In Context: A Note From The Writer/Performer Behind LA ESQUINITA, USA
AUTHOR: Rubén C. González, Playwright / Performer of La Esquinita, USA
I began writing La Esquinita, USA in 2007. I was working as a substitute teacher in Southeast Los Angeles to subsidize my acting career, when I was asked to teach a class of troubled high schoolers for ten weeks. In my head, I heard “Run as fast as you can! You’re an actor, not a school teacher! They will eat you for lunch!” I was told that I would have seven students but no more than ten, and the load would be lighter because I would have a classroom aide. “I can handle it,” I thought.
I ended up with 17 teenagers from different gang sets, students nobody wanted in the district. “Yikes!” Many had come from immigrant families struggling to survive in an ailing economy, under a government who was blaming the ills of the country on them. These students, as many other Americans, would end up with no other choices but to work in the food service industry, sell drugs, or join the Armed Forces. Manufacturing plants continued to close all over the country and were being shipped to the Far East and Latin America.
My class would be the final chance for these kids to stay in school and stay out of prison. As I struggled to inspire them, I got to know their stories. Some had done time in juvenile hall, others had parole officers at their hips, were teen parents or substance abusers. Society, with its collapsing infrastructure, had failed them. Due to the lack of social programs and because there was nothing much for these students to do, crystal meth was the drug of choice. It was cheap, easy to get and a way to push away the pain and the doldrums.
There was Manny, the class clown; Animal, who could beat anyone to a pulp, including me; a young 16-year-old, Pilar, who had aborted two children; and Sabino, the heavy metal head who was too smart to be in my class, but because of a broken heart, education was the last thing on his mind. Then there was Daniel, “the mouth” – that boy never kept quiet. The other students disliked him because he was always questioning; he had opinions about everything. I enjoyed our debates about people,politics, and history.
One day, Daniel approached me and asked if he could make up credits in order to graduate before his 19th birthday. I believed in his abilities, so I gave him extra work to make up the ten units he needed. I gave him art appreciation packets worth five credits, and for the remaining five, he promised to meet me on the track at 6:30 every morning so we could walk and talk, a sort of physical education.
After the first two weeks, he began struggling to show up; I was also receiving fewer art packets. As the weeks passed, our walks became less frequent. His excuse was that he was having problems with lead in his blood, and that he was going to the hospital for treatment. I first went along with it because he did look sickly, but when I asked him to produce an excuse, the doctor’s notes seemed fishy.
I called his house one day, and it was then I found out the truth. His mother said it was a lie. He was doing crystal meth (“The Pookie”), and was ditching class and getting high. He once told me this wild story that he owed money and that he’d get shot if he didn’t pay up. I believed him. I broke district rules to help him out. I gave him rides home to keep him out of harm’s way. I was being played, and everyone knew it but me.
The school year ended bittersweetly. The class I taught had taught me something: these kids needed someone to care for them. They needed love. Their parents were struggling to put food on the table, often held two, three jobs. The family unit was disrupted. They were the remnants of a failing system that was permeating the family structure.
Americans were living in a society whose leaders sold untruths and misinformation, a society that struggled with its perception of itself and the “other.” The housing market bubble would soon pop. The economic depression that was about to take over was just a reflection of the depression within the soul of this country and the citizens that struggled every day just to stay above water, while a very small minority lived in luxury.
I spent that summer in Oakland, California, where black and brown families struggled to live side-by-side in the reality of unemployment and poverty surrounded by abandoned warehouses. Oakland was a barometer of what the Bush years would leave in their wake. I began waking to the sounds of a struggling city. Words began to come through me as the city spoke of struggle. Oakland was full of Daniels, Pilars, and Mannys.
By the end of the year, I had moved out of Los Angeles and was living on the Central Coast of California. I was back with my theatre family at El Teatro Campesino. I rented a small granny’s quarters in the small town of Aromas, California. Aromas would turn out to be my own Walden Pond; I was living the life of Thoreau. I was meditating a lot and reading up on my favorite subjects: philosophy, quantum physics, self-care, and spirituality.
In my studies, I was led to a book that had called out to me since my days in New York in the mid-90s, but that I had never read. The book, A Course in Miracles, would begin to take up my time. I read it from cover to cover four times until I began to understand perception, and how we see the world as a direct reflection of how we see ourselves. I began to learn about forgiveness, letting go of my past and honoring my present. My pen began to move again. I became a vessel as voices began speaking through me.
One morning, a voice told me to look back at the notes I had written a year earlier. I continued revisiting Oakland, and my conversations with Daniel. The narrative began to take shape. I called my director, Kinan Valdez. We sat in his backyard and I read him what would become La Esquinita, USA. It was time to get to work.
As we enter a new era, there is no denying the ills of the loss of manufacturing plants and economic inequality in our society or the skewing of the truth by our leaders. The damage may linger for generations as we struggle to reclaim the soul of our nation and that of the worker. Science and technology are bumping up against an Old World view of politics, economics, and ecology. We can’t continue to kill in the name of progress, because all that does is create an imbalance of wealth between the rich and poor. This imbalance cannot continue, for it makes no room for morality and inclusion. We must move into a world of nurture as we enter a time of divisive politics and xenophobic rhetoric. As we fight for our lives, we cannot allow the fear army to speak louder than the voice of love.
La Esquinita, USA is a theatricalized poem that calls out to the feminine within us all: a feminine power that is nurturing, comforting, and inclusive. It is a life-giving force that is an affirmation of the holiness within us all. A pro-masculine world is a dog-eat-dog world; a world that acknowledges and gives homage to the feminine is a world that cares for the earth and all sentient beings.
I believe that through love, our collective memory will awaken us to the knowledge that our wise ancestors foretold and which quantum physics is now proving, the “Golden Rule” of the Maya, in Lak’ech: “You are my other self, if I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.” This is a truth in a healthy society. It is the only truth that is transcendental and moves past divisive policies and dogma. We live in a virtual, holographic world where we have the power to make peace if we want to, or we can allow the masculine forces of fear and ego to continue to divide us and, in turn, to harm our earth and human life.
An internal peace is an eternal peace, that if extended outward can change the history of humankind. But we would be remiss to think that this change will not entail a fight for the good of all! There are internal and external forces that thrive only because of the imbalance that has separated us from our truth. May we come together and fight the forces that keep us from seeing the love in each other.