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Latino/a Mobility in California History

Genevieve Carpio, Javier Cienfuegos, Ivonne Gonzalez, Karen Lazcano, Katherine Lee Berry, Joshua Mandell, Christofer Rodelo, Alfonso Toro, Authors

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La Carpa de los Rasquachis

The relationship of this piece to mobility begins before the story actually starts. The “carpa” in the title comes from the name traditional Mexican itinerant comedy tent shows, known as carpas. After all, El Teatro Campesino is a continuation of the “carpa” tradition. Luis Valdez himself stated: “We [El Teatro Campesino] eveolved –in our own earthiness- characters that emerged from Cantinflas and the whole comic Mexican tradition of the carpa, the tent” (Broyles-Gonzalez 9-10). Its humor derives from the particular Mexican-ness of the carpa story. It functions by setting up a specifically Mexican sense of humor. According to humor scholar Susan Reichl, cultural humor "relies upon a shared matrix of references as a prerequisite, and as a consequence, fulfills an important function in establishing, maintaining, and adjusting in-group ties and group borders." In carpa, the Mexican/Chicano community is the in-group, and the shared matrix of references refers to languages, character archetypes, religious imagery, and aesethetic iconography (Reichl and Stein 91). The protagonist of the play follows in the tradition of the “pelado,” an archetype popularized in the carpas by the comedian Valdez mentions, Cantinflas; he is an archetype that “stood for a broad social category,” that of the working-class underdog (Broyles-Gonzalez 37).

First, the protagonist (Jesus Pelado Rasquachi) wants to find a job, but he is both unable to do so in Mexico, and unable to pay for his own travel to the US-Mexico Border. He must borrow money from El Diablo (from the imagery and implications, he represents a major gangster or organized criminal). This exemplifies the experience of poverty push factors taking people away from Mexico, the ideal idea to return to Mexico after making money, and the pull of the United States' labor force. From the difficulty it seems to take Rasquachi to reach the border, one can concur that he is not from a region near the United States. The town name of “Guangoche” is mentioned, but it is likely fictional as no town by that name seems to exist. This location is plotted on the map near Guanajuato and Michoacan in a rural region known as “Guangoche.”

Second, Rasquachi experiences difficulty crossing the US-Mexico border. He does not have a pre-existing contract, and therefore he can not cross the border as a Bracero worker, and he does not have American currency to bribe border officials.  the border illegally; the smuggler, then functioning as a labor contractor, recruits him to work for a rancher who pays him little and infrequently, and provides poor working conditions. This disillusionment and these poor living/working conditions are similar to those treated by Tim Cresswell in the first chapter of his book The Lie of the Land (Cresswell 15).Unlike some of the other locations throughout the play, which tend to be vague, the train that takes Rasquachi to the border specifically drops him off as a sign is held that reads “Juarez.” For that reason, the site of Rasquachi’s border crossing is plotted on the map as Ciudad Juarez, Chihuaha. While his initial work takes him all over the western United States, Rasquachi’s life as a migrant laborer leads him to settle in California’s Imperial Valley. Again, this location is specified via signs in the play, and it is plotted on the map at Imperial County’s seat, El Centro, California.

At the end of the story, Rasquachi and his family are told to "stay on this side" of the freeway, thereby drawing the boundaries of their mobility through infrastructure as is reflected in the story told by Eric Avila's Folklore of the Freeway, particularly when concerning the boundaries of East Los Angeles (the Mexican/Chicano neighborhood of LA), where it is heavily implied that the Rasquachis are (Avila 120). The conditions of urban poverty and urban crime lead the members of their family to welfare and prison, while the white-dominated education system leads other members to marriage out of the Latino community (and a rejection of Mexican roots) and mainstream college education (also leading to a rejection of Mexican/Chicano roots). Because of the aforementioned inferences, this last moment is plotted on the map as East Los Angeles, California.

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