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Language War

[whitespace] I Don't Speak English Only Burning Up the Melting Pot: The cast of 'La Carpa Aztlán Presents I Don't Speak English Only!' seeks to reclaim its cultural equality in a futuristic world.

David Lepori

Teatro satirizes English-only movement

By Heather Zimmerman

IN THE FOUR YEARS since Anthony J. García wrote La Carpa Aztlán Presents I Don't Speak English Only!, a futuristic satire about the bleak prospects for multiculturalism in the current social climate, the play has taken on a further aspect of frightening realism. The language police may not arrest citizens for speaking a language other than English, as they do in García's vision of California in the year 2020, but now, with the passage of Prop. 227, a similar cultural control is exerted in the schools. For its season opener, Teatro Visión tackles the complex issue of how Americans from many different cultures can preserve their heritage in the "melting pot."

Lost in a dark alley outside the gated city in which he lives, Albert (Jacob Vega-Canote), a university student and an apt pupil of the totalitarian teachings of the "new America," blunders across a troupe of underground performers. On the fringes of a society in which Western culture and English-only are the rigidly enforced law, the troupe, calling itself La Carpa Aztlán, devotes itself to the preservation of its performers' Latino and Indian heritage. Through sketches, songs and carnival acts, the activist-actors, headed by the good-natured Don Guillermo Aztlán (David Termenal), help Albert--really Alberto--to appreciate his true roots.

On the surface, the sketches and songs may seem mostly fun and games, but García's play is deeply political. La Carpa's celebration of its culture ranges from broad clowning that deflates stereotypes to moving songs and stories that tell of rejection and humiliation because of cultural differences. Director Larry Pisoni and a strong ensemble cast adeptly balance material that is both entertaining and highly critical of American society, in the same scenes delivering belly laughs and food for serious thought. Although García's play offers a grim vision of the future, La Carpa Aztlán proves one's own heritage can never truly be denied. With any luck, by the year 2020, this futuristic satire and the world it depicts will be nothing but a look at the past.

La Carpa Aztlán Presents I Don't Speak English Only! plays at City Lights Theater Company, 529 S. Second St., San Jose; Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through Sept 26. Tickets are $10-$15. (408/947-8227)

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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