San Francisco International Arts Festival (SFIAF), Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts (MCCLA) present playwright Paul S. Flores' premiere of PLACAS, directed by Michael John Garcés of Cornerstone Theater and starring Ricardo Salinas of Culture Clash. PLACAS will premiere at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco's Union Square, September 6 – 16, 2012.
PLACAS (barrio slang: a code word for graffiti tags, a nickname or body tattoos) is a stage drama that focuses on the human and local community ramifications of geo-political events. Set in today's San Francisco it looks at the impacts that U.S. foreign policy and the Salvadoran Civil War of the 1980's still has on migrant and refugee communities in the United States and throughout the Americas. In particular it addresses the issue of Central American street gangs that are a bi-product of the war and breaking the cycles of violence that both the gangs and government agencies perpetuate. PLACAS focuses on intergenerational relationships between young men and their fathers and uses the metaphor of tattoo removal as a way of moving forward and as a path to a possible solution.
PLACAS stars Ric Salinas as Salvadoran immigrant Fausto Carbajal, a now middle-aged ex-gang member recently released after nine years in prison. As a requirement of his parole Fausto must remove the tattoos that mark him as a member of his gang. Wearied by what has been a lifetime of violence, he accepts the terms. He is determined to reunite his family, traumatized by three decades of war, forced migrations and street crime. He returns to San Francisco to live with his mother, a war refugee, and hopes to re-unite with his ex-partner, Claudia and their now teenaged son, Edgar. Fausto visits Claudia and Edgar. But Edgar, who has not seen his father for most of his life, resents Fausto and displays disturbing character traits that remind Fausto of himself in his youth.
It is clear that the reunion will be difficult. Fausto realizes that his son is in danger of being initiated into a rival gang when Edgar is arrested for carrying a gun to school and placed on probationary house arrest. Fausto attempts to persuade Edgar against joining the gang and offers to move the family out of the neighborhood, but Edgar runs away. Fausto must find Edgar before the police do. His process of transformation is both physically and emotionally painful, but can he save himself, and is it enough and in time to save his son?
In street culture tattoos (placas) signify an individual member's unswerving loyalty to the gang and also serve as a mechanism to create a new identity. Laser tattoo removal is a complicated and painful procedure that can take years to conclude. It is especially risky for ex-gang members, as their former comrades see it as betrayal and may target those who seek treatment. Partly because of this risk, gang prevention workers, police, probation officers, judges and case workers see tattoo removal as a legitimate step gang members can take toward reintegrating into civil society.
The current multicultural fascination with tattoos offers the opportunity for the story to become more universal by focusing on how tattoos lend themselves to identity development and representation - even if at times they represent a mangled identity.
PLACAS was developed as a pro-active community response to the issue of transnational gang violence, presenting positive elements of Central American culture in the context of a hostile anti-immigrant political environment.
Flores began researching PLACAS in 2009, interviewing 65 gang members, parents and intervention workers in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and in El Salvador. Ric Salinas, a founding member of the critically acclaimed performance group Culture Clash, was approached to play Fausto, a role loosely based on a real person named Alex Sanchez. Now in his 40s, Sanchez is an ex-gang member who founded the non-profit Homies Unidos and who worked closely with Flores to set up interviews with gang members during his research. With Garces directing, PLACAS features some of the country's leading exponents of Latino theatre.
Ric Salinas was born in El Salvador and grew up in San Francisco's Mission District where he was once the innocent victim in a near-fatal gang shooting. For that and several other reasons, his involvement in the play is a personal one, "Living in San Francisco in the eighties, the time when the war sent many refugees to the United States in general, and to places like San Francisco's Mission District in particular, I saw first hand how this wave of immigrants impacted the neighborhoods; and on the other hand, how the realities of trying to adapt to living in the U.S. impacted Salvadorans. I was almost killed trying to prevent gang violence in front of my home in the Mission, so it is something I have first hand experience with. I agreed to play Fausto because I'm hoping that by telling his story it will allow audiences, old and young, to experience and learn about the consequences when loved ones become caught up in gang activity."