By Abigail Vega
As I write this, it’s midnight and Alex, Amanda, Maya and I are packed in a white SUV driving north on US 281 from our first two performances of the Luna Unlaced tour in the Rio Grande Valley. My dad, formally known as USAF Col. GB Vega, now known as Donut Cat, is driving, mostly because we’re too tired to drive and also because he officially elected himself as our Rio Grande Valley Tour Manager before we left on Tuesday morning.
We’re keeping our eyes peeled for an IHOP; Donut Cat desperately needs coffee to get through the rest of the five hour drive back to San Antonio, where we will sleep for a few hours before heading to Austin for our third show. After the past 36 hours we had, we’re really going to need it.
Yesterday morning, we set out for Edinburg, TX, about 20 miles north of Reynosa, Mexico for our first show. We intended to leave around 10am, but by the time we printed the programs, packed the cookies and burned our CDs, it was nearly noon. My dad was patient though, which must have been tough. (Managing 10,000 armed troops federally declared state of emergency ain’t nothing compared to managing four of the Ladies of Luna and their excessive luggage.) We made it to Edinburg by 4:30pm and made our way to the University of Texas Pan-American, where our show was set up by the marvelous Marci McMahon. We met with some of the Latino Theatre students and watched a dress rehearsal of their next show, PACHANGA! (Live mariachi band! Lots of dancing! Projector screens!) We then went home (donated by the very kind Melynda Nuss) and started to panic. We had two shows the next day. We’re we ready? What if no one came? What if they didn’t like it?
Donut Cat wasn’t helpful with the last question. “Maybe you should consider taking some of the scenes out,” he suggested. “These people…you know how they are. You don’t want to alienate them.”
My dad is from Harlingen, TX, about a 15 minute drive from Edinburgh and San Benito. He left the Valley the day after he graduated from high school, and never looked back. Many of his sisters, my aunts, were coming to the shows. Most of them don’t speak to each other, and sometimes, they will go months without speaking to my dad. The divide between them is sometimes hard to cross – my dad was the first one to graduate from college, the first one to get a Masters, the first one to marry someone who wasn’t Latino. His perception of the Valley is very colored by his experiences with his family, and up until this point, I shared the same perceptions.
“They’re more conservative. They’re more rural. They won’t get it. Take out the scene with the vagina.”
To be honest, we thought about it. After all, isn’t it our responsibility to curate the experience for them? If they hate the show, how can they be touched by the content? How can they hear the messages we have if they’re distracted or put off by the F word? And what if we did alienate them with ‘Crikey, A Vagina!’ or ‘Kinky’?
At the last minute, we decided to let the show go untouched. We would treat this audience like every other audience we’re going to encounter. We would indicate which scenes contained “adult content,” but ultimately, we would let them decide what they wanted to see. We were nervous. We were stressed. But we had to give them the same power we were going to give everyone else.
And after all that, there was no trouble at all. Both of the audiences picked the DIRTIEST SCENES AND LOVED IT. We packed the UTPA Student Union Theatre in Edinburg and the Narciso Martinez Cultural Arts Center in San Benito, and during both performances, they laughed and cried. They stayed behind for the talk backs and kept asking questions. We sold out of CDs and cookies, and made more in individual donations than we ever had at any Luna show ever. A seventy year old woman extended her shaky palm and handed me a sweaty five dollar bill she had obviously been holding for a while. “I couldn’t stop laughing,” she tells me with tears in her eyes. “Keep doing this.” A younger woman who writes erotic poetry comes to talk to us. “Thank you for coming,” she says. “We need work like yours down here. We just don’t have it.”
And in the middle of all of this, I see my dad. He’s in the back, videotaping the show for the archives. He’s pulling double duty – collecting donation envelopes from people and selling our Luna cookies. He looks distracted now, but during the show, I watched him. I saw him watching the people he thought he knew, his old barrio, the community he left behind almost fifty years ago, actively change. He saw them laugh about Match.com and TSA agents and wipe tears away during a scene about deportation. He heard the insightful questions they asked, and was there when the show organizers had to ask the audience to clear the space because they didn’t want to leave, they wanted to keep sharing their stories with us…
So now, as he drives down the highway, he’s a different man. I think I’ve experienced something really special; I’ve seen my work change my 65 year old father, and I wasn’t even trying. Who would’ve thought – from tour manager to devoted fan? I guess we’ll have to wait on that one. It may be too soon to tell.
My dad breaks the silence in the car. “You guys going to be okay to drive to Austin tomorrow? Because if you need me…”
Maybe it’s not too soon 😉