"Chicano writers from El Paso are the most progressive, open-minded, far-reaching, and inclusive writers of them all."

Octavio Romano

Friday, July 02, 2010

Interview with Carlos Morton; El Paso Writer Updates: Joe Olvera, Luis Rodriguez in Inglaterra

 Carlos Morton (UCSB Theater and Dance Website)

Carlos Morton

In a prior interview with Carlos Morton, he described how that during his MEChA days at the University of Texas at El Paso, he did some stories for The Prospector, the UTEP student newspaper.

At that time in the early 1970s, Sunset Heights was a chivaso, den of places to shoot up with heroin and weed.
The police had recently done a raid at an apartment complex in El Paso's Sunset Heights neighborhood, beat up some people, broke down doors, and made a mess of the house they raided. 
The police commando unit busted 22 people at 817 W. Yandell. About 100 city police and federal officials took part in the raid overturning furniture, breaking lamps, waking people as they slept. The law enforcement “stormed through at least five apartments.” 

Several bystanders, two female UTEP students were watching from outside, when police went up to them and booked the two girls.

Morton writing for the The Prospector, the UTEP student newspaper, would do a gonzo journalism story on the raid which resulted in him another Prospector journalist getting a supeona from the El Paso grand jury. The two student journalist would refuse to name their sources.

Knowing he had a hot story, Morton later appeared on a new talk radio show with callers and was bombarded by callers defending the police's actions. Adding flame to the fire, Morton would publish an editorial comparing dope to Prohibition. The photos of the aftermath of the raid would be published in the October 9, 1970 Prospector.


Born in Chicago, Illinois, Morton's father served in the U.S. Army so the family traveled all over the United States and Latin America. His father was from Hidalgo, Mexico and moved to Chicago where he found it hard to find work, so he changed the family name, Perez, to Morton. 

Morton has lived for extended periods of time in Chicago, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, El Paso, and Mexico. He also lived a few years in Panama and Ecuador, where his father was stationed. 

He spent many summers in El Paso before attending the University of Texas at El Paso where he was involved in the Chicano student movement there as well as in the university's newspaper. 
Even during college, Morton was out and about. In my interview with Morton in the late 1990s, he described how he use to cross over to Cd. Juarez and back again, like Jack Nicholson in the film "The Border" just to see if he could do it. 
 A chance hitchhike in upper-state New York landed him at Woodstock. He hitchhiked through Latin America in the 1970s.

Involved in some way or another in theater as an actor in high school it was seeing the Teatro Campesino come to UTEP in the 1970s that was a tremendous influence. He later worked with the San Francisco Mime Troupe

Morton's published collected plays include, The Many Deaths of Danny Rosales and Other Plays (1983) and Johnny Tenorio and Other Plays (1992) both published by Arte Publico Press. The Fickle Finger of Lady Death (1996, Peter Lang Press) are English language translations of four plays by contemporary Mexican playwrights.  
Rancho Hollywood y otras obras del teatro chicano, (1999, Arte Publico Press & Ediciones EL Milagro) is a Spanish language collection of his plays; Dreaming on a Sunday in the Alameda and Other Plays (Chicana & Chicano Visions of the Americas) (2004) on University of Oklahoma Press.

Morton former Mina Shaughnessy Scholar and Fulbright Lecturer to Mexico, Morton holds a M.F.A. in Drama from the University of California, San Diego, and a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of Texas at Austin. In 1999 he was inducted into the "Writers of the Pass," in El Paso, Texas.

Above, from Morton's "Brown Baby"


Ray Rojas (RR): Carlos, last time we updated people on what was "up" with Carlos
Morton, you doing some speaking in Europe back in 2007. What has happened
since then?

Carlos Morton (CM): I went back to Europe this Spring on sabbatical; taught a graduate seminar in Hungary and spoke at several universities in Romania, Poland, and Spain. There is a lot of interest in Chicano/Latino theater in Europe, perhaps more than in the U.S.A. "El Jardin" (play by Morton) has been translated into Polish and Hungarian -- a performance of which I saw in April in Hungary. Although I didn't understand much of it, I laughed along with the audience since I recognized all the action.

I also won the BECA NEBRIJA DE CREADORES (Creative Writing Fellowship) at the University of Alcala de Henares, Spain, where I spent a month in residence writing a play in Spanish called "Frontera Norte."  The prize was 2000 Euros and the publication of the one act play this coming Fall in the Revista CAMINO REAL.

RR: Can you give us a preview of your latest work?

CM: ZONA ROSA The events in this play are based on the life of Dr. Francisco Estrada Valle (1957-1992) whose murder has never been solved. Some events and names have been changed. "Zona Rosa" is an entertainment district in Mexico City where gay people congregate or to quote Vicente Leñero, "La Zona Rosa es un perfume barato en un envase caro" (a cheap perfume in an expensive container).
                                Above, Morton and Russell Copley 
(courtesy of Eaglerock Stage)

RR: You've been doing a lot of cross border networking (with Mexico) within the last 15 years (maybe more). Can you give us your reflections on the violence in Northern Mexico, Cd. Juarez, and the contrary "2nd safest city in the U.S." title that El Paso draws?

CM: My wife (Azalea) and I just came back from a week in Tijuana and Northern Baja California. The tourist areas were ghost towns. No ones goes out after 11 p.m.  The police travel in packs. 

My suegra had her house broken into and we're trying to get her out.  It's a disaster area, 23,000 killed in the last 4 years since Calderon took office.  That is three times the casualties of all the U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan PUT TOGETHER since 9/11/01. The violence is starting to spill over into Chula Vista, CA. just as it is in El Paso.

RR: Carlos, we just finished another decade in Chicano(a) Lit (2000-2009). What did this decade give to Chicano(a) theater?

CM: We have had new plays by Josefina Lopez (including her movie REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES), Cherrie Moraga, Luis Alfaro, Jose Cruz Gonzalez, Octavio Solis, and of course the fantastic trio known as CULTURE CLASH.  The Latino Theater Lab in L.A., under the director of Jose Luis Valenzuela, is also doing some fantastic work like Evelina Fernandez's recent piece, SOLITUDE.

RR: What recommendations can you give to someone who wants to give play writing a shot? Is there a text you use in your classes?

CM: I use Playwriting: Writing, Producing, and Selling Your Play, by Louis Catron.  It explains all you need to know about play writing.

RR: With exception of yourself, is there a play by a Chicano(a) playwright we should be giving attention to?

CM: Check out the hilarious NOPAL BOY by Macedonia Arteaga, a real fine example of Chicano humor.

RR: Can you give us a name of an up-and-coming Chicano playwright we should be excited about?

CM: Ray, I put the question to Diane Rodríguez, Associate Producer of New Play Production, Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles. She reads a lot of new work.  Here's what she said:

              "I read very few plays these days from writers that would self identify as Chicana/os. Plays               and writers I'm sure you know already that have recently come  across my desk are:

- "I put the fear of Mexico in 'em" by Matthew Paul Olmos

- "Basilica" and other plays by Mando Alvarado

- "Maelstrom" by Christopher Oscar Pena (Not sure if he is Mex-American)

Tanya Saracho who is Mex American from Chicago via Texas but does not self identify as Chicana

Aside from Mando and Tanya who who are Tejanos I don't even know if Matthew and Christopher are Mexican American and if they are it's doubtful they consider themselves Chicano(a)s.

I (Diane Rodriguez) have a new play that I wrote titled "Living Large in a Mini Kind of Way" that is going to premier in Chicago at Teatro Luna next year. And because I am from that generation that claimed the word Chicana/o, I still identify myself as a Chicana." 

Above, posters courtesy of Eaglerock Stage
More on Eaglerock at www.eaglerockstage.com

CM: So, this leads to a bigger question:  How many young writers identify as Chicanos?  There are some, including a very established El Paso playwright, who thinks we should use the term "Hispanic."

RR: Carlos, in my blogging on chapbooks h in early Chicano Renaissance literature, I mentioned your chapbook White Heroin Winter. My first question, is do you write any poetry now days? Second,
can you describe to our readers how you entered into play writing?

CM: I started out writing and reading my poetry in coffee houses and bars in Chicago and El Paso in the late 1960's and early 1970s.  I loved the immediacy with the audience.  I started writing plays about the same time and found that it gave me more more gratification and recognition.  The excitement and electricity of having a live audience to deal with is what makes both genres worth while in my estimation.


Chicano Moratorium exhibit on view

Speaking of Ruben Salazar, see this story on an exhibit for the Chicano Moratorium: Chicano Moratorium exhibit on view.

Veteran Journalist Joe Olvera Well Done or Medium Rare

The City of El Paso will be honoring veteran journalis and poet, Joe Olvera with its Conquistador Award on July 20 at City Council Chambers. Joe sent me an email say, "I joke that I'm not a Conquistador, just a Conquistado."

Second, there will be a "Cabuleando a Joe Olvera Roast and Fundraiser" at the Cafe Mayapan on Saturday, July 24. Tickets will be $20 a person. It's going to be a fun evening of friends making fun of Joe and "my pompous ways" say Joe.

BorderSenses at 16

The BorderSenses journal has released their 16th volume. They had a release party last night (which I missed, sorry Amit, my car's in the shop).

Blog Posts
Luis Rodriguez sends tiding from England. I posted a post today on his blog.

Coming next week:
Sunday: Small Press Spotlite
 Monday: Lunes con Lalo
Tuesday: Interview with Mike/M. Padilla author of The Girls from the Revolutionary Cantina.

The link we share with you today is: The Brick Testament. Reading The Bible this way will take you back to your childhood.

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