Editor's Note: Jade Esteban Estrada is the writer of Glitter Political, a series of articles detailing San Antonio's elections.
Jade Esteban Estrada
Better Butter cast
About a minute into Sarah Tijerina’s My 7-Year Long Anti-Mexicana Remedy, one of the 28 short plays showcased in Better Butter, I start to wonder why the multidisciplinary artist didn’t give herself any lines.
Instead, to the haunting rhythm of Taylor Swift’s This Love, she meticulously shaves her forearms. She then spreads a foundation, noticeably lighter than her natural skin color, onto her glowing brown face, then straightens her black curls with a flat iron. As the steam rises to Jump-Start Theater’s high ceiling from her vertically pulled strands of hair, I come to the conclusion that a lot has already been said.
By the end of the evening, I realize this collection of plays, a seamless union of theatre and political activism, can best be understood and appreciated by those who live, or have deep roots, in San Antonio.
It’s a month later, and I’m sitting in a circle across from five of the seven cast members at Jump-Start, a more modest space than its former location at the Blue Star Arts Complex. Lilith Tijerina, Sarah’s fraternal twin, is the first to respond to the possibility of the show being viewed through a political filter. Copper locks of curly hair cascade along the sides of her young face. “What we did on stage was not a political show so much as a show that showcased the things that we care about – which just happened to be political,” she says.
Artistically and ideologically, the performers seem to be in sync with one another. They all met at SAY Sí, the youth arts education organization, about five years ago. Joyous Windrider, 44, is sitting to my right. Clint Taylor, 37, the show’s creator, is sitting across from me sipping a Big Red, his signature drink. Gio Lugo, 19, is also in attendance.
“Our dream is to tell stories and relate to our community – the community that raised me,” Sarah says. “We’re telling stories to San Antonio, [and to] mostly brown people.”
Snap, snap, snap.
I attempt to locate the sudden snapping sound. It’s coming from Taylor’s fingers. It’s vaguely Orwellian. Gleaned from the poetry community, the actors explain that snapping “means that the listeners agree with the person speaking.” I’m up to speed.
The self-described “teatristas” explain the show’s inspiration. Taylor caught a performance of the New York Neo-Futurists’ hit show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, and their more recent work The Infinite Wrench. A couple of years ago, I saw a performance of Too Much Light at the Perth International Fringe Festival.
Comparing the original concept with such titles as Tony Parker Lived Long Enough to See Himself Become the Villain, Ya Parale and Conchas Aren’t Even That Great, the show’s unique SA flavor is evident. In the coming months, Taylor plans to revive the show with a rotating cast so that the production always stays fresh and in the moment.
In I’m Gonna Have the Same Conversations Over and Over Again Until Shit Gets Done, Lilith hands out photocopies of the Current
’s cover story “San Antonio Schools are Still Separated by Income as Much as Race”
by Bekah McNeel. Lilith says that the story legitimized what she always knew. “It’s like [McNeel was saying], ‘What you went through is true and there’s definitely an issue,’” she says.
“It’s like sipping the tea of truth,” says Lugo, who, like the twins, is a theater major at Texas State University. His experience as a devout Catholic inspired his play, My Homo Struggle, a piece about how a Catholic priest told him that “people who are gay are mentally ill [and/or] lacked a strong male role model.” Lugo, who was raised in a “male-dominated, Mexican household” by both of his parents, disagrees with this theory.
“Catholic Mexicans are very judgmental about someone being gay, especially [within] the church, in my opinion.” He says he’s been told by his church leaders not to come back if he gets a boyfriend.
The writing in almost every scene is honest, certainly authentic and, at times, can get a little uncomfortable.
My attention returns to Sarah. What would you say about, or what could be perceived as, the possible demonization of white people in your play? I ask. I’m referring to West Side Wizard of Oz, another one of her pieces, where the use of the word gringo made me to wonder if the white audience members were made to feel uneasy by the undercurrent of outrage that came across regarding the privileges of some white people.
Sarah locks eyes with me, and responds.
“If I could just be honest... I, as a brown woman who went to school on the South Side [and] on the West Side, who has, all her life, been associated with the word ghetto and with such ugly words because of where I come from… I’ve lived with these words all my life,” she says. “Because of this culture of high-class people who look down on predominately brown and black students who go to economically disadvantaged schools. I feel like, honestly, man – y’all can live with me saying gringo. You can live with me saying, ‘Fuck Reagan [High School].’”
These days, some folks find gringo offensive while others simply think that it distracts the listener from the intended message.
Though her words are fiery, her mannerisms are graceful and her voice is calm. “I’m not saying I hate white people,” she says, using her hands to help make a clarification. “I’m saying I hate the culture of oppression and, specifically, San Antonio’s economic segregation. I hate the benefits and resources that all these different districts have. I hate what that stands for.”
Lilith, whose piece Fuck Eurocentric Beauty Standards talks about “catering to white comfort,” expands on the subject.
“We had this mindset growing up [that] I didn’t want to associate with my culture,” she says. “I was very much into whiteness. I grew up glorifying white people. If you were Hispanic, you more than likely grew up glorifying white people, too. The power of oppression that whiteness has over marginalized people will never be overcome by just everyone saying ‘Gringo!’ all at once.” Snap, snap, snap from her colleagues. “There’s no such thing as the demonization of white people.”
Sarah adds: “If you feel personally offended after somebody says gringo, then the fight was never with you. My piece was not about people who live on the North Side. It isn’t about Reagan. It’s about me. It’s about people who went to school on the West Side. If you’re taking it so personally, you’re not listening.”
There’s a pause.
“I would even say stop talking so much,” she says of those she views as privileged. “Stop taking up spaces that brown people, and me, could be using to talk about the stuff that we need to talk about. Stop talking over me. Stop not letting me speak. When you do talk, use your privilege [and] talk about something that’s important. Don’t use your privilege to ask why I used the word gringo. Do more listening.”
I’m totally listening. Conchas do suck.
Can I get a snap?!
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