Chicano Secret Service (CSS) recently performed at the Latino New Works Festival at Highways Performance Space. Their 90-minute show had the audience laughing their heads off.
A political sketch comedy troupe in the tradition of the San Francisco Mime Troupe (with whom some of the members trained), CSS plays around with ethnic stereotypes and renders outrageous but apt caricatures of the power figures in our lives. Members Tomas Carrasco, Susan Carrasco and Elias Serna are all teachers and/or graduate students when not touring with CSS.
The show, “Strange Rumblings in Aztlan,” began with Highways Director Leo Garcia introducing “Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles, Dennis Sabe de Todo.” Mr. Sabe de Todo (knows everything) made a rather incoherent speech. He was followed by “Condoleeza Arroz” who spoke of a U.S. government plan to solve the problem of a “rain of immigrants” by building a “great white wall of America” to keep them out. Her speech was interrupted by heckling from a uniformed man in the audience. With a Castro hat and cigar, he came on stage to introduce himself as “Che Castro,” the ultimate Chicano radical. “I defy anybody to challenge my radicalness!” he cried. Then he admitted “I’m not 100 percent Chicano.”
The show featured other characters like “Tia Lucita,” a feisty local activist who was very proud of her tacones (dancing shoes), Chicano Moslem leaders like the large-moustached “Sadam Jose,” and the book-banning “Elijah Mojado,” and a Chicano family with a very large child in a diaper known as “Baby Chuy.” There were film and video clips in which non-Hispanic leaders like the president and the governor misspoke themselves thanks to editing and overdubbing.
While the jokes about Mexican-American culture wowed the Highways audience, some of CSS’s humor may have been hard to understand for those less familiar with Chicano culture and slang. The show program featured definitions of a few terms (it was useful to know that “chingazos” is a form of karate practiced by Chicanos), but a more extensive glossary would have been of help.
There was also the mystery of some symbols on a mock American flag used as a prop in one skit. The flag’s stars were mingled with a swastika, a skull, and a Star of David. Were these symbols meant to be condemnations of America, and, if so, why was the Star of David included?
When the Mirror asked CSS about this after the show, Elias Serna explained that the symbols represented various aspects of America, both good and bad. The flag, therefore, could be taken as a symbol of cultural diversity (the skulls, after all, are part of a tradition in Mexican art). Tomas Carrasco agreed, saying, “Art is a matter of interpretation.”
But CSS’s comedy also reminds us that we live in a dominant English-speaking culture with a Eurocentric mind-set. In their most effective sketch, “Baby Chuy” was given a test by a school official to see if he was ready for school. Asked, “Who discovered America?” he replied, “Nobody. Columbus was lost.” Given a word scramble – the letters ACTO – he unscrambled it as “taco.” The official told him it ought to be “coat.” Both solutions are correct, but which one a person sees first depends on what language and culture is most familiar.
Suffice it to say that a performance by Chicano Secret Service may make one think – and it will most certainly make everyone laugh at some point.
Chicano Secret Service will be appearing in October Santa Monica College.