by Beki Pineda

CHICANO POWER 1969; The Birth of a Movement – Written and Directed by Anthony J. Garcia. Produced by Su Teatro (721 Santa Fe Drive, Denver) through March 31. Tickets available at 303-296-0219 or suteatro.org.

Tony Garcia is a force to be reckoned with. He started with Su Teatro in 1972 while still a college student and assumed leadership of the organization in 1989. It has blossomed under the supervision of he and his family into a significant vehicle for expression of the Hispanic culture through theatre. Tony has written more than 20 plays exemplifying Spanish history and its influence in Colorado’s past and present. His multi-cultural/generational company presents three or four productions a year that celebrate this community. While Tony currently writes and directs, he is also a natural on stage as well. His curtain speeches are noted for their genuine expression of the mission of Su Teatro while also containing humor, the background of the piece to be seen, and comical stories about what is happening in his theatre. Their home at the corner of 7th and Santa Fe is the Civic Theatre; a more fitting homage to Henry Lowenstein, the founder of multicultural theatre in Denver, could not be found.

CHICANO POWER  1969! Is another homegrown theatrical expression of two events in fairly recent Colorado history that moved the cause of equality forward for students and workers. FIRE IN THE STREETS: WEST HIGH BLOWOUTS! Is the story told with music of student walkouts from West High School in 1969 that brought attention to the disrespect and bullying experienced by Hispanic students in the schools at this time. I arrived in Colorado in 1967 and remember the heat of the “Summer of ‘69” as it came to be known. Students initiated a peaceful walkout to protest their treatment by racially biased teachers and short-sighted administrators. As explained, “when you’re Hispanic, the whole world looks like a nail.” Of course, the police over-reacted. One song recognizes that “The DPD has been waiting all year – to try out their new riot gear.” This portrayal was especially impactful as it was being acted and sung by performers the same age as the kids who lived it back in the day. Some of the original protesters were in the audience – now in their late 60’s. The presentation included television video from the actual riots and Crusade for Justice protests in support of the students. In one quick sort of “Sunday in the Park” moment, the actors on stage duplicated a photograph projected on the back wall taken at the beginning of the troubles.

The second act is WAR OF THE FLOWERS: THE KITAYAMA STRIKE which follows the strike of female workers at the Kitayama Carnation Gardens in Brighton starting in 1968. The women workers – mostly Hispanic or Mexicana – were subjected not only to low wages, but also unsanitary and dangerous working conditions. The humidity inside the greenhouse that created beautiful flowers also created wet slick walking surfaces and tables that lead to constant flu, pneumonia, and asthma for the women who worked there. They worked nine or ten hour shifts with one fifteen minute break and a half hour for lunch. They were not provided with protective clothing; there was one drinking fountain and two bathrooms for one hundred workers. One woman was known as the ‘sparkplug’ of the strike – Lupe Briseno, now 85 and still living in Brighton – led the workers from the newly-formed National Flower Workers Organization at the picket lines in front of the gates of the farm. Sometimes walking alone, she kept the strike going for 221 days, finally ending in February of 1969 when five women were tear-gassed. But their efforts brought attention to the working conditions in factories all over the country and contributed to the forming of OSHA two years later.

As theatre pieces these are most notable for their enthusiasm and the dedication of the company to tell these stories.  he scripts use narrative, dialogue and music to tell their stories; their casts are multi-generational, using both young and elder actors. FIRE IN THE STREETS is a true ensemble piece with no one taking the lead but all contributing to the story telling. WAR OF THE FLOWERS features Felicia Gallegos Pettis as Lupe in a strong performance that echoed the real Lupe’s dedication. Poor Paul Zamora and Phil Luna got to play the bad guys in both pieces as a racist teacher and Chief of the Police in FIRE IN THE STREETS and the foreman of the workers and owner of the plant in WAR OF THE FLOWERS.

As Tony explained in his curtain speech, you don’t come to a Su Teatro production to see fancy sets and costumes. Their productions have a decided homemade look about them for sure, but fancy sets and costumes would just get in the way of the powerful stories they are telling.

A WOW factor of 8!!