Chicanismo y marxismo en Los vendidos
Luis Valdez, El Teatro Campesino, & Karl Marx
Chicano theatre experienced a rebirth in the 1960’s, when Mexican-American farm-worker turned playwright Luis Valdez founded El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, California. Though he had been raised in the States, Valdez remained faithful to his Chicano roots, as he recognized the U.S. social, political, and economic abuses of Mexican-Americans and fought against such oppressions through theatre. As a result, Valdez wrote plays that were both relevant and relatable to his audience of huelgistas (“strikers”) (Copelin 73), always calling for social change and action—for a Chicano revolution. More than a form of entertainment, Valdez realized that, “for the Chicano, teatro is both a witness to social change and an active propagandist for that change” (Copelin 89). Among his actos (short, bilingual plays) is Los vendidos, a play in which Valdez satirizes the U.S. use and stereotyping of Chicanos. Although Los vendidos can be read through many lenses, I argue that a Marxist framing of the play is most revealing, since the play is a “discurso teatral que se teje en el universo socio-economico de las relaciones humanas en general y chicana en particular” (Peña 161). Though in his essay “Wage Labor and Capital” Marx argues that labor power is commoditized and abused in capitalist society, applying this theory to Valdez’s Los vendidos reveals that it is an entire class/race of people which are commoditized by not only the United States, but by themselves. It is through applying a Marxist reading to Luis Valdez’s Los vendidos that the deeper meanings of Valdez’s nationalistic and revolutionist outcries are revealed.
Chicano: “The Race of Workers”
In “Wage Labor and Capital,” Karl Marx identifies two socio-economic camps in capitalism: those of the capitalist and of the laborer, or worker. Marx then claims that capitalism is structured not to “hold good for the single individual but for the species” (Marx 662). In this way, the laborer is not important as an individual, but as a class. Though Marx argues that the laborer is defined by the exchange of labor power for capital, Marx refers to the working class as a “race of workers” (Marx 662). For Valdez, Marx’s wording is significant, as the worth of Chicano laborers is determined by their ethnicity, and Valdez argues that Chicanos are not only depreciated but racialized as well. Marx claims that the wages that laborers receive are determined not only by the skill required in performing the task, but by “the cost of existence and reproduction of the worker” (Marx 662). Valdez agrees with Marx’s reasoning, though he adds that there is an inherent racialization in defining the laborer as Chicano.
For example, in describing the Farmworker “type,” Honest Sancho notes that the model is economical, since “one plate of beans and tortillas will keep him going all day. That, and chile” (Valdez 224). Here, the wages of the Chicano are racialized, as Valdez uses the simple yet traditional Mexican meal to tie the Chicano’s poor socio-economic status to his race. Furthermore, Honest Sancho notes that all of the models are economical—except for the more refined and costly Mexican-American. In this way, Valdez reveals the dichotomy of Chicanismo: for while Chicano means Mexican-American, there is a distinction in treatment between those of working class who are considered to be more “Mexican” Chicanos, and those more “suave, debonair” Chicanos who are, therefore, more “American.” Valdez employs Marx’s logic to show that the more “Mexican” Chicano is, indeed, grouped into a racialized laboring class, and that the bare minimum is employed to keep this class of working Chicanos alive, not the Chicano worker himself. However, Valdez argues that the economic aspect is not the sole racial signifier of the Chicano. When asked about storing the model, Honest Sancho replies that the
new farm labor camps [built by] our Honorable Governor Reagan… were designed with our model in mind. Five, six, seven, even ten in one of those shacks will give you no trouble at all. You can also put him in old barns, old cars, riverbanks. You can even leave him out in the field over night with no worry! (Valdez 224)
Here, it is clear that Valdez is commenting on the political and social treatment of the Chicano Farmworker by insinuating that this mistreatment has racial roots which are not accidental. It is obvious that the “types” which Honest Sancho sells are not really models, but stereotypes of the Chicano. I argue that Marxism informs the reading of Valdez’s Los vendidos by further highlighting the Chicano’s position in relation to U.S. socio-economic structuring.
Commoditization of the Chicano
The action of Los vendidos takes place in “Honest Sancho’s Used Mexican Lot and Mexican Curio Shop,” where “owner” Honest Sancho sells “all types [of Mexicans]” (Valdez 223). Here, Mexicans like the Farmworker and the Pachuco are commonly sold for purposes ranging from cultivating crops to the “[training] of rookie cops” (Valdez 226). In Honest Sancho’s descriptions of the uses for the Chicano “types” that he sells, Valdez reveals the objectification of the Chicano: the Farmworker can be used for “cutting grapes… [picking] cotton” (Valdez 224), the Pachuco as an “escape goat [sic]” (Valdez 226), the Revolucionario as an “International Harvester of Mexicans” (Valdez 226), and the Mexican-American as a “political machine” (Valdez 228). Through this description, Valdez claims that that the Chicano is a commodity in U.S. society—a thing which is and can be mishandled, “beaten,” “killed,” used for both political and working means, a piece of merely replaceable “merchandise” (Valdez 226). And though Marx argues that solely labor power is bought and sold in the exchange between capitalist and laborer (Marx 660), Valdez’s portrayal of the Chicano as “merchandise” reveals the dispensability of the Chicano individual; the Chicano, therefore is a commodity of “human flesh and blood” (Marx 660) which can be used not only for its labor power (in the case of the Farmworker models), but for the sake of abuse as well (in the case of the Pachuco models which are bought to be beaten by LAPD rookies). Through Los vendidos, Valdez clearly portrays Mexican-Americans as products of double-meaning—for the Chicano is not only a good himself, but the product of the U.S. political and socio-economic systems.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the play hinges on the title: Los vendidos, translated, means “The Sell-outs.” I claim this titling is Valdez’s answer to Marx’s problem of the “Negro slave” (Marx 662). Marx argues that a laborer is not a slave, for a laborer continuously sells his labor power, whereas the slave himself is sold “once and for all to his owner” (Marx 661). In order to truly understand the commoditization of the Chicano, we must first ask, “What is a sell-out? And who is selling whom?” In the Oxford English Dictionary, a “sell-out” has several meanings; however, there are two that are most helpful in interpreting Los vendidos. The first definition states that a sell-out is “an agreement or contract corruptly made by a public body, involving sacrifice of public to private interest” (Def. A); the second definition is “a completely disposable commodity” (Def. B). In applying both of these definitions as well as Marx’s theory to the play, I argue that Valdez is claiming that the Chicano himself is a “sell-out.” For that reason, Valdez’s text is able to answer the Marx’s problem of slavery by stating that the Chicano individual is not a slave, but a commodity in that he willingly and continuously sells himself.
Valdez poses multiple instances in which Chicanos have “sold” themselves. The first lines of the text reveal that Honest Sancho was once a contractor but now owns his own business of selling Chicano “types” (Valdez 223). Sancho, then, has made a living by selling his own people, whom he realizes can be marketed as “completely disposable commodities” (Def. B). In addition, the Anglicized Secretary Miss Jimenez [sic] identifies herself only as an American, thereby betraying her Chicana roots and “selling out” to the mainstream American culture (Valdez 223). Furthermore, Miss Jimenez is a sell-out in that she seeks to purchase one of her own people to be a “Mexican type for the [Reagan] administration” (Valdez 223). Lastly, the models themselves are sell-outs both in their stereotyping of Chicanos and in their business transactions. For example, when Sancho notes that the Farmworker, in addition to striking, also scabs, the Farmworker cries, “Me vendo barato, ¿y qué?” However, the most striking instance of selling-out is the when the selling-out of the Chicanos who play the “types.” In his portrayal of these vendidos, Valdez notes that they have perpetuated stereotypes about their people, sacrificing their people for their own monetary advancement. Clearly, for Valdez, it is the Chicano’s willing to sell both himself and his race to the corrupt American systems that is most disturbing.
A Call to Action
Through applying Marxism and Chicanismo to Los vendidos, it is obvious that Luis Veldaz is highlighting the need for change amongst Chicanos themselves. Valdez clearly highlights the abuse of U.S. politics and socio-economic structuring through applying Marxist theory of wage minimum. However, perhaps the most important call to action that Valdez makes is the cry for a Chicano revolution of the self, in which Valdez shows the brokenness of Chicano self-selling and self-commoditization. It is through reading Los vendidos through a Marxist frame that Valdez’s argument is most poignant and relevant: for the Chicano is not a victim of socio-economic structures alone, but of his own willingness to become a Chicano vendido.
 Trans: theatrical discourse that is woven into the socio-economic universe of human relations in general and, in particular, of the Chicano
 Trans: I sell myself cheap, so what?
Copelin, David. “Chicano Theatre: El Festival de los Teatros Chicanos.” The Drama Review: TDR 17.4 (1973): 73-89. JSTOR. Web. 4 Dec 2009.
Marx, Karl. “Wage Labor and Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.Malden: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. 659-664. Print.
Peña, Luis H. “Praxis dramatica, praxis politica: Los actos de Luis Valdes.” Revista de Crítica Literaria Latinoamericana 10.19 (1984): 161-166. JSTOR. Web. 4 Dec 2009.
“Sell-out.” Def. A. The Oxford English Dictionary. Second ed. 1989.
“Sell-out.” Def. C. The Oxford English Dictionary. Second ed. 1989.
Valdez, Luis. Los vendidos. Herencia: The Anthology of Hispanic Literature of the United States. Ed. Nicolás Kanellos. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2002. 222-230. Print.