A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
September 18, 2008 Volume 39 / Number 1

 

A Bracero Twist on a Steinback Classic

Paul Lopez, author

Paul Lopez, Sociology, worked as a consultant for a play adapted from John Steinbeck's novel Of Mice and Men for the Pasadena Playhouse in May 2008. Lopez, who spent years researching the Bracero program and whose book The Braceros: The Untold Stories will be published in spring 2009 by Kendall/Hunt Publishers, provided oral histories and expert advice for the actors in order to get an understanding of voices and dress of former Braceros. He was also on a panel discussion of experts from the Bracero era.

In May, director Paul Lazarus asked Lopez if he would act as a consultant in presenting Of Mice and Men with Mexican workers rather than the Dust Bowl refugees depicted in the novel. The time period represented in the play is in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and the Bracero period in the United States began in 1942.

Lazarus saw a chance to represent the contributions of Mexicans to California and agricultural work during that period. He wanted to do it in an authentic way, using information about Braceros of the time and coaching the actors in authentic speech.

The first Braceros came from urban areas, said Lopez, and so differed from those who later came from agricultural areas.

Lopez's father was part of the early Bracero program and served as an English translator between the Braceros and American employers. Lopez's father was born in the United States but spent his youth in Mexico. The early workers tended to know more English and have more education and, generally, they were not as skilled with farm equipment as those who came later.

How did the play fare with Lazarus's adaptation? Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty wasn't so sure that the adaptation gave the audience any enhanced knowledge of the Bracero program or insight into what it might mean to experience cultural estrangement or Bracero exploitation. He wrote, "In an effort to be more inclusive and resonant, Lazarus' production evades history by making the marginalized, oppressed, and down-and-out seem interchangeable."

For Lopez, however, the experience was worthwhile, and the opportunity to pass on some of the knowledge he's gained through extensive research was gratifying. And, as for the play, he enjoyed it and found it authentic and not stereotypical, which is what both he and Lazarus sought. Best of all, he enjoyed what he experienced as the audience's enthusiasm and acceptance of the classic play with a Bracero twist.

Kathleen McPartland, Public Affairs and Publications