Patriotism, sacrifice and survival are important features in the life stories of Chicanos who served in the Vietnam War. Pomona College Professor Tomás Summers Sandoval is bringing these stories to the center stage in his play “Ring of Red: A Barrio Story.” The play will run from Sept. 20-30 at Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles.
The play is based on oral histories that Professor of history and Chicana/o Latina/o studies Summers Sandoval has collected over the past five years. Written as interwoven testimonios, or testimonial monologues, “Ring of Red” elevates stories of post-traumatic stress disorder, addiction, family love and friction, and what it meant for this generation of Chicanos to live with the scars of war. The play is directed by Pomona College lecturer and alumna Rose Portillo ’75.
“Chicanos are generally misunderstood as a people,” says Summers Sandoval. “The media often portrays us as a threat, but Chicanos have been interwoven into the U.S. story for a long time and we have given a lot to this country.”
Adding a deeply personal touch to the work, Summers Sandoval’s father, a Vietnam veteran, will be one of the actors in the performance.
Both Summers Sandoval’s father and an uncle are Vietnam veterans, as were most of the men he knew growing up. Out of his own sense of duty to record the stories of these veterans and of their families, Summers Sandoval captured hundreds of hours of oral testimonies over a five-year period with the help of Pomona College students.
Summers Sandoval spent the past spring semester working on a script that melds together the voices of dozens of veterans, thanks to a Whiting Public Engagement Fellowship. “There were many commonalities in the oral histories that I drew from,” says Summers Sandoval who explains that the characters he created are composites from several individuals who share similar experiences. He discusses what he’s learned from his project in a 2015 Los Angeles Times’ story.
Two years ago, Summers Sandoval received a grant from the Cal Humanities California Documentary Project for a community history project in partnership with The dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California. The project trained local youth and Pomona College students to conduct oral histories of Latino veterans and their families. Those oral histories are now part of “Ring of Red.”
Performances of “Ring of Red: A Barrio Story” will start at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20 through Saturday, Sept. 22 and again on Friday, Sept. 28 through Saturday, Sept. 29, and also at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23 and Sept. 30. The Sept. 23 performance will be followed by an audience “talk back” discussion. Tickets are $15 to $25 and available online.