaining shared American values that ultimately bring us together.” Elizabeth Munoz
“It is incredible, twenty50 shows us what happens when we lose identity: When we don’t know our past, we can’t know who we are today; because who we were is who we are”. Dr. Lorenzo Trujillo.
“The U.S. is a mixture of many cultures. We all ought to be proud of where we come from. We should honor all cultures and people that are part of this great country, we should never become a melting pot.” Former Colorado Representative Poly Baca Barragan,
“This play shows us the hard reality of what we could be facing in 30 years if we don’t do anything to keep our culture alive.” Julio Martinez
“Twenty50 is truly a piercing and relevant production. The “Self Identity” art exhibit also presented at the theatre was also fantastic.” Rhonda Castaneda (see photo gallery below)
Those are just a few of many emotional reactions people have had over the past week to the World Premier of Twenty50 an intriguing and challenging production written by Tony Meneses and directed by Henry Godinez currently playing the Space Theatre at the Denver Center for Performing Arts through March 1, 2020.
The cast is amazing. Zeus Mendoza plays Andres “Andy” Salazar the ambitious candidate for a Texas Congressional seat. Frankie Alvarez is Sebastian, Salazar’s even more ambitious campaign manager. Salazar’s non Spanish speaking daughter is played by Valentin Guerra. Her grandmother, Irene is performed by Blanca Camacho. Oscar, played by Peter Pasco, nearly steals the show with his convincing portrayal of the non English speaking undocumented immigrant who stumbles upon the Salazar ranch. Monty, Matthew Orduña, is the Black ranch hand who looks out for not just the ranch but for the Salazar family as well. Lydia, Tania Verafield, The Sheriff, seems to have a crush on Andres but is tough and vigilant about her duty.
Twenty50 is intriguing play about communal as well as self, racial, political and ethnic identity. The year is 2050, Latinos are now the majority. They are no longer regarded as Mexican Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Chicano’s or any other qualifying identity. They are now simply Americans. The Wall has been built, Spanish is rarely spoken and when it is, it is mostly by grandparents, although older adults understand and speak a Spanglish form of the Language. The youth are turned off and even offended when parents or grandparents speak Spanish. They don’t understand it, their culture is fading and they could care less. It’s time to move on and be Americans.
Andres “Andy” Salazar is running for political office. A potential Congressman from Texas. By this time, Latinx people have been assimilated into the majority of the United States, but race issues are far from resolved. In this tricky political environment, Andres must decide whether identifying himself as a Mexican American will help or hinder him on Election Day, and whether losing some of his own identity is worth the potential social benefits.
It’s what happens when an undocumented Mexican immigrant mysteriously stumbles upon the Salazar ranch seeking refuge and survival that determines what path Andy will chose. How does the family react to a situation that threatens to destroy Andres’ political ambitions yet bond them with a past they thought was forgotten.
While the plays asks what will all that look like in 2050 when Latinos are the majority, it also questions what does all that look like right now as we move in that direction?
At one point in the play the young girl asks if things are better or worse. Well, I know the play took place in 2050 but I say worse! said Ruth Sanchez, adding, “We have immigrant children locked up in cages, we have immigrants labeled as rapists and drugs dealers. Only because of the color of their skin & surnames they are cast into jails and prisons with their families separated as further punishment. As the play reflected, huge sacrifices are made by immigrants who come to America to make a better life for themselves and their families. But in order to be accepted into this society and succeed in the USA, they assimilate, changing their names from Andres to Andy, their language, identity—who they are & where they come is scarified. This assimilation is then passed on to their children. It was a deep thought provoking play! What do we want our America to look like when we are the majority in 2050? asked Sanchez.
“The key is to integrate and learn about each other.” said Polly Baca former Colorado State Representative and Senator. “Assimilation means that one culture dominates the other. We are a mixture of cultures and we should honor all cultures that make up this great country,” said Baca stating, I have never believed in the melting pot. We influence and integrate with one another, we should never melt rather we should all remain proud of who we are as well all our indigenous roots that have contributed to what this country is today.”
“Yes,” was the stark answer given by Dr. Lorenzo Trujillo when asked if he saw a time when Latinos would in fact lose their ethnic identity, their heritage as was portrayed by the politicians daughter in the play. Trujillo who teaches youth as an affiliate professor of music and the director of the Metropolitan State University Mariachi Ensemble and the Mariachi Correcaminos said “I believe much of our youth is already lost because of the fact that so much of our youth is consumed by cell phones and social media. There has been a loss of language. Many of our youth no longer speak Spanish and they have no interest in it. They have lost that connection with their ancestors, their grandparents. Yes, that has been lost ” said Trujillo As for the current wave of new immigrants and dreamers, Trujillo said that data shows that first generation of these groups still speak Spanish but by the second and third generation it is lost as they become English Dominant. “The price of that is loss of relationship to their past and when you don’t know who you were, you can’t know who you are.”
Of the message the play conveyed, Julio Martinez said, “twenty50 shows us the reality of where we are headed if we don’t do anything to keep our language and culture alive.” Martinez, a Multicultural Engagement Strategist for Denver Health, said it is important that parents and educators teach youth their heritage in order to avoid a future where identity and individualism are lost to a society of homogeneous blending. “I see it currently happening, that is why it is so important we continue to provide cultural platforms to keep our culture alive. We can do that by supporting arts, supporting culture. Parents should be proud of their ethnicity. They and their children should not be afraid to speak their native language in public not matter what that language may be. It could be French, German or whatever. That is part of who you are, where you come from.” Martinez continued saying, “We are a diverse country made up of not just English, or just White or Hispanic or Black but rather a mixture of many cultures and people that have come together as one nation. That’s who we are and that’s what we need to preserve.”
“I see that happening right now with my own clients who are mostly Spanish speakers,” said local entrepreneur Norberto Mojarin. Mothers tell me not to speak Spanish to their kids. They want what is best for their kids so they focus on learning and speaking English while ignoring Spanish altogether.” Mojarin, an immigrant from Mexico himself also said, “We need to start being stronger with our kids and teaching them to speaking Spanish and not be ashamed of that but respectful of all it represents. Otherwise we are just going to find ourselves blending in, becoming invisible again.”
Twenty50 could not have had it’s World Premier at a better time. With election year politics garnering a full head of steam, the political, social and racial divide of the country show just how much is at stake for the country and especially for Latinos moving forward.
In this highly charged political year it is fascinating watching all the maneuvering between politicians, not just presidential candidates, as they try to position themselves seemingly trying to appeal to everyone.
What type of representatives will emerge? What will it mean for Latinos living in and out of the U.S. now and in 2050? Will we see the rise of Latinos for Trump via Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who voted to acquit Trump of impeachment charges or Bernie Saunders supporters via U.S. House of Represenatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Ocasio-Cortez is among the first female members of the Democratic Socialists of America elected to serve in Congress
Who will Latinos most identify with and what does that mean for their evolving or disappearing identity as Latinos?
Thus far Latinos have been left out of the conversations. The seven candidates in the New Hampshire debate barley mentioned Latinos or the issues that concern them; cruel immigration policies, caged children at the border, lack of disaster relief for Puerto Rico, school to prison pipeline and other issues have thus far been ignored.
Let’s hope Latino voices going forward and not only heard but elected in a manner that represents their heritage and fortitude. As one audience member commented, “Will we pave the way with values, integrity and inclusiveness for all or will we just forget it all in exchange for a piece of the American dream?
For tickets visit DenverCenter.Org. Enter code TWENTY for a discount of up to 20%. Also support the Mexican Cultural Center of Denver by joining them for a special presentation of the play on February 20 with VIP pre-show entertainment curated by the Mexican Cultural Center, performing Ballet Folklorico Mexico en la Piel, starting at 5:30pm until the show begins.
Also remember to stop by the art Exhibit: Identidad from Arturo Garcia, David Martinez, Jerry Rael, Joaquin Gonzales, and Keith Dannemiller, this exhibits focuses on metizaje and indigenous roots of the Americas. It is both an internal and external landscape that shape who we are as descendants from two different worlds that converged in the wilderness of the human heart.
Photos by Rhonda Castaneda, Latin Life Denver Media