Fifty years after founding the influential theatre company, El Teatro Campesino, Luis Valdez visited USF last Tuesday to give a lecture called “The Power of Zero.” The talk focused primarily on the connection between the Mayan zero and the influence it holds on different aspects of life, especially its capacity to allow for change. Being at ground zero holds great potential and is the root of development, which Valdez related to the Chicano movement.
Valdez spoke passionately about his own background and Chicano rights. He grew up in a migrant farming family and thus moved around a lot. His involvement in the theater began once he started school; one of his teachers made his paper lunch bag into a paper-mâché monkey mask for a school play, and consequently, Valdez got the role. His family had to move before the play made its debut, so Valdez missed the opportunity to act in this first role. He said that this incident did open up a hole for him, and led to his love of the theater.
Valdez also spoke about the unacknowledged aspects of Mayan culture, especially their invention of the Mayan zero. Valdez talked about the four elements of zero: body, heart, mind, and spirit columns. Each element connects back to the idea of the Mayan zero.
“Your body is a confluence of forces,” Valdez said. The bottom of the spine is what Valdez calls the “you joint.” This is the golden spiral built into the body, as the lower back is where movement originates.
“Your heart is the root of your movement,” said Valdez, “The heart is central to everything.” The mind column controls the body, and plays into the dynamism of the system. The last column is the spirit. “Spirit is believing in something greater than yourself,” said Valdez, while discussing tapping into the spirituality inside of the body.
The idea of the Mayan zero connects to all parts of life. It is the starting point for any action, which Valdez connected to the beginning of El Teatro Campesino at its inception in 1965. “It was at a basic zero in 1965” said Valdez, “zero is full potential.”
Since then, El Teatro Campesino has grown and has had quite a bit of success, going on a European tour in 1976 and winning eleven Bay Area Theater Critics awards in 1981. The zero also connects into his desire for Chicanos to be more recognized in American culture, and the potential that minorities have to make a change.
Throughout his presentation, Valdez urged the audience to recognize Chicano culture. “Latin Americans are not another race, Latin Americans are not another phenomenon, Latin Americans are Americans,” said Valdez, “We are creatures, not wage slaves.”
This statement was in relation to his childhood as a farm worker, and his desire for minority groups to be respected, especially those who work in agriculture. He discussed the history of farm labor in the United States, emphasizing the fact that the minority groups in agriculture have been minimum wage workers, fighting to make a living. In his opinion, America is in the middle of a generational transformation. “We must pass the torch,” said Valdez. “There’s hope if we keep at it, if the people believe in something bigger than themselves.”
The message behind his speech was about the importance of recognizing minorities in American culture. Valdez has played a significant role in the Chicano movement, and relayed his desires for change. “This world will be different, my world will be different,” he said.
“He romanticized the speech a lot, which I personally liked,” said Evelyn Zamora, a senior at USF, one of the many students in attendance.
Valdez finished his speech by quoting an Aztec poem from 1482, which he relayed in three different languages: in Aztec, Spanish, and English. “America, find your heart,” he said.