La Pastorela Popular in San Jose
Students enrolled in Latino College Preparatory's drama program are getting a lesson in culture and self-esteem while they perform in the modern adaption of a five-century-old Mexican play.
Virgen Lupita and Jose are not in Bethlehem, but in Gilroy surrounded by fields of garlic. Leviatan was accompanied in his mischievous plots by Mephista and Succuba, trying to corrupt the naïve shepherds, who represented more than just seven capital sins. These and other differences make the “Pastorela Popular” at National Hispanic Universtiy (NHU) a unique representation of the oldest theater play in Mexico and Latin America, after the arrival of the Spaniards.
Students from the Latino College Preparatory, themselves members of the Early University Program (EUP), put on stage the five-century-old “Pastorela Popular” at NHU´s auditorium under the direction of Carlos von Son, Ph.D, who teaches Mexican and Latin American Culture and Literature.
The picaresque and satiric play was performed under a festive and family environment during both nights of the show. Families enjoyed hot chocolate, tamales, and the little ones had fun with a piñata filled with candy breaking at the end of the play.
“La Pastorela” is a reenactment of Joseph and Mary's journey to Bethlehem right before the birth of Jesus Christ, and the seven shepherds who in the end adore Baby Jesus after defeating and even mocking Lucifer.
These plays, traditionally performed in the days before Christmas, were performed for the first time in Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City, over 500 years ago, when Catholic priests were trying to convert native Mexicans peacefully.
“These Fathers of the Church saw all the violence and decided to evangelize through these means,” said Dr. von Son. “Eventually it spread throughout Mexico and each region changed it; it became more picaresque, more satirical. Maria became the Virgin of Guadalupe, and Mesoamerican roots were added.”
Each region transformed it and gave “Pastorela” local flavors and idioms, as it happened at NHU. Therefore Lupita (short for Guadalupe) and Jose were surrounded by garlic fields on their journey from San Juan Bautista to Gilroy. The shepherds, more than only seven, were tempted not only by Leviatan, but also by Succuba and Mephista.
“Not everything is black and white, not only seven sins, there are more, there are many tones of gray,” said Dr. von Son, who is directing La Pastorela Popular for the second year, after he left his independent theater group in San Diego.
For most of the student-actors this was their first time on a stage, and the first time they heard about a Pastorela. They recognize that after performing on a stage, they gained self-confidence and better speech techniques, as well as learning to work in a team setting.
“We knew it would be difficult, but we kept going and did not give up,” said Christian Gonzalez (Leviatan), who aspires to be an aviation pilot.
Parents also highlight the confidence these programs feed their children, whom they proudly come to see at each performance.
“They are our sons and daughters, who are very talented. They have to set the example as Hispanics here in this country,” said Claudia Rizo, mother of Erandy Rizo (Succuba), who wants to be a lawyer. Erandy's mom also, like many parents, assist the production. “I enjoy being involved because remember that, if parents are involved, children are successful.”
Other students had a chance to show their talents prior to the show, when they performed dances and sang some tunes. Two students got the opportunity to cohost the event as emcees.
“My daughter started this program (EUP) to gain more self-confidence,” said Lourdes Robles, mother of Elizabeth Hernandez Robles, emcee of the night with Susie Mendoza. Both of them also co directed the play. “Thanks to the program, and to Dr. von Son's class in particular, she expresses herself with more confidence.”
Gerardo Fernandez is a writer & videographer for Alianza News.
Photos by Gerardo Fernandez.
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