Radical Chicano

Two weeks in this town convinced L.A. comedy group Culture Clash that Miami needs a "mango colonic." They're right.

"I pose this question," Siguenza put in. "Let's say there was a trio cubano from Miami who were doing something similar. Let's say they got hot and got this TV deal. I really wonder if the reaction would be, 'You know, you've got to do some Chicano comedy, because there are millions of Chicanos out there.' People should look west from Florida a little bit, because there are so many more Mexican Americans than caribe*os in this country. In Chicago, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, all over California. We can't disregard that. They don't have the economic base, the big quantitative factor. But TV is a mass media."

"Latino culture, man!" exclaimed Salinas. "It's going to take a lot of shows, a lot of revisions. It would be great if we did have a Chicano sitcom, a Puerto Rican sitcom, a Cuban sitcom," he added optimistically. "If you could switch the channel and see these different shows, you could see a part of America that's never been seen."

"It's a strange town -- northern mentality, vestiges of the South, perched on the Caribbean, apolitical," Siguenza observed a couple of days later, as he and the other members of Culture Clash began examining their impressions for performable possibilities. "We have to think about what mirror we're going to put back to Miami," he continued. "We don't have one incident that's overwhelming. We have to focus in on maybe one or two things. We're trying to find some unifying factors: a Third World nation perched on the edge of a delicate ecosystem, the Cuban obsession...."

"Miami's a younger city: Los Angeles was founded 100 years before Miami," commented Salinas. "The Haitians and the Cubans are all together; that's why there's hope in this city. L.A. is so tightly wound. Whole communities are contained, South Central, East L.A., these lines are very defined. There's a very calculated, oppressive system that goes back to the Forties, Thirties, Twenties. And a very racist police department that the Cuban Americans don't have to deal with here. The problem with Miami is that dumb people are salivating to build strip malls in Havana."

"We've been talking to a lot of people, and everyone has a plan for when Castro falls," Siguenza added. "The corporate lawyer has a plan, the businessman has a plan. Everybody has a plan. But what are they going to do? Kick mulattos out of their homes, or jet ski over there? The whole concept is so ridiculous. What plan do people really have?"

Montoya described a dinner in Coconut Grove the night before: "They were environmentalists and they made their money with chemicals. They had this beautiful house but it smelled like bleach. We asked them what they thought about Cuba, and they said they had a plan, too. We made up some slogans for them: 'Biscayne Chemical -- Cleaning up Cuba' or 'Chemicals for Cuba.'''

Siguenza, who visited Cuba through a college cultural exchange program and participated in workshops with the Cuban theater company Teatro Escambray, said he still admires the revolution. And like other members of the group, he added, he was struck hard by the evident differences between the Chicano-Latino culture shared by Mexicans and Salvadorans in California and Miami's Cuban exile community.

"Haitians are the Chicanos of Miami," he asserted, drawing a parallel between the political activism and immigrant experience of that group and his own. "They're not like the spanaticals. There's a fundamental base of the Chicano culture and that's our indigenous ties. We're all a colonized people, but the Mexicans are saying, 'Let's not forget our indigenous past.' I don't have a problem with that inclusivity that says, 'I respect all cultures,' but I don't want to lose my own to another one that has no significance. We did not come from 'Hispania' A there's not a Hispania. It completely denies our indigenous ties and our roots to this continent and embraces this Iberian thing. Of course the Cuban does not have an indigenous past, because their abuelos really were from Spain. They can call themselves Hispanics and not have a problem with that."

"There's a denial and it still exists with the few Cubans we've talked to," Salinas added. "There are class and color differences."

"You see who the servants are and who the rich people are," Siguenza said, shouting by now. "You open up the society page in El Nuevo Herald, guys, and it's the most frightening thing you ever saw. And with the second-generation Cubans, the importance of being hip has replaced any sentiment for Castro."

Naturally, having had such difficulty finding common ground with Miami's Cuban Americans, the comedians worried that locals might not be amused by their portrayal.

"We use Chicano and communist symbols to distraction," Siguenza offered. "But just because we use certain codes, symbolism doesn't mean we're communists."

"We're not afraid to poke fun at our icons," added Salinas, "and we want to expose that here without getting bomb threats."

"The idea is for us to bring all the different facets, the different professions, the different mindsets that people have in Miami, together," Montoya stressed. "And that's going to be the show."

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