Southwestern College is an American institution with a Mexican heartbeat. It serves thousands of students at home in two countries, two cultures and two languages. It is bustling crossroads where two great cultures overlap and interact.
English and Spanish are spoken interchangeably in the halls, classrooms and fields, but there is little representation for bilingual students on the stage.
SWC is brimming with linguistically gifted actors, singers and musicians. It is home to the planet Earth’s best collegiate Mariachi. During the brilliant life of Professor Michael Schnorr, the college was a world-renowned center of borderlands art.
So why is our theater program monolinguistic? How can it be that the college that has produced professors and students who created “La Pastorela,” “Journey of the Skeletons,” “Let the Eagle Fly,” and other popular trans-cultural classics be so Eurocentric in its own theater?
Southern California is a bilingual community and Spanish is now heard in most American states. Latinos are the majority at this college, but the theater department has failed to offer anything that relates. It is sad when “The Night of the Iguana” is the closest thing to an international play at SWC.
It has been more than a decade since SWC has produced a Spanish language play.
Spanish-speaking abuelitas, nanas and tias who wish to watch their grandchildren, nieces and nephews perform are out of luck. Due to a language barrier, family members lose the opportunity to enjoy watching their hijos, primos and sobrinos thrive as international performers.
It is not for the lack of good material. Spanish writers have produced some of the greatest plays, novels, poems and stories ever created in any language. There are many productions, whether they are plays or songs, novels or anthologies of poems, which transcend language.
“El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera,” known in English as “Love in the Time of Cholera,” is a classic novel-turned-play-turned-movie by Gabriel García Márquez, a Colombian writer.
Chilean Pablo Neruda is known for his striking romantic poetry. He is considered the greatest poet of any language of the 20th century, a prime example of the power of linguistic transcendence.
“Don Quixote,” the classic Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, is a provocative story of oppression that has leapt continents.
As a college situated in between countries, swarming with linguistically-gifted students, Southwestern College should be a Spanish arts hub for the United States. Instead of sweeping español under the rug, this college should celebrate it.
Spanish productions would be good business for SWC. Bilingual or Spanish productions sell in this region.
More than 50 percent of this institution’s students are Latino, so why are 0 percent of its plays in Spanish? Some borderlands theater companies will do the same play in two languages, English one evening, Spanish the next. SWC could do it, too.
Mexican food is available in the cafeteria, but Spanish theater is not available in Mayan Hall even though the appetite is there. This bilingual community would appreciate a little more spice.