"L.A. Real" is a performance work that explores the early Mexican/Mestizo history of Los Angeles and how it is now remembered by those related to this history as well as by the public-at-large. The five-person interdisciplinary ensemble piece deals with the documented history of the Californio rancheros of the 18th and 19th centuries and of the 18th-, 19th- and 20th-Century Gabrielino (Los Angeles-area Native Indian). My family has lived in L.A. since 1771 and is one of its founding families. "L.A. Real" also deals with my personal relationship to a past that has been mythologized, romanticized and even exploited by the real estate industry, the film and television industry, my own family, as well as historians themselves.
In a recent review ("A Bigger 'L.A. Real' Changes Its Tone," Calendar, April 3), Sylvie Drake uses the term "politically correct" to describe material spoken by two of the characters: a Real Estate Agent who is a twisted send-up of an industry that has, since before the turn-of-the-century, used Mission and Spanish Revival architecture, the Ramona myth and myths of a pure-blood Spanish culture to control a powerful L.A. asset--land and its development; and a Gabrielino Narrator who is a part-time convenience store clerk/part-time actor who searches for glimpses of his lost culture and language. (The other characters include two mid-19th-Century Californios and a contemporary Mestiza Narrator. The Real Estate Agent, incidentally, was developed and written in collaboration with Norman Klein.)
In our society, the term "politically correct" has become a finger-pointing act meant by its users to demean in return for having an imaginary finger pointed at them. "L.A. Real" is not a finger-pointing exercise and is not designed to be offensive. It is a work that represents a well-documented history--a history that speaks for itself and \o7 is\f7 designed in this piece to do just that. It is a story that I feel the need to tell since I am directly related to it by blood and by culture. The personal search to make meaning out of this history and thus my own racial and cultural identity as a Mestiza (mixed-blood Spanish-Indian) is also explored.
The term "politically correct" is reactionary shorthand and needs to be clearly explained, or else risk its use as an insult. For it is a term, like multiculturalism, that means something different to everyone, and thus mostly means nothing. Without a supporting definition one then uses the term as a large and mighty signifier: liberal who acts without questioning; liberal for liberal's sake (almost as bad as "art for art's sake"); liberal who acts out of a sense of guilt, not out of knowledge; liberal who indiscriminately represents views held by the liberal "minority" (read person of color, gay and lesbian, disabled, etc.--any number of groups that have now found their voice in America and have also found the resources to express that voice), and, as implied in Drake's review, liberal with a one-liner sensibility or liberal who points to the obvious for an already converted audience.
Even in the case where one speaks from the experience of one's own group, the review implies, one can be acting in a "politically correct" manner. According to this review, even if one is speaking from historically documented material, there is still the possibility that one may be speaking \o7 too\f7 clearly, too offensively.
The problem is that the meaning of the term is obscured primarily for lack of explanation. When referring to characters (or the material they express) as "designed to be politically correct" in a work that explores racial and cultural identity, an explanation behind the use of the term should be forthcoming. Does Drake use the term as a stance to avoid any further discussion? Considering that these discussions are of acute importance in our own current human-history-in-the-making, shouldn't we take the time to articulate exactly what we mean?