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Boyle Heights

Interview w/ Eddie Padilla ~ CASA 0101 ~ Boyle Heights

11:00 AM PDT on June 15, 2007

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Tu Ciudad magazine just named CASA 0101 "Best Performing Arts Venue" in their June/July Best of Latino L.A. edition. In my opinion CASA 0101 is one of the most prolific and soulful theaters in town. With "Chicano Rehab y Mas" and "El Verde," two comedies on the bill this month, I talked to CASA 0101's Artistic Director, Eddie Padilla, about their new season, giving a voice to Boyle Heights youth and... potato tacos!

LA Taco: Did you grow up in Boyle Heights?

Eddie Padilla: I grew up in San Diego in a neighborhood called "Shell Town" and I don't mean shells as ocean shells but bullet shells you find all over the place or the shells from the naval station. I moved to Boyle Heights in 2005. Boyle Heights instantly reminded me of Shell Town in terms of demographics, crime rate, police presence, and how gang activity was embedded in the community. Brothers, cousins, parents, close friends, and lovers are all related to gangs.

A friend from USC where I studied theater was doing set building and directing plays at CASA 0101. I got involved when they were producing Josefina Lopez' "Real Women Have Curves." I expressed interest in directing a play and a few months later became Artistic Director.

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(Eddie Padilla and "Little Red" at Casa 0101.)

LT: Did you always want to be involved in theater?

EP: I moved from San Diego to LA in 1990 to be an R&B singer, but the music industry is all about aesthetics and to them I'm a character, I don't fit their profile. Also when I was living alone in Los Feliz, all my recording equipment was stolen. At the time I was offered an acting job, so I took it. I interpreted those two chance happenings to be a sign, so I stuck with acting. For a few years I worked in theater and TV doing a lot of commercials in the Spanish language. Then the commercial actors' strike in late 1999-2000 hit and for two years I was almost completely out of work, because the companies producing commercials took the work to other Spanish-speaking countries close by. It took September 11 to bring the work back here because a lot of people were too nervous to travel. Around that time, I decided to study theater at USC to add a better foundation to my craft. I made a lot of connections and still work with people I met there. Then I moved to Boyle Heights and got involved with CASA 0101.

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(Josefina Lopez. Photo by Shane Sato.)

LT: Playwright/Actor/Activist Josefina Lopez who was raised in Boyle Heights, is the founder of CASA O1O1.

EP: Josefina created CASA 0101 to celebrate the community. I truly embrace her vision. It's interesting that she and I had crossed paths for several years before we finally met in 2006. She submitted her first play called "Simply Maria" to a young playwrights competition at the Gaslamp Quarter Theater in San Diego when she was about 17. I submitted one of my plays around the same time to the same competition. She won of course, but I got to audition for the play - didn't get in, but some of my friends did. Anyway, when we met last year, we discovered that we are about the same age, we know a lot of the same people, and we have very similar views on a lot of things.

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LT: Going back to what you said about families in Boyle Heights being embedded in gang life. Stories about gangs are usually written from the perspective of gang members vs. non gang members and very rarely on how gang life affects the fabrics of the family especially in the case of gang activity spanning several generations. Have you been able to get young people or Boyle Heights residents to speak about this issue?

EP: We're working at collaborating with Father Boyle of Homeboy Industries to let them speak their voices even more. A lot of them are talented, they come by CASA 0101, they take a step in and a step out. They're interested but scared of it. We want them to know the door is open. Some ex-gang members are in Josefina's writing class. Their stories have yet to be told. Some of the youths we've met in the neighborhood have told us how they can't be around their parents because the parents are in a different gang. Others are trying to clean up their act but it means staying away from their family because family members are still in gangs. Then there's the issue of finding jobs. Nobody will hire them. Some might get hired Downtown LA because of all the new construction happening down there.

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El Verde (Anthony Aguilar) vs. Kukaracha King (Jeremiah Ocanas)

LT: When I saw "Documenting the Undocumented" (Click here to read Taco review) at CASA 0101 in December, Josefina Lopez talked about CASA 0101's mission to show that Boyle Heights is not poor, but a community rich with life. With all the negative portrayal in the media, how do we get people from "The Westside" to come see CASA 0101's plays?

EP: We talked about gangs because I started talking about how Boyle Heights reminds me of where I grew up, and that is just a part of that community I remember. I think people from the Westside, as you say, can feel just as safe in this community as in any in LA. We have the Hollenbeck Police Department one block away, and everyone around is quite respectful. 'Gang' is such a bad word to many people, and I guess I should mention that having grown up in an environment with much gangs, I've come to see it as part of the richness of a community. I see some of the artwork that sprouts from this culture - painted in Chicano Park murals (in San Diego) and in the music I used to hear as a boy - as I walk through Boyle Heights streets and greet my neighbors. Fear comes from not knowing. But I know, so I do feel safe here.

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Chicano Park, San Diego.

LT: Talking about the diverse heritage of Boyle Heights' residents, what is your line-up for the new season starting this July?

EP: We have two plays in the works coming up soon: "Soledad" by Janine Salinas, is the story of a young girl who wants to be a writer but must explore her family's past as political refugees from Chile. As she delves into this history, her writing begins to flow. The themes revolve around assimilation, racism and degradation, when you go from being at the top of your career in your country to being a manual laborer in the U.S. Janine Salinas' poetry is beautiful in this play.

Then we have "La Ofrenda" by Jose Casas, the story of a boy who loses his parents on September 11 and gets sent to live with his bus driver grandmother in East LA . The grandma wasn't in the boy's life because she disagreed with his parents' interracial marriage. The story unfolds around Dia De Los Muertos tradition as the grandmother and the little boy try to come to terms with the death of his parents.

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LT: The Frida Kahlo Theatre performs their plays in both English and Spanish. Is that something you do at CASA O1O1? Am I wrong to assume a large part of the BH community might speak little English?

EP: I believe you're right. There is a large part of Boyle Heights that is Spanish-Speaking only, but I believe there is still a very large part of this community that is either bilingual or only English-speaking. I love the work that Ruben Amavizca is doing at the Frida Kahlo Theater. In fact, I was part of the first production of "Frida Kahlo: Self-Portrait of Pain" there in 1992. I played Judas. We still maintain a friendship. The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Lincoln Heights also does wonderful Bilingual theater. A few years ago "Real Women Have Curves" was translated and staged, but the audience turnout was not very strong. We are currently preparing a study of our surrounding area to try to gauge the extent of the need for Spanish-Language productions in Boyle Heights. Bilingual theater is no small feat and we do not want to alienate our non-Spanish speaking audiences either.

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Alicia the Feminist in "Chicano Rehaba Y Mas."

LT: Let's talk about the other side of CASA 0101, the hope and the laughter that is an essential part of it. You have two comedies being performed in June, "Chicano Rehab & Mas" by San Diego theater group Teatro Izcalli and "El Verde" by Anthony Aguilar.

EP: You saw an episode of "El Verde" in "Documenting the Undocumented."

LT: Yes, I loved the super-hero's relationship with his wife. It was funny, sweet, and uncompromising in its portrayal of an ex-undocumented immigrant in LA under suspicion.

EP: Anthony Aguilar is a very clever writer. He will be reprising his role as El Verde and will be fighting against villains like The Kukaracha King (Jeremiah Ocanas) and La Llorana Lisa (Miriam Moses.) "Chicano Rehab y Mas" is a politically charged comedy by Teatro Izcalli from San Diego, Chicano theater at its best. Their work mirrors the tradition of Teatro Campesino, a theater for the people created by Luis Valdez during the farm workers' strikes of 1965 led by Cesar Chavez.

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LT: Where do you recommend people get food for their stomach on their way to feeding their souls at CASA 0101?

EP: For Mexican food, La Serenata is a very popular upscale restaurant down the street from the theater (1842 E. 1st Street). Another restaurant getting a lot of recognition is La Parrilla (TACO review ~ 2126 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd.) Homegirl Cafe (TACO review ~ 1818 E. 1st Street) has very healthy food and traditional Mexican cuisine.

One of my favorite is a small restaurant called La Placita (1859 E. 1st Street) which serves Cemitas Poblanas. Their food is amazing and it's inexpensive. It's very traditional Mexico City food. They have tortas, which are very rich Mexican sandwiches, cemitas that are sandwiches on a kind of bread called cemitas as well. They serve Menudos and Pozole on weekends. They have tostadas and huaraches. Their quesadillas are made with grilled or fried hand-made corn tortillas. In some of them they put the yellow flower that grows with zucchini squash. It is delicious.

LT: And the most important question of them all: what is your favorite place for tacos?

EP: La Parilla (2126 E. Cesar Chavez Blvd.) makes wonderful potato tacos and a few other delicious vegetarian dishes. I forgot to mention Al & Beas (2025 E. 1st Street) earlier. It's a landmark of Boyle Heights. When people call us for directions, we just tell them we're half a block west of Al & Beas and they know where we are. Al & Beas draws a lot of crowds. There's also King Taco on Soto & Cesar Chavez. My sisters came up from San Diego one night just to eat there. Makes me laugh cause they're so close to Tijuana, but they came up here instead. I think they were just looking for an excuse to visit me!

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For more information on "Chicano Rehab y Mas" or "El Verde" produced at CASA 0101, 2009 E. 1st Street, LA, CA 90033, check the Calendar of Events at www.casa0101.org or call (323) 263-7684.

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