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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Latino Comedy Trio on a Serious Mission

Satire: Troupe co-founded by an Oxnard College teacher pokes fun at stereotypes and politicians in attempt to educate and inform.

April 05, 2001|CARRI KARUHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — As a part-time instructor at Oxnard College, Tomas Carrasco teaches Chicano studies, hoping to empower and promote self-awareness within the Latino community.

As a member of the Chicano Secret Service, a satirist comedy troupe he co-founded, Carrasco, 38, continues his mission to educate and inform by using humor.

The Southern California trio--which includes Carrasco's sister, Susan, and independent filmmaker Elias Serna of Santa Monica--draws its material largely from news reports and the members' daily experiences.

Through sketches it creates, the group pokes fun at stereotypes and takes swipes at insensitive politicians while touching on everything from education and immigration issues to the drug trade between Mexico and the United States.

No one is immune from the group's sometimes tacky humor. One minute its members are mocking Mexican Americans clueless about their own cultural history, the next they are poking fun at President Bush.

In one skit, the new president speaks to a Latino audience and proudly proclaims, "I'm so thrilled to be in the same room with so many Mexicans." Mexico's President Vicente Fox, who translates for Bush, tells the Spanish-speaking crowd the president said, "Who has my wallet?"

The comedy troupe is polishing its material about the upcoming mayoral race in Los Angeles, in which Antonio Villaraigosa and Xavier Becerra are vying to become the city's first Latino mayor in more than a century.

"I'm into positive images to show how resilient Chicanos are and to get people involved with what's going on," Carrasco said. "It's pretty much local activism through art, to open people's eyes up, and at the same time, make them laugh. People either love our work or they hate it. It's either or."

The Chicano Secret Service, which will celebrate its 13th anniversary this summer, recently performed its stage show "Fear of a Brown Planet" at the Inlakech Cultural Center in Oxnard. But the group has also entertained at Yale University, the University of Chicago as well for audiences from San Diego to New York City.

"They were right on when it comes to addressing political issues as well as their sensitivity about our own culture," said Nancy Rodriguez, executive director for the Centro Cultural De La Raza in San Diego. "They know about who we are."

Susan Carrasco, a guidance technician at Hueneme High, said the trio also emphasizes the need for Latinos to connect with their historic identity.

"We are such a powerful culture that once you get educated and find out who you are, it's something beautiful,' said Carrasco. She mentions the character of Dorothy, a Mexican-American modeled after many of the girls with whom she attended high school. Dorothy takes no position on political issues affecting her community, but once she attends college and receives a degree in Chicano studies, she is a changed person.

She joins the fictitious Rudy Acuna and Jennifer Lopez Identity Crisis Center, and changes her name to the more culturally correct spelling of Doratea. Acuna is a Chicano studies professor at Cal State Northridge.

Susan and Tomas Carrasco come from a family of five children. It was their family's ability to laugh at otherwise hurtful stereotypes that they credit with their comedic success.

Their grandfather, Tony Avila, was a musician who enjoyed sitting around the living room telling stories to his family. Tomas Carrasco remembers his grandfather commenting on people who accused Mexican-Americans of being "lazy," while he knew many who had to work three jobs to put food on the table.

"I was taught satire naturally," said Tomas Carrasco. "A lot of painful things, he made funny."

Susan Carrasco mentions her aunt Alicia, who is from Socorro, Texas. Whenever someone would ask the aunt which part of Mexico she was from, the woman would laugh and say: "I'm from the same land we're standing on," which would often confuse the questioner until they realized the Carrasco family lived in what is now Texas before it won its independence from Mexico in 1845.

"We didn't cross borders," Susan Carrasco remembers her aunt saying, "the borders crossed us."

"That's the beauty of our culture," Carrasco added. "Whatever we go through, we can find humor and laugh at it. We were born and raised to get back up and stand tall and strong."

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