June 26, 1940 |
|Occupation||Film Director, Producer, Writer and Teacher.|
|Alma mater||San Jose State University|
|Literary movement||El Teatro Campesino|
|Notable works||Zoot Suit (play and film), La Bamba (film)|
|Notable awards||Peabody Award, Aguila Azteca Award, Golden Globe nominations|
Luis Valdez (born June 26, 1940) is an American playwright, actor, writer and film director. Regarded as the father of Chicano theater in the United States, Valdez is best known for his play Zoot Suit, his movie La Bamba, and his creation of El Teatro Campesino. A pioneer in the Chicano Movement, Valdez broadened the scope of theatre and arts of the Chicano community.
Luis Valdez was born in Delano, California to migrant farm worker parents. The second of ten children in his family, Valdez began to work in the fields at the age of six. One of his brothers is the actor Daniel Valdez. Throughout his childhood, the family moved from harvest to harvest around the central valleys of California. Due to this peripatetic existence, he attended many different schools before the family finally settled in San Jose, California.
Valdez began school in Stratford, California. His interest in theatre began in the first grade. Throughout grammar school, Valdez organized plays at school and put on puppet shows in his garage, which, he recalls, were usually about fairy tales. In high school, Valdez was part of the Speech and Drama department and acted in several plays. He described himself as “a very serious student.”  Valdez graduated from James Lick High School in San Jose and went on to attend San Jose State University (SJSU) on a scholarship for math and physics. During his sophomore year of college, he switched his major to English. While in college, Valdez won a playwriting contest with his one-act play The Theft in 1961. Two years later, in 1963, Valdez's first full-length play, The Shrunken Head of Pancho Villa, was produced by the drama department and debuted at SJSU.
Early Career: El Teatro Campesino
After graduation, Valdez spent the next few months with The San Francisco Mime Troupe, where he was introduced to agitprop theatre and Italian commedia dell'arte. These two techniques greatly influenced Valdez's development of the basic structure of Chicano theatre: the one-act presentational acto (act).
In 1965, Valdez returned to Delano, where he enlisted in Cesar Chavez's mission to organize farm workers into a comprehensive union. Valdez brought together farm workers and students to form El Teatro Campesino, a farm worker's theater troupe. El Teatro was known for touring migrant camps with their actos, one-act plays, which were usually around fifteen minutes long. The plays were used to educate and inform not only the farm workers, but also the public. Valdez believed that humor was a major asset to his plays in El Teatro Campesino as it was a tool to lift the morale of strikers. Social and political commentary were intertwined within the humor to accomplish the goals of El Teatro Campesino. Original plays of El Teatro were based on the experiences of farm workers, but by 1967 their subject matter expanded to other aspects of Chicano culture. Although Valdez left El Teatro in 1967, his legacy lived on. Thanks in large part to Valdez and El Teatro Campesino, the 1970s saw an explosion of Chicano theater. Theater groups sprang up with surprising speed on college campuses and in communities throughout the United States. What began as a farm workers' theater in the migrant camps of Delano flooded into a national Chicano theater movement.
In 1967, Valdez established a Chicano cultural center in Del Ray, California. In 1969 he moved both theater and cultural center to Fresno, where they remained for two years. While in Fresno, Valdez taught at Fresno State College and created TENAZ, the national Chicano theater organization, which was composed of many with theatre groups throughout the Southwest. Valdez moved the theater a final time in 1971, to San Juan Bautista, south of San Francisco. Combined now with the cultural center, it was called El Centro Campesino Cultural, and it became a fully professional production company.
Luis Valdez is a founding faculty member and director (c. 1994) of the California State University, Monterey Bay Teledramatic Arts and Technology Department. He is credited with assisting in the development of a university program that prepares students in the entertainment industry: filmmaking, writing, sound, cinematography, and the like.
Zoot Suit (play and film)
Valdez's first work that brought him attention to larger audiences was the play Zoot Suit which ran in 1978 at the Mark Taper Forum, in Los Angeles and played for forty-six weeks to more than 40,000 people. With Zoot Suit, Valdez became the first Chicano director to have a play presented on Broadway in 1979. Later, it was made into a film in 1981.
In Zoot Suit, Luis Valdez weaves a story involving the real-life events of the Sleepy Lagoon murder trial—when a group of young Mexican-Americans were wrongfully charged with murder—and the Zoot Suit Riots.
- Cruz Reynoso: Sowing the Seeds of Justice (2000), narrator
- Ballad of a Soldier (2000), actor.
- The Cisco Kid (1994), writer and director. Valdez also had a small role as Presidente Benito Juárez.
- La Pastorela (1991 Great Performances), writer and director.
- Los mineros (1991), narrator.
- Fort Figueroa (1988 CBS Summer Playhouse), director.
- Corridos: Tales of Passion & Revolution (1987), writer and director.
- La Bamba (1987), writer and director.
- Zoot Suit (1981), writer and director.
- Which Way Is Up? (1977), actor.
- El corrido: Ballad of a Farmworker (1976 Visions television series), writer, director, and actor.
- Fighting for Our Lives (1975 documentary), writer.
- I Am Joaquin (1969), documentary short film
Honors and awards (not inclusive)
- Golden Globe Award nominations for "Best Musical Picture," Zoot Suit and La Bamba.
- Cartagena Film Festival, Best Picture Award, Zoot Suit, 1982, Cartagena, Colombia.
- George Peabody Award for excellence in television in 1987, Corridos: Tales of Passion and Revolution for PBS.
- California Governor's Award, March, 1990.
- Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, 1992.
- Mexico's Aguila Azteca Award, 1994.
- 2007 USA (United States Artists) Rockefeller Fellow
- Los Vendidos
- No Saco Nada de la Escuela (1969)
- No Saco Nada de la Escuela Loco (1970)
- Honorary Degree from the California Institute of the Arts
- Luis Valdez at the Internet Movie Database.
- Benson, Sonia (2003). The Hispanic American Almanac. Farminton Hills, Ma: Gale. pp. 804–805. ISBN 0-7876-2518-3.
- "Hispanic Heritage, Luis Valdez. In 2010, he was killed in a car accident.". Gale. Retrieved February 18, 2012.
- Beth Bagby; Luis Valdez  "El Teatro Campesino Interviews with Luis Valdez"
- Bedford/St Martin's Literature web site.
- biography from The Harry Walker Agency Speakers Bureau website.
- Hayward, Carl. Community Arts Network interview with Valdez.
- BookRags web page.
- "Hispanic Heritage Awards for Literature". Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
- Luis Valdez at the Internet Movie Database.
- Luis Valdez at AllMovie.
- Luís Valdez Papers are held at the California Ethnic and Multicultural Archives in the UC Santa Barbara Library.