Performing Eastside Latinidad: Josefina López and Theater for Social Change in Boyle Heights
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This dissertation analyzes the impact of theater in Boyle Heights and how the individuals involved, most notably Josefina López, have forged positive expressions of Latin@ identity. This project identifies and analyzes what I call “Eastside Latinidad,” constructions of Latin@ identity that are unique to Los Angeles’s Eastside and are performed through the arts. In this regard, this work explores contemporary moments when a diverse group of Eastside Latin@s come together to express pan-ethnic identity and community-building that is inextricably linked to the sociocultural and physical geography of Boyle Heights and the surrounding areas of Los Angeles. It pays close attention to López’s role as a community leader at CASA 0101 Theater, the company she founded in 2000, and the various acting, directing, mentoring, and playwriting programs that López facilitates in the space. I am invested in documenting the rise of performing arts and cultural activity of Latin@s in Boyle Heights from 1990-2015, made possible through Josefina López’s efforts, as well as arguing for the critical role this work plays in constructing cultural, political, sexual, and social identity in the barrio. Each chapter explores how Eastside Latinidad is constructed, performed, and theorized in Boyle Heights. This project is divided into two parts. Part one centers on Josefina López’s role as a community leader in Boyle Heights and how this enables her to use theater as a tool of social change. Chapter 1 charts a genealogy of CASA 0101 Theater and, in doing so, argues that Josefina López and CASA 0101 are able to engage with the local community by creating theater that induces critical witnessing from its spectators. In Chapter 2, I argue that Josefina López uses mentorship as the primary tool to empower and engage the community. Part two focuses on López’s role as a playwright and how she stages Chicana feminist thought to create a critical dialogue among theatergoers. In Chapter 3, I analyze three plays by López—Boyle Heights, Detained in the Desert, and Hungry Woman—to explore how these works theorize the intersections between Chicana identity and space with particular attention to each protagonist’s spirit connection to Boyle Heights and the Southwest. Chapter 4 uses two plays by López—Confessions of Women from East L.A. and Unconquered Spirits—to examine how the playwright re-writes and restages Chican@ cultural paradigms to present Eastside audiences with alternative portrayals of Chicana womanhood. Ultimately, this dissertation explores the textual and performative strategies of contemporary Latin@ theatermakers based in Boyle Heights that use performance as a tool to expand notions of Latinidad and (re)build a community that reflects this diverse and fluid identity. Therefore, this study, although localized in Los Angeles’s Eastside, comprises a model for exploring issues of community, identity, and artistic expression of the United States Latin@ population, well on its way to becoming the country’s largest demographic, yet one that remains marginalized and underrepresented in the literary and performing arts.