Reinventing Shakespeare: the Mexican Revolution version
Ever since I moved to Michigan from Mexico, the public-school system in the United States has made sure I am well versed in all things American. After taking AP United States History, I could recite every American president and the years of all the major American wars. In American literature, we read “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Of Mice and Men” and “The Crucible.” Shakespeare was one of the only non-American authors that were emphasized by our curriculum. We read “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet,” “Julius Caesar,” “The Tempest” and “Macbeth.” Deciphering Shakespeare’s plays was regarded by my teachers as one of the most important parts of our schooling. I was introduced to the notion that having read these plays made someone more sophisticated and smart. Shakespeare had everything worthy of teaching. A world renowned English author who was regarded as a genius of words.
However, none of these words were my words. They did not resonate with me and where I thought I belonged. I was a quiet Spanish speaking girl who yearned to read “Don Quixote,” and learn about El Pipila and La Malinche. Although I loved reading these plays and being introduced to many of Shakespeare’s immortal characters, they did not make me feel like Sancho Panza or Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz ever did. I felt in some ways alienated because the characters and authors I admired and connected with the most were never mentioned by my teachers. We had entire units dedicated to American and British authors like Tennessee Williams and Mary Shelley, but there was no mention of Octavio Paz or Sandra Cisneros.
This lack of representation and the championing of Shakespeare as the desired author changed my views regarding worthy and unworthy literature. Which is why I was taken aback when I witnessed a representation of Shakespeare that resonated with my identity.
One morning in early September, I received a call from my grandmother. When I answered, she started intensely speaking into the phone in a way only grandmothers can, as if they are unsure if their voices are getting through to the other side. The call mainly consisted of her giving me a detailed rundown of the itinerary for our next trip. During fall break, we were going to Guanajuato, Mexico for a classical arts festival.
The Cervantine Festival is an annual event in Guanajuato, Mexico that aims to create dialogue between multiple artistic disciplines. The festival gets its name as an homage to Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of “Don Quixote de la Mancha,” and it attempts to encompass the artistry, culture and tradition exemplified by the novel. Since 1972, when international artists were invited to Guanajuato, the Cervantine Festival has seen historical performances by Martha Graham, Leonard Bernstein, Ella Fitzgerald, Philip Glass, Pina Bausch, Ute Lemper, Goran Bregovic and the Bolshoi Ballet.
The festival is held in Guanajuato, a city considered one of Mexico’s most important historic and cultural enclaves. The Cervantine has transformed it into a main destination for famous artists, classical art amateurs and tourists from all over the world. One of those tourists was me: A Mexican girl from a northern state who currently lives and studies in Michigan.
I thought that this festival was going to introduce me to the kind of art and literature I had been waiting for. I saw it as a bridge between my preteen self, who only read in Spanish, and my college self, who has mostly British and American novels onher bookshelf. I never imagined I would see any interpretations of plays or novels written by any of the authors or playwrights I had learned about in high school. I was going there to learn about the part of my identity that was displaced during my years of schooling in the United States.
On our third night in Guanajuato, my grandmother and I bought tickets to a play by a small theatre group from Mexico City. The reviews were incredible, and we had run into a woman at the plaza who recommended it enormously. We were both excited to change it up from classical music and dance performances to something more historical and mysterious. Neither of us knew what to expect when we got our tickets for “Mendoza” by Los Colochos Theatre. The theatre was small, and there was no stage –– the metal chairs were arranged around a small rectangular platform in the middle of the venue.
It only took me a couple of minutes, a phone light and a program to realize that “Mendoza” was essentially a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” but adapted cross culturally to fit into the hierarchy and reality of the Mexican Revolution. The revolutionary period is known as a time of tumultuous and corrupt governance. The climb to power was plagued by deception and betrayal, as many of the candidates were killed by opposing forces before getting into power, and some assassinated by the opposition even after being rightfully elected into office.
This feeling of anarchy, and the essence of Macbeth were perfectly captured by Los Colochos. Mendoza, the main character of the play, gets a message from a sorceress that he will be great and ascend to his rightful place as the governor of the state, and then president of Mexico. He then kills the current governor as directed by his wife, and then collapses of guilt and paranoia after realizing what he has done. This interpretation of “Macbeth” took the audience back to 1911 as a reminder of the widespread corruption in the government during the times of the Revolution. This interpretation also crossed my identity bridge.
I never thought that Shakespeare could teach me about the Mexican Revolution. It had never occurred to me the original Scottish version could be changed to fit me and my culture. “Mendoza” was a blend, a play that did not belong on either side of the cultural line. Just like me, “Mendoza” was a hybrid of two narratives, and it was the first time that I resonated with one of Shakespeare’s plays.
I walked out of the theatre, and while walking through Guanajuato, I realized that I wasn’t fully where I belonged. I had gone there hoping to feel more like myself and to learn more about who I was. I thought that I was going to feel at home there, but after watching Mendoza I realized that I did not belong on either side of the line. I was the bridge. A part of me was at home learning about American Literature and another part of me still looked up to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. During my trip to Guanajuato, I learned that neither of those parts could be displaced, all thanks to Mendoza.