By Julie Zigoris
“Here I am with this big ass puppet,” said producer, playwright and poet Paul Flores, as his cast and crew rehearsed outside the Brava Theater along the 24th Street hallway.
Flores’ latest work, “History Matters in Mission,” debuted in the neighborhood of the same name on Saturday 23 October. The event spotlighted five local activists with a dramatic performance of songs, dances and lyrics, including Juan Gonzales of City College.
The performances featured stories from the Mission in the 1970s, when the first wave of gentrification swept through the neighborhood. âThe creation of BART in 1973 forced development and disrupted the neighborhood,â said Flores. “What used to be mom-and-pop stores has become McDonald’s, Walgreens and Popeyes.”
Further down 24th Street, in front of the AcciÃ³n Latina building, Flores played Gonzales in a short article on El Tecolote newspaper. A group of five musicians on a flatbed truck warmed up the crowd of around 40 as simple props were put together: a square stage for a dancer, a small black table with a red phone, and a 1970s facsimile. from the newspaper El Tecolote.
Flores wore Gonzales’ original beige trench coat during his performance as he answered phones to address topics ranging from Fidel Castro to the need for bilingual healthcare workers at San Francisco General Hospital. The lack of Spanish speakers in the hospital led a young woman to lose her baby, an episode highlighted in the room with great emotion.
“What if it was us?” Flores asked in the performance, referring to Gonzales and his partner Anna.
“History Matters in the Mission” was inspired by feminist artist Yolanda LÃ³pez known for her superhero images of the Virgin Guadalupe. âThen she passed away, and it was very difficult for us,â said Flores, big tears collecting in her eyes. âI want people to understand why the neighborhood we love and appreciate is like this,â Flores continued.
LÃ³pez had encouraged Flores to adopt radical theatrical techniques – like giant puppets and a “cranky” (a painted illustration in motion) – for her latest project. While imagining a work on homelessness, Flores decided to go more in the direction of the awakening of the post-1969 ethnic identity.
âIn the 1970s, the neighborhood started to educate itself,â said Flores. âThe Chileans learned about DÃa de los Muertos from the Chicanas. Mexicans learned about Carnival.
At the same time, the Mission also served as an artistic and literary melting pot, according to Flores. The mural movement that began in 1968 flourished and the El Tecolote newspaper was founded by Gonzales in 1970, the same year Carlos BarÃ³n marked the AIDS crisis with his procession of coffins in celebration of DÃa de los Muertos.
“I was really happy and a little surprised,” Gonzales said upon learning that he was one of the figures to be honored in Flores’ play. âIt never occurs to you how people will recognize your efforts. ”
The founder of El Tecolote and chairman of the City College journalism department said he had a “sincere sense of gratitude” and the article was important because it brought a greater identity to the neighborhood while providing insight into his history. “People will be better off for it,” he said.
California’s oldest bilingual newspaper El Tecolote started out at a time when there was a lot of trouble in the neighborhood, according to Gonzales. He drew attention to concerns such as the need for bilingual health care, telephone services and demanding jobs. It also shed light on the popular culture of the neighborhood.
âThe document was not only an informational tool, but also a source of inspiration,â Gonzales said. It brought a greater identity to the neighborhood and the Latino community while also serving as a training ground for future journalists. Gonzales also acknowledged the “army of volunteers” that made the paper possible.
Other founding artists of Mission highlighted in the performance include: Michael Rios, founder of the modern mural movement; Yolanda LÃ³pez, the artist known for her paintings of superhero Virgin Guadalupe; Carlos BarÃ³n, professor of theater at San Francisco State University; and playwright Joan Holden of the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Flores has been working on the piece since 2019, when he decided to create something in honor of El Tecolote’s 50th anniversary.
The Adobe Books Outdoor Park, another performance site for “History Matters in Mission,” likes to host “guerrilla-style performances,” according to Heather Holt, a member of the Bookstore Co-op. the operations. The community music school performed in the parklet with 29 young musicians as part of the production of Flores.
âThis is the first live event since the pandemic, and Precita Eyes is hosting its first Balmy mural tour since the pandemic,â Holt said. âIt’s uplifting for people to go out and celebrate the music and the live performances. Having an event in person is very meaningful, âshe continued.
âMoving from isolation to public life is so important right now,â said Holt. âAll the participants are really excited and it’s an honor to participate.
Flores has been working on this type of musical theater for six years, producing documentary style performances that dramatize real events. Previous subjects of his work have included the police murder of Alex Nieto – performed on the City College campus – re-entry into prison and Afro-Cuban immigrant performers.