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Historically, political satire has been a popular genre used to address pressing social and legislative issues through a comedic artistic lens. From cartoons to short stories, political satire has addressed events ranging from the American Revolution in the 1700’s to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s. A prime example of political satire is the play ‘Los Vendidos’ by Luis Valdez. ‘Los Vendidos’ sarcastically addresses racism in the 1960’s by portraying the most common stereotypes of Mexican Americans in California. Luis Valdez, a migrant California farm worker in the 1950’s and 1960’s, playfully approaches political agendas and cultural ailments in the play.
The play invokes political satire to draw attention to the exploitation and unfair treatment of Mexican Americans in a changing society.
In the late 1960’s California was undergoing a demographic and cultural revolution. The white middle class voters that had elected conventional Governors Earl Warren and Edmund G. ‘Pat’ Brown were becoming the minority and the Mexican American demographic were becoming the majority in urbanized areas such as Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
Governor Regan, to curry favor with emerging Mexican American political leaders such as Ben Fernandez, sought to diversify his administration staff. The play ‘Los Vendidos’ brings attention to the begrudged stereotype that had plagued Mexican Americans and the politicking that had occurred in the changing landscape.
‘Los Vendidos’ offers a fictional portrayal of picking a stereotype that the general public would find pleasing in Governor Ronald Regan’s administration. The recruiter Miss Jimenez, a secretary for the governor, is guided through the three most common stereotypes by store owner Honest Sancho.
The stereotypes, presented as cars in a showroom, are depicted through the Farm Worker, Johnny, and the Revolucionario characters. The negative connotation that Mexican American heritage carries can be examined in the beginning of the play. Miss Jimenez, who carries a hispanic surname, upon introduction of herself to Honest Sancho states ‘My name is Miss JIM-enez. Don’t you speak English? Whats wrong with you'(Valdez 959)? Miss Jimenez emphasized the Americanized word of her surname to sever association with the Mexican American community.
Honest Sancho begins his showroom tour with the Farm Worker’s features, liking him to the most standard ‘model’ that is equipped with durable ‘Four ply Goodyear huaraches, made from the rain tire'(Valdez 959). The liking of the farm workers shoes to Goodyear tires is followed by a demonstration of his hard working, friendly persona, but then like a car buyer would mutter on a budget, Miss Jimenez asks ‘But is he economical'(Valdez 960)? This question prompts Honest Sancho to liken the Farm Worker to a Volkswagen car, dehumanizing the Farm Worker in a humorous simile.
This simile portrays the Farm Worker’s ruggedness like a Volkswagen can be stored anywhere and can run on practically ‘pennies’. The examination of the Farm Worker gives way to a political cost analysis by Miss Jimenez, who ultimately passes because he did not speak English, therefore he would not appeal to the masses. The next stereotype Honest Sancho displays is Johnny, a ‘sophisticated’, bilingual, city dwelling Mexican American. Honest Sancho again humorously likens Johnny’s features to a sports car with desirable and aesthetically pleasing features.
However, the stereotype of urban Mexican Americans takes over and Honest Sancho mentions that Johnny has an arrest record that was brought about by the poor educational and economic opportunities, stating ‘Well he learned it in your school'(Valdez 961). After Johnny attempts to steal Miss Jimenez’s purse, she passes stating’ We can’t have any more thieves in the state administration, put him back'(Valdez 962).
Miss Jimenez states ‘We need something that will attract the women voters, something more traditional and romantic'(Valdez 962). The depiction of Johnny humorously illustrates the common stereotype of Mexican Americans that live in cities during the late 1960’s. The final stereotype that is depicted is the Revolucinario, an adventurous, bilingual college educated rancher, who is also a movie and television actor, Much like Governor Regan. Honest Sancho states ‘As a matter of fact he is built like our Anglo models except that he comes in a variety of darker shades¦’ (Valdez 963). Honest Sancho continues ‘Yes seГ±orita, this model represents the apex of American engineering'(Valdez 963).
The linking of the Revolucionario to the high achieving Angalo-Saxon American community is a bit of a social play on what American’s found desirable and admirable in the 1960’s. This description meets Miss Jimenez with great delight, a well accomplished and versatile immigrant that is clearly a political asset for Governor Regan’s administration. Miss Jimenez then begins to haggle with Honest Sancho forcing the ‘three models’ to approach her at which point she runs out of the store screaming, as if she is scared of them attacking her.
This play is both humorous and educational, with the analogies to cars Honest Sancho utilizes to provoke a humorous tone where the reader can surmise the author and characters are in on the so called joke. The joke being the exaggerated stereotypes portrayed through car features that start out promising but then ultimately contain a flaw such as poor english or a criminal record. Even the character’s names Honest Sancho, the Farm Worker, and the Revolucionario contribute to these stereotypes. A one word representation of society’s bias towards Mexican Americans.
The educational aspect in the play offers the reader insight into the racial profiling and exploitation that Mexican Americans had faced in the 1960’s. The secretary, acting on behalf of the governor, only weighs the political benefit they can bring in an election. The secretary to the reader does not separate act from essence, for example Johnny steals, that means he must be a thief. The act of stealing completely defines who Johnny is, rather than examining like Honest Sancho had, the environment and conditions that provoked him to steal. The stereotypes present in the play brings to the forefront the racist perception of most Mexican Americans that lived in farms, cities, and rural California.
The play like most political satire aims to humorously examine the political exploitation and racist views held against Mexican Americans. Luis Valdez does an exemplary job portraying the negative and unfavorable views of minorities held by bigoted Californians. The reader may surmise that Luis Valdez faced many of these same prejudices during this period in California, and America for that matter. Works such as this play create an approachable way to examine the false compassion, political exploitation, and stereotyping in immigrant communities, and perhaps learn from this to create a more inclusive and compassionate society.
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