California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) hosted the President’s Speaker Series on Feb. 28. President Eduardo Ochoa invited Luis Valdez – playwright, actor, writer and film director – to speak to students and members of the community on progressive ways to positively influence the future.
“It is with great honor to introduce a legend, founding member of our school, vital part of the community and friend,” Ochoa said.
Valdez, known for the movies “Zoot Suit,” “La Bamba” and “The Cisco Kid,” is regarded as the father of Chicano theater in the United States, having created El Teatro Campesino (the farm worker’s theater). Additionally, Valdez is part of the 1994 founding faculty at CSUMB whose artistic visionary helped form the school’s World Theater in 1995.
“The present is a negotiation between the past and future,” Valdez said. By embracing the cultural history of California and Salinas Valley, we have an opportunity to tap into our ancestor’s struggles and allow for a more diverse future.
“The future is born out of inspiration, hope and the belief of something greater than ourselves,” Valdez said.
Having been part of a migrant farm worker family, Valdez is no stranger to the taxing work farm labor has on the human body and mind. His creation of El Teatro Campesino was a release for farm workers in Salinas to escape reality and embrace the beauty of the arts.
“The theater took away from the wage slave lifestyle,” Valdez said.
Staying current with technology is important for all professions, but particularly farm work. Valdez noted with the changing times, farm workers and their families have a shorter career future than most, due to the incorporation of robotics in society.
“We don’t need STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), we need STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics),” Valdez said.
Thinking outside the box is crucial in making societal differences. Valdez addressed issues of gentrification to the audience, discussing it’s negative consequences turning cities into strips and abusing the natural resources handed to us. On the contrary, cities can make a positive impact by maintaining environmental beauty.
“If there is anything more magical on Earth than Salinas Valley, I don’t know what it is,” Valdez said.
By embracing diversity and artistic potential in younger generations, we allow for a pandemic to tap into everyone’s creative abilities. The children in our schools are the living future and according to Valdez, need to be invested in, especially 4 to 5-year-olds.
Students and community members were given the chance to ask Valdez his thoughts pertaining to issues plaguing society.
When expressing the detrimental effects of social media, he noted, “With that access, we get everything from lies, egomania and insecurities.”
“Social media is turning into a sewer pipe,” Valdez concluded.
When it comes to resolving a society that heavily focuses on technology, Valdez proposed ideas centered on the arts. To encourage our youth, diverse curriculum is essential. Highlighting only STEM-related majors and technology will eliminate creative attitudes.
“We need to be able to exchange energies,” Valdez said. “Theater is a social medium to connect people.”
Members of the audience showed a clear consensus with hopes to see change in the future, regarding politics and diversity in the entertainment industry. General questions concluded that the Latinx population and people of color are often overlooked, but opportunities are on the rise with California reining in diversity and parting from the traditional Anglo-Saxon roots once predominant.
Ochoa and those present were ecstatic to have the chance to speak with Valdez after his speech, and participate in a question and answer session.
When Valdez mentioned Trump won’t be in office for much longer, the crowd shared a unanimous joy in the thought of liberal, diverse attitudes confronting issues that seem to be neglected.
It is important for people to remember that lying to one another does not inspire people. As Valdez noted, “Someone’s gain is not your loss.”
Empower your neighbors, accept change and be willing to make a difference. “Every generation is a tree ring in the tree of life,” Valdez said.
While it may be hard, nothing is impossible. Valdez stated it beautifully, “The future belongs to those who can imagine it.”