The two hours before a performance are filled with jitters. I set up my props on stage, including a pink bakery box with two Mexican pastries, un marranito y una empanada. I walk into the empty theater and check that everything looks OK from the audience's perspective. The tech running the show and I check sound levels, play the video clips and project the images on the screen. I then go backstage to the Green Room and spend the last hour warming up, doing some vocal exercises and physical movement. I dance off my nervous energy to Little Joe y La Familia, Etta James, Flaco Jimenez, and others.
Last month I presented my show at TAMUK (Texas A&M Kingsville), and on the morning of the show, Vicente, the tech (theatrical technician), and I rehearsed in the Performance Hall. We have the space until noon when the University orchestra uses it for an afternoon class. I move my table and props into the Green Room, which Vicente locks. No one knows how the Green Room got its name, but having been in quite a few now, they are never green. TAMUK's Performance Hall is the most beautiful space I've ever performed in. Wow.
We are allowed back into the theater at 6 pm, just one hour before the show’s 7 pm start time. I enter the Green Room, gather my props, and set them up on stage. Lighting, good: mic check, good; video and images, all good. Before heading backstage to warm up I opened the pink bakery box, and no marranito! Just one lonely empanada. By then, it was 6:15 pm, and the theater doors were to open in 15 minutes. In a panic, I called my sister to ask if she could stop by a bakery and get a marranito. What did I want? She was then driving the 28 miles from Alice (our hometown where she still lives) to Kingsville. I then called Perla, my childhood friend, who had arranged the invitation for me to perform at TAMUK.
“Perla, someone took my marranito, it’s missing, gone, and I need to get one NOW. And the panaderias are probably closed?”
It took a minute for her to make sense of what I was telling her.
She calmed me down. “It’s OK; we’re serving pastries at the post-show reception, including marranitos.” She assures me that Adelita, who is bringing the pastries, will arrive before the start of the show.
“Gracias a Dios. Please call me as soon as Adelita gets here.”
The minutes are ticking away, and the doors to the theater are now open, and still no marranito. About 15 minutes before showtime, Adelita arrives. My job now is to coordinate with Vicente in the tech booth so that he can find Adelita among the 200 people in the lobby and now entering the theater. He finds her, takes several marranitos, and puts them in the pastry box on stage. The stars were aligned in my favor that evening.
What became of the marranito remains a mystery, but clearly, someone in the orchestra class entered the “locked” Green Room and availed themselves of a snack. They probably wouldn’t have taken it if they’d known I’d had my hands all over the pastry the past two days at every rehearsal.
A marranito and a pumpkin empanada have been props in my show since I first wrote it, and I’d been using the same items for years, eliminating any temptation to eat stale old pastries. Before heading to South Texas, I decided to trash my now almost-petrified items with the plan of replacing them there.
When I arrived in Alice, Texas, on a Sunday afternoon (my show was set for Tuesday), I asked my sister if she’d go to the bakery to buy these two items. She returned and reported that the marranitos were sold out. Sold OUT? How is that possible? That was bad news as I needed my props the following morning for the tech rehearsal, where I needed to be in full performance mode. A photographer was going to be taking pictures during that rehearsal. Early the next morning, Perla, with whom I was staying, went to the panaderia in Kingsville and got my replacement marranito. All was right with the world ‘til that same marranito went missing. But thankfully, Perla and Adelita saved the day!
How My Show Got to TAMUK
My engagement at TAMUK was the brainchild of Perla Franco Wheeler, my classmate and dear friend, since we were both elementary school students at St. Joseph’s Parochial School in Alice, Texas. Perla and her sister, Diana, had seen an earlier version of my play at The Guadalupe Theater in San Antonio in 2017, and Perla was eager to have me as a guest speaker at TAMUK’s University Women’s Club and maybe even perform my play on campus. Then COVID happened, and no further discussion occurred. Some months back, Perla asked whether I’d come to do my show for her group. Of course, I would. As the organization was searching for space within the university, TAMUK’s administration asked if my performance could be opened to students, which it was, and they made available the best venue, The Performance Hall in the Music Building. And, as per Perla’s original wish, I was the guest speaker at the University Women’s Club Annual International Women’s Day Celebration the day after my show.
Seeing friends that I’ve known since elementary school was an absolute joy. And loved seeing others I met in high school and college. I appreciated that they came from as far as Houston (240 miles), San Antonio (120 miles), the Rio Grande Valley (95+ miles), and the nearby towns of Corpus Christi, Robstown, and our very own pueblito, Alice, Texas. It was akin to a high school reunion.
While my show appeals to folks from all ethnic and racial backgrounds, most of the audiences where I have performed are overwhelmingly white. The TAMUK audience was 98% Raza, and it was nothing short of thrilling to present this work to people who have lived many of the same childhood experiences I recount in my show. Knowing that almost everyone there is bilingual, I found myself using way more Spanish in this show.
Texas A&M Kingsville, with an enrollment of 6,400 students, is located in Kingsville, Texas, a town of 25,000 people which is home to the 850,000 acres legendary King Ranch, the largest ranch in the United States. The campus reflects South Texas's population with an enrollment of almost 70% Hispanic students (principally Mexican-Americans from families like my own that have roots in that part of South Texas for generations), 15% white, and 4 % black. Internationa Students are 7% and 4% (?). I imagine Asian Americans and Indigenous Americans aren't listed separately because the number is too small. TAMUK’s President, Dr. Robert Vela, is from Alice, Texas, my hometown, as is other leadership at the University. TAMUK’s most famous graduate is Eva Longoria, a native of South Texas.
A friend tracked down this picture (17-years old) in a Texas A&I yearbook (TAMUK's previous name). Although Texas A&I had many Chicano students, it was by no means 70% of the enrollment in the late 1960s and early 70s. I attended this university for two years after high school but transferred to St. Mary's University in San Antonio, fulfilling my dream of moving to a big city.
The warmth and hospitality of so many people touched my heart. I especially want to thank the following folks for their role in making my play and the reception that followed a very memorable experience. Muchismias Gracias: Perla Franco Wheeler, The University Women’s Club, Vicente Barrera, Dr. Rito Silva, VP Student Affairs & Melissa Silva, Randy Hughes, TAMUK CEO, Erin McClure, Assistant Dean of Students, Belinda Hughes, Elenita Barrera, Ida Herrera, Cynthia Cantu Rangel, Norma Cano Wright, Rosalinda San Miguel, Mary Nutt, Diana Luna, Nilda Maples, Adelita Munoz, and Raul Aguirre. Mi agradecimiento especial a Belinda Silva, a fellow Alician who took many of these pictures.
Thanks to each of you who helped spread the word and got an enthusiastic audience of 200+ folks to the theater. And most of all, thank you for making my time in Kingsville so special.
I look forward to seeing my South Texas friends and family at future performances in the year ahead. Adelante.
And sharing a few more pictures.