I spent many years in San Francisco. While there, I had my first real exposure to Salvadoran culture. I had quite a few friends whose families had immigrated to the City by the Bay to escape the violence and war in El Salvador. Like most immigrants, they congregated in an area that was comfortable and, of course, affordable. Much like the Mexican population of Los Angeles, immigration was not without its own issues. Crime was high, and by the mid ’80s we had a significant gang culture that threatened the existence of those who were trying to live normal, productive lives – and bringing with it the very ugliness many had tried to escape.
Ricardo Salinas is an actor, writer and performer from El Salvador and one of the founding members of Culture Clash, a Latino performance group that was born in SF’s mission district on the festive day of Cinco De Mayo, May 5th 1984. I have heard quite a lot about their work, so when I heard that Ric was going to star in a show at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown L.A., I jumped at the opportunity to do a little Q and A with him. Ric will be performing in a play called “PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo” that addresses issues of Salvadoran gangs.
Rose: Hi, Ric, introduce yourself to my readers.
Ric: Hi, I am one third of the performance trio Culture Clash, which on this festive Cinco de Mayo will be turning 30! We’re like a Latino Rolling Stones!
Rose: Wow! I love the Rolling Stones. Can you tell me just a bit about PLACAS?
Ric: “Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo” is a play about a father who was in a gang — Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 — but is trying to turn his life around in order to save his son from being in a gang. This story is specifically set in the Salvadoran community and culture, but it really is a universal story that can happen to anyone who lives in a tough neighborhood, Mexican, Chicano or African-American. I told the playwright, Paul Flores, that his story is like a Greek tragedy. This story was told 2500 years ago.
Rose: What drove you to want to be part of this particular story?
Ric: I was interested in this story because it is one of the first plays to deal with the Salvadoran culture. Now please understand that this is only one slice of the Salvadoran experience. We are not all gang members. I am in this play that deals with gang culture because it is primarily a play about redemption, regret and hope. I also really wanted to work with the director, Michael John Garcés, who is the artistic director for Cornerstone Theater Company.
Rose: I understand that your character is based on a real person, Salvadoran former gang member, Alex Sanchez. Has he been involved with this production?
Ric: Alex Sanchez is involved with this piece in a couple of ways. First, this play is primarily about his experience as member of the Salvadoran gangs; and second, he is now reformed through the process of tattoo removal and he’s head of Homies Unidos – a group that helps our youth stays away from gangs. He’s been on tour with us and speaks before and after our play.
Rose: Culture Clash is well known for performing comedy and satire, but PLACAS explores some pretty serious issues. Is there any humor in it?
Ric: I was so encouraged that playwright Paul Flores allowed humor in this heavy piece. I’ve added my two cents to this process, and it has worked marvelously. Humor lets the audience have some breathing space between the drama.
Rose: Gangs are still a large part of the culture in Latino communities. What do you think is the key to discouraging young people from participating in gangs?
Ric: Family involvement and social programs as well as sports can do a lot to change their lives.
Rose: Thanks so much Ric, I am going to try and attend the show on Saturday the 5th. Lets speak again after the show.
Oh! By the way, I love pupusas. What’s your favorite place?
Ric: A great place is El Buen Gusto in Atwater!
Rose: Thanks again, break a leg.
PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo is only running for a single four-day weekend, so don’t miss this opportunity to see Ricardo Salinas perform in this culturally stunning and informative story. For more information and to purchase tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or go to http://thelatc.org/shows/placas/