Saturday, September 23, 2006

El Diablo

Who is El Diablo?

Several decades ago I was invited
to do a poetry residency in San Antonio
featuring the work of a local
group of folk players who act out
a traveling morality play every autumn,
culminating on the saints day
of the Virgin of Guadalupe,
December 10.

It was, for this Midwestern girl,
a time of learning. The Los Pastores
player families had for generations
acted out a Medieval play which
had never been written down,
an oral tradition, an indigenous
pageant, the star of which is El Diablo,
whose costume has been passed
from generation to generation,
whose demise is always met with
cheering crowds, in school playgrounds,
in parking lots, in people's back yards.

The residency took place in the school
district that was the center of the
underworld in San Antonio,
and UNESCO awarded the king
pin's son with a prize for
poetry. It was funded by a group
of incredibly wealthy locals who traced
their Spanish heritage back to the
middle ages, and acted like
feudal lords.

I am convinced the reason I was selected
to do the job was that I had no idea
what was going on.

No local would have considered taking
those players into that school system
funded by those people under
international eyes. Even the local
arts group which sort of hosted
a Los Pastores performance had little
idea who these curanderos were,
offered to help them with "blocking"
to make the presentation more
stage worthy —

El Diablo usually delivered his
lines in a rumbling mumble
with his back to the audience.

El Diablo's family was the original
owner of the land Guadalupe Church
sits on today, and roles in the play
are passed from generation
to generation in this old
and venerated family.

It isn't a theatrical production,
it is an iconic cultural portrait
of good versus evil —
both of which are portrayed
with slapstick humor,
goofy costumes and the playfulness
we see in Mexican folk art —
Las Calaveras, the dancing skeletons
that appear on El Dia de Los Muertos.

El Diablo is not Satan.

Chavez was invoking a joke —
the joke George Bush has made out of
US foreign policy.

World leaders laughed and applauded,
having apparently a bit of cultural awareness
lacking in the American media, along with
a good deal of pent up frustration
about geopolitical realities.

But listen to the whole speech.

When Hugo Chavez called George W. Bush
El Diablo, he was kidding, but the people

of the south are not.

I don't suppose Chavez much liked
it when the Bush administration ran a coup
against him a few years ago, backed by
multi-national oil moguls.

The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales,
on Amy Goodman this week doesn't
think George Bush owns the world.

We are going to hear from
the People of the South.
They have some good ideas — like
cheap heating oil for poor people,
for instance, economic justice,
respect, equality and the democratization
of the United Nations.

* art: Stories from Around the World

©Susan Bright, 2006

Susan Bright is the author of nineteen books of poetry. She is the editor of Plain View Press which since 1975 has published one-hundred-and-fifty books. Her work as a poet, publisher, activist and educator has taken her all over the United States and abroad. Her most recent book, The Layers of Our Seeing, is a collection of poetry, photographs and essays about peace done in collaboration with photographer Alan Pogue and Middle Eastern journalist, Muna Hamzeh.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to mention that I read your blog piece about El Diablo -- the notion that the comment was a joke is really important background, and I'm printing it to share with my students.


7:57 PM  

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