The Denver Center world premiere by Tony Meneses explores a future where Latinos join the ‘white club’
How much does the color of our skin determine our fate, our place in society, our perceived value as citizens?
Not long ago, when we elected our first black president, it seemed like those questions, even just posing them, were destined for history’s dustbin. Maybe not overnight, but hope was ignited that maybe, just maybe, we were taking our first real steps toward a less racially biased country.
The election of a bigoted, racist president skewed all that, leading playwright Tony Meneses to wonder what things would look like in the future given the landscape of today. His play twenty50, which just opened in a world premiere at the Denver Center, imagines how Latinos 30 years from now have become mostly assimilated as whites — much in the way previous minorities from places like Italy and Ireland eventually blended in.
Listen to the OnStage Colorado podcast interview with ‘twenty50’ playwright Tony Meneses
The question posed repeatedly in twenty50 is whether this is a good thing or not. The answer, unsurprisingly, is “yes and no.” For political operator Sebastian (Frankie J. Alvarez), it’s a no-brainer. Being able to be “in the club” rather than on the outside being insulted, scapegoated and stuck in shitty jobs is clearly the place to be, and he has no desire to look back.
For congressional candidate Andres Salazar (Zeus Mendoza), the answer is not so clear. Unlike many Latinos in 2050 (or people who might previously have identified as such), he still speaks Spanish, although his light skin and unaccented English allows him to easily assimilate into the white club. Sebastian doesn’t want to hear his Spanish version of his stump speech, telling Andres (or, better yet, “Andy”) in forceful terms that it’s better left behind.
For Andy’s daughter Jenny (Valentina Guerra), these questions are mostly moot. She doesn’t speak Spanish, identifies as white and claims never to have experienced any kind of racial discrimination. Her grandmother Irene (Blanca Camacho) is on the other end of the spectrum, peppering her chatter with Spanish to Jenny’s annoyance and critical of her son’s merge into the white lane.
And by the way, she demands at one point, what kind of name is “Jenny” for a Latina?! (Jenny’s later unaccented pronunciation of “abuela” is both hilarious and indicative of the gap between the generations.)