The war of all against all

“Ku Klux Kumbia” pulls no punches when it comes to describing immigration battles.

Greg Corradini

A recent New York Times’ article told of a Honduran woman’s journey to the United States.

Lydda Gonzalez, a sewing machine operator in a Honduran sweatshop, said she and many other Hondurans endure harsh working conditions making shirts for rap star P. Diddy’s “Sean John” fashion company for 15 cents per hour.

Gonzalez’s story is nothing new. American corporations have long exploited immigrants and foreign workers. Trece Lunas Arts Collective’s production “Ku Klux Kumbia” depicts the struggle of one immigrant to assimilate into U.S.

society.

Basilio (Allen Malicsi) is an immigrant who dies along with his girlfriend while illegally crossing the U.S. border in a search for better opportunities. Following death, Basilio’s spirit remains suspended in a kind of purgatory or limbo. If he plays his cards right, he can sign a contract with the devil and get his soul back. To accomplish this, he must compete in “The Kumbia Limbo Show: Gigantic Inferno.”

Mamasita (Silvia Pontaza), the show’s host, decides that Basilio needs a more exotic name. Now dubbed “Perro” (short for “The Immigrant Dog”), he must deceive his KKK opponent, Strom Thurmond (Paulino Brenner), for his chance to sign the contract.

Director Emiliano Silva provides characters that play with stereotypes of corporate Americans and Latinos.

For example, after Perro defeats Strom Thurmond, he proceeds to thank his father for showing him how to pick pockets and his grandma for teaching him how to avoid paying taxes.

Perro’s self-parody represents what “Ku Klux Kumbia” seems to strive for.

By setting many disparate stereotypes in play against each other, the audience is forced to confront the politics of the issues at hand.

In “The Limbo Show” fight scene, Strom Thurmond grabs hold of Perro and calls him “sub-human excrement.” In one foul swoop, viewers are faced with white America’s prejudice against immigrants. In addition, Thurmond, unable to make a break from his earthly political roots, also doubles as a conservative mouthpiece. “I got used to those liberal bastards taking away my right to go around shooting people of color,” says Thurmond, satisfied with a new conceal-and-carry law. Here, the characters are not the priority, but the brashness of the ideas they represent is.

“The way political discourses function is all very cartoon-like,” Silva said. “You see politicians, you see the media today. It is hard to find depth in the social narrative.”

Much of Silva’s purposefully farcical humor is funny while keeping stride with his intention to depict the immigrant’s struggles with

assimilation.

The devil (Paulino Brenner) ends up sending Perro back to earth. The year is 2053, and the audience finds itself in the living room of an all-American trailer-trash family who live in the state of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The world is in the midst of a nuclear war. Ronald (Thom Pinault), the father, comes wheeling in a large cardboard box to surprise his family. He has just purchased the new GENITAL prototype. Perro, not completely human, stumbles out of the box. He is a Genetically Engineered Naturalized Immigrant Totally Automated Laborer. He washes dishes, does the laundry and, true to his Latino origins, functions as an irresistible sex symbol.

“The particular styles that grew from the political theater in Latin America are very similar to commedia dell’ arte,” Silva said. “In commedia dell’ arte the characters are more than people, they are masks. They represent certain aspects of the human experience, but they are not necessarily a representation of a specific person.”

Fun and games aside, the viewer is asked to laugh at some bold stereotypes. Parodic humor can ease the audience into addressing touchy subjects like race and immigrant exploitation. However, it’s important to guard against the possibility that the characters on stage do not further propagate the stereotypes they aim to undermine.

Trece Lunas Arts Collective takes the first step by bringing these issues’ discussion to the table. In the end, Perro defeats the devil by making him drink free trade organic coffee. As funny as it is, the larger unresolved issues, like where hate breeds, are not fully addressed.