Luis Valdes. Los Vendidos
It is always easy to use abstractions and stereotypes. In such cases there is no need to think about exceptions and facts. There is always an absolutely violent enemy that prevents the particular nation from growing. It is unnecessary to note that this is the key factor that is the root of conflicts between nations and racism. The situation with the position of Mexican-Americans in the US is not an exception.
Luis Valdes wrote Los Vendidos in 1967, when the Chicano Movement was in its peak. Even though many years passed since the play was first staged, the theme is still urgent in the US society. Valdez once noted:
I’m talking politics, not art. I’m not talking about the individualized, introspective, personal philosophic view. I’m talking about really influencing people, and I sense a hunger in art for this. We’re into a political age, and we’re going to go further into it, because social problems are increasing (Bagby 79).
In wider sense, the main theme of Los Vendidos is racism. This problem implies stereotypical viewpoint and progressing Hispanophobia among people. A peculiar thing is that the main carrier of stereotypical ideas about Mexican-Americans is a Chicano. Miss Jiménez tries to get rid of her national identity as if it is a HIV diagnosis. This is a vivid characteristic of the atmosphere that is dominating in the American society. Chicanos are considered to be unintelligent brutal people, who can only work hard and they can be not regarded as human beings. They are machines, living robots or anything like this, but not individuals who have their original culture and intellectual abilities that are not lower than the ones of white Americans. In his play, Luis Valdes shows this attitude to Mexicans perfectly. Sancho is giving characteristics to his “models” as if they were robots: “goes back to Mexico and doesn’t return… until next Spring”, “built for speed, low-riding, and city life”, “eats hamburgers, Taco Bell tacos, Lucky Lager beer, and Thunderbird wine” and even “loves his patrones [masters]” (Valdes 163).
It is also possible to say that Valdes was trying to depict the absurdity of consumerist society, which can be called a cult in the United States. Many generations in the country grow up with absolute certainty in the idea that everything can be bought for money and that their nation is superior to others. Perhaps, the comparison with Nazi Germany is an exaggeration, but it shows vividly the results of thoughts about superiority of the particular nation.
Los Vendidos is a one-act play that has all the elements of dramatic structure. The scene where a woman secretary of the American government comes to buy a “Mexican type” is the exposition of the play. The dialogue when the secretary and the salesman are talking about the right way to pronounce her name, Miss Jiménez, also refers to the beginning of the play. The peculiar thing is that the American secretary thinks that only an English way to pronounce her name is possible and the Spanish one is incorrect and is just mistaken English.
Sancho, the salesman, shows the Secretary his Mexican “models” like the sturdy Farm Worker, Johnny Pachuco and the Revolucionario. This is the rising action of Los Vendidos. These three variants did not meet the requirements of the Governmental secretary, because the first one could not speak English, the second was too violent and the third was not born in the US.
When the Secretary comes to Eric Garcia, the latest model of a Mexican-American, the climax begins. This “robot” is bilingual, well-educated, polite and even with all these characteristics Miss Jiménez agrees to buy him for 15 000 dollars. Though, Eric Garcia starts protesting and other three “models” begin chanting “¡Viva la revolución!” it turns out that all those “robots” were living people. In the denouement the Secretary runs away and the company of four divides the money. In the end the play it becomes evident that the only robot among them was Sancho.
Valdes uses stereotypical symbolic images in the text of Los Vendidos. The main stereotypes are described in the characters of the play. The writer does not use complicated symbolism and there are no multiple layers of meaning in Los Vendidos. However, it fully represents the main message Valdes wanted to convey to the readers – Mexican-Americans are not primitive robots for hard work, they are people who are not worse than others. If the imagery were more difficult, the majority of the readers might have troubles with understanding the massage. In addition, the ironical effect that simplification creates might not be that striking as it is in this variant of the text.
As it was previously mentioned, the characters that are used in Los Vendidos are stereotypical. In addition, they can be called static, flat and stock, because they do not change its inner characteristics during the play, they are not original and the have a fixed set of traits. The first “product” Valdes offers the audience is Miss Jimenez, the Secretary of Ronald Regan. It is evident that she represented the ideology Regan promoted, when he was the Governor of California. She asks Sancho the following questions about Mexican “models”: “… it does look durable… versatile, isn’t he?… is he economical?… does he speak English?…” (Valdez 43) The most ironical thing about Miss Jimenez is that she is a Mexican American herself, but tries to forget about it.
The second character in the play is an urban version of a young Chicano – Johnny Pachuco. He is aggressive, anti-social and knows how to swear in English. As Sancho says, Johnny learned in American school (an implied irony about the educational system included). Valdes depicted the image of a Latino young man just like the US society desired them to be – criminals.
The Revolucionario, created by Valdes, is even more charismatic than Pachuco. Valdez writes that “the standard Revolucionario and/or Early Californian Bandit Type… he rides horses, he stays in the mountains… leads revolutions, follows revolutions, kills, can be killed, serves as a martyr, hero, movie star…” (Valdez 13). Women adore such type of men, but in this case the Secretary is not a female, she is the representative of the Government. That is why she cannot buy a fully Mexican type; she needs an American-bred “model”.
Eric Garcia is the best model of an intelligent Mexican-American in the market. He even can say “God bless America!”, which is considered by the Secretary as the apogee of Chicano’s development. The end of this farcical tragedy is logical – Eric Garcia does not want to be a robot for Americans and he says he is a human being. Other “models” say they are people too. There is one more peculiarity in this situation: perhaps, Valdes wanted to show that every revolutionary movement needs a strong leader and Mexican-Americans have to start fighting for their rights.
It is crucial to mention the language that Valdes uses in the play. The whole text is written in the combination of Spanish and English, so that it is sometimes difficult to understand what is meant. This method creates an original atmosphere and emphasizes the differences between the two nations that speak various languages and do not have the same background.
The writer uses irony of situation in the play. For example, when Sancho shows how to punch the “model”, he asks the Secretary to try how it works. The woman punches the Chicano and says he is soft to beat. This situational irony is based on the differences of the reality and of the way of conduct that is appropriate in this case. The whole scene might be also called absurd, because it is far from being normal even from the point of view of a hothouse racist.
Another distinctive detail of the play is its name. Los Vendidos is translated as a “sell out”. This concise heading fully describes the entire plot of the pay where people are sold out as economic robots.
It is difficult to live in peace in a multi-national country. There is no possibility to avoid conflicts at all, because someone will always be unhappy no matter how great the society is. Though, when the majority of people lack knowledge about other nations that live nearby, they create a stereotypical outer enemy, which is to blame in all inner problems. There is one simple way out of this situation – to educate all members of the society. Perhaps, when more people will understand that there are no superior nations Mexican-Americans will not be treated as robots anymore.
Bagby, Beth, Valdez, Luis. El Teatro Campesino Interviews with Luis Valdez. The Tulane Drama Review (1967): Vol. 11, No. 4. pp. 70-80. Web.
Huerta, Jorge A. Chicano theater: themes and forms. Bilingual Press, 1952. Print.
Valdez, Luis. A Context For Los Vendidos. An Introduction to Literature. Pearson Longman, 2006. Print.
Valdez, Luis. Los Vendidos. An Introduction to Literature. Pearson Longman, 2006. Print.