Luis Valdez

From a server at Reposado recently, a recommendation that I should look at the work of the Chicano writer Luis Valdez (whose name was unfamiliar to me); I recommended to him the work of the Chicana writer Sandra Cisneros (whose name was unfamiliar to him).

It turns out that I didn’t recognize Valdez’s name, but I certainly did know some of his work. From Wikipedia:

Luis Valdez (born June 26, 1940 [in Delano CA to migrant farm worker parents]) is an American playwright, actor, writer and film director [not to mention activist for Chicano causes]. Regarded as the father of Chicano theater in the United States, Valdez is best known for his play Zoot Suit, his movie La Bamba, and his creation of El Teatro Campesino. A pioneer in the Chicano Movement, Valdez broadened the scope of theatre and arts of the Chicano community.

Oh my, Zoot Suit and La Bamba!

Zoot Suit.From Wikipedia:

Zoot Suit is a play written by Luis Valdez, featuring incidental music by Daniel Valdez and Lalo Guerrero. Zoot Suit is based on the Sleepy Lagoon murder [1942] trial and the Zoot Suit Riots [1943]. Debuting in 1979, Zoot Suit was the first Chicano play on Broadway. In 1981, Luis Valdez also directed a filmed version of the play, combining stage and film techniques.


About the clothing, from Wikipedia:

A zoot suit … is a men’s suit with high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed, pegged trousers, and a long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. This style of clothing became popular among the African American, Chicano, Filipino American, and Italian American communities during the 1940s.

… The zoot suit was originally associated with Afro-American musicians and their sub-culture. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word zoot probably comes from a reduplication of suit.

Here’s a collection of Chicanos — identified as pachucos in the source — in a variety of zoot suits:


On pachucos:

Pachuco refers to a particular old school subculture of Mexican-American and Latino Americans associated with zoot suits, street gangs, nightlife, and flamboyant public behavior. The idea of the pachuco – a zoot-suited, well-dressed, street-connected flamboyant playboy of Hispanic/Latino heritage – originated in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, had moved north, following the line of migration of Mexican railroad workers (“traqueros”) into Los Angeles, where it developed further.

That gets us to East L.A. in the 1940s. And then the Zoot Suit Riots:

The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of racial attacks in 1943 during World War II that broke out in Los Angeles, California, during a period when many migrants arrived for the defense effort and newly assigned servicemen flooded the city. United States Sailors and Marines attacked Mexican youths, recognizable by the zoot suits they favored, as being unpatriotic. American military personnel and Mexicans were the main parties in the riots; servicemen attacked some African American and Filipino/Filipino American youths as well, who also took up the zoot suits.

… [In the immediate run-up to the riots; on June 4, 1943,] 200 members of the U.S. Navy got a convoy of about 20 taxicabs and headed for East Los Angeles, the center of Mexican settlement. When the sailors spotted their first victims, most of them 12- to 13-year-old boys, they clubbed the boys and any adults who tried to stop them. They stripped the boys of the zoot suits and burned the tattered clothes in a pile. They attacked and stripped all minorities that they came across wearing zoot suits.

As the violence escalated over the ensuing days, thousands of white servicemen joined the attacks, marching abreast down streets, entering bars and movie houses, and assaulting any young Latino males they encountered. In one incident, sailors dragged two zoot suiters on-stage as a film was being screened, stripped them in front of the audience, and then urinated on their suits. Although police accompanied the rioting servicemen, they had orders not to arrest any. After several days, more than 150 people had been injured and police had arrested more than 500 Latinos on charges ranging from “rioting” to “vagrancy”.

… The local white press lauded the attacks by the servicemen, describing the assaults as having a “cleansing effect” to rid Los Angeles of “miscreants” and “hoodlums”.

Yes, a shameful miscarriage of justice. And the Chicanos who had quickly been arrested and convicted for the Sleepy Hollow murders were soon cleared and released from jail.

All of this was crafted into a moving play by Valdez.

La Bamba. From Wikipedia on the film:

La Bamba is a 1987 American biographical film written and directed by Luis Valdez that follows the life and career of Chicano rock ‘n’ roll star Ritchie Valens. The film stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Valens, Esai Morales, Rosanna DeSoto, Elizabeth Peña, Danielle von Zerneck, and Joe Pantoliano. The film also covers the effect that Valens’ career had on the lives of his half-brother Bob Morales, his girlfriend Donna Ludwig and the rest of his family.


I’ll get back to Lou Diamond Phillips in a little while. But first, on Richie Valens and the song. From Wikipedia:

Richard Steven Valenzuela (May 13, 1941 – February 3, 1959), known professionally as Ritchie Valens, was a singer, songwriter and guitarist. A rock and roll pioneer and a forefather of the Chicano rock movement, Valens’ recording career lasted eight months, as it abruptly ended when he was killed in a plane crash [in an event that became known as “the day the music died”; three rock musicians died in the crash].

During this time, he had several hits, most notably “La Bamba”, which he adapted from a Mexican folk song. Valens transformed the song into one with a rock rhythm and beat, and it became a hit in 1958, making Valens a pioneer of the Spanish-speaking rock and roll movement.


Also from Wikipedia:

“La Bamba” … is a Mexican folk song, originally from the state of Veracruz, best known from a 1958 adaptation by Ritchie Valens, a top 40 hit in the U.S. charts and one of early rock and roll’s best-known songs.

Two renditions: the original by Valens can be listened to here; and a video from the film (with the song covered by the band Los Lobos) can be viewed here.

On Los Lobos:

Los Lobos … (Spanish for “The Wolves”) are a multiple Grammy Award–winning American rock band from East Los Angeles, California. Their music is influenced by rock and roll, Tex-Mex, country, folk, R&B, blues, brown-eyed soul, and traditional music such as cumbia, boleros and norteños. (Wikipedia link)

La Bamba was a big break for them. And also for Lou Diamond Phillips. From Wikipedia:

Lou Diamond Phillips (né Upchurch; born February 17, 1962 [Filipina mother, father of one-quarter Cherokee descent]) is an American actor and director. His breakthrough came when he starred in the film La Bamba as Ritchie Valens. He earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in [the movie] Stand and Deliver and a Tony Award nomination for his role [as the King of Siam] in [a Broadway revival of]  The King and I.

… In June 2012, Phillips began costarring in Longmire, about a modern-day sheriff played by Robert Taylor. Phillips plays Henry Standing Bear, a Native American, who is Longmire’s good friend — often helping him with cases and in dealing with the reservation police who do not respect or like outsiders, especially other law enforcement.

I included Longmire because it’s a show I’ve enjoyed.

From Wikipedia:

Longmire is an American crime drama television series that premiered on June 3, 2012, on the A&E network. … The show centers on Walt Longmire, a Wyoming county sheriff who returns to work after his wife’s death. Assisted by his friends and his daughter, Longmire investigates major crimes within his jurisdiction, while campaigning for re-election against one of his own deputies.

A cast photo, with Taylor on the left and Phillips on the right (and the deputy in the middle):


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