Last night, “Lati-No!” opened in the Campus Commons Gallery. The play was written and directed by University of Northern Colorado student and proud Peruvian Miguel Muñoz. To enter, there was no admission fee, but attendees had to fill out a green card to enter and check in with “Americaland” security. The audience was packed into three sides of the room, with spaces so that actors could go in and out of the side doors. A truly immersive experience and wonderful use of the space created a perfect set for an Americaland High School classroom. The room was filled to the brim, including student body president Enrique Benavidez, and head of the Mexican American Studies department Pricilla Falcon, who is retiring next month, in the front row.
The show portrays a stereotypical American high school, where students worship their friend John Flowers, the most popular and successful kid in school. John Flowers, played by Jeremiah Davila-Ulufanua, deals with struggles about his identity once his counterpart, Macho DaMexican, shows up. Macho, played by Manuel Edrozo, is the image of what John worries his friends will see him as once they find out that he is Latino. Macho brings so many laughs throughout the show, and it is because he is a caricature of what Latinos are sometimes viewed as. He shows the damage that these generalizations can cause, especially because John Flowers is not Mexican, but Peruvian.
While it is easy to see the torments of being a Latino student in the United States on stage, the play displayed a deeper meaning that so many students in the U.S. feel every day. To have one’s identity reduced to a stereotype is something that many people fear, and it is important to have representation to put it out so plainly on a stage. The characters within the high school, while exaggerated, are how many students, including the writer Muñoz, feel they are being looked at.
Personally, I am a cisgender, white woman who grew up with the advantage in the American school system, and this play opened my eyes even wider to the inequality and struggle that students of color must overcome. In a university so full of future teachers, this play was also important to show how teachers and support people can be so important with their activism, and not just the performative kind.
“Lati-No!” made me laugh and made me cry, along with many of my fellow audience members. It taught me things and made me question the words I use and how I generalize communities. I learned so much from Miguel Muñoz and his art and ultimately his experience as a Peruvian student. The collaboration of STAD Studio Season, Operation: Cheesecake, and the César Chavez Cultural Center made me happy to see the unification of the community to put on a show with such powerful messaging.
“Lati-No!” has two more productions, 7:00 Friday and Saturday night at the Campus Commons Gallery. The show was popular, and even had to turn attendees away and left some in standing room only, so early arrival is advised.