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The Journey for Justice and Equality by: Andrew Sue

Abstract

"O'er the land of the free..." This is the final line of the lyric of the U.S. National anthem. We all know this phase by heart. From government class we learned that we should be proud that we all possess "equal" rights and freedom that many other countries unfortunately don't allow their citizens to have. However, does everyone really really have the same rights and freedom? Sadly, looking at events like the Oscar Grant shooting and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, the truth is no. Many don't even fully have the rights granted to all Americans in the Declaration of Independence--Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness--as they have a chance to be jailed or shot or beat up for no legit reason. In the essay below, I will explore the injustice the minorities experienced through three plays, Who Shot Miliguelito, Chasing Mehserle and Mother Road. But also the resilience of those minorities as they struggle of the freedom and justice they ought to have.

"...For liberty and Justice for all"

Home has different meanings for different people. For many people, Home is a harbor that offers safety, warmth, and comfort from the fatigue of life. As Americans, our home in America. On the surface, America is a country that is founded on ideas of equality, composed of extremely diverse cultures and a safe haven from turmoil and chaos. After all “the land of the free and home of the brave” However, upon deeper inspection, it is not hard to realize that unfortunately, for many, this seemingly safe home doesn’t offer warmth, comfort, and acceptance, rather, it is full of discrimination, sadness, and danger. This unfair treatment of certain groups, especially minorities such as African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, is evident almost in every aspect of life, especially in theatrical plays. As the renown scholar, Schechner had stated, “performance is reflexive.” It is reflexive of politics. It is reflexive of culture. It is reflexive of people. But more importantly, it is reflexive of the current situation. It magnifies the current social problem. From the plays Chasing Mehserle, Who Shot Migilito and Mother Road we can see traces of the unsuccessful melting of cultures but also the hopes in the journey to search for justice and equality---a real safe home.

Top left (fig 1): Protest against police brutality in honor of Oscar Grant Top Right (fig 2): Photo of Mehserle Bottom Left (fig 3): Oscar Grant Bottom Right (fig 4): Actual photo of Grant being hand cuffed by police on 1/1/2009

Throughout the play, Chasing Mehserle, by Chinaka Hodge, the main character Walt spends and devotes his time to search for Mehserle, the police that shot an innocent black man Oscar Grant. This is a play that skillfully portrays the horrible treatment of African Americans, especially by white police officers, through vivid imagery. Within one of the scenes, Walt is standing in the BART station before where Grant was shot, and through his mind, he saw the death of Grant re-enacted before him. The painful expression of Grant as he lay on the cold cement. The threatening look of the Mehserle as he pulls the gun on Grant. The thunderclap as the shot rang out in the BART tunnel. These images showed Watts and more importantly the audiences the inhumane and harsh treatment many minorities had suffered. It is outrageous. What is even more outraging is that the so-called “best legal system in the world“ --the U.S. legal system lets Merseherle of the hook after 11 months in prison. This decision of the court, in essence, is the manifestation of the irony of “Equality under the law,” which spur Watt, who never really even left his house in his life to carefully maps out and plan a long-distance road trip to bring justice to his own hands catching Meserhle. On the road trip, there is one part that particularly emphasized the treatment between whites and non-whites by the police. When Watts and his assistant, Lyle, are forced to pull over by the police when the police found out that the car they were driving is stolen, Watt, who did nothing wrong is sent to prison for a day. In prison, Watt is forced to strip naked and treated like livestock, with all his dignity and pride took away for absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, Lyle, who is the actual person that stole the car, was treated warmly at a local hotel. This is how “equality “ works. The bizarre contrast unveils the horrendous corruption beneath the morals of the American culture. This highlights the failure of the big American “Melting pot” that Israel Zange had described where a“Alchemist melts and fuses”(Zangwill Pg.156; Line 7) people from the “East and West, and North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the crescent and the cross”(Zangwill Pg.156; Line 5) into a single identity. Fortunately, although under such negative circumstances. People still have hope and righteousness in their hearts. Afterall in the end, though not explicitly, the playwright implicitly hinted at the fact that justice is achieved, with the poem that Watts recites as he “meets” Merserhle. This ending and Watts constant search throughout the play can be seen as a metaphor for the search for hope and wish that is, in essence, a very simple concept--equality.

(fig 5) Murals on Mission Street in San Francisco
(fig 6) The actual intersection in San Francisco the play Who Shot Miguelito took place
(fig 7) La Virgen de Guadalupe, the goddess that appeared multiple times in the play

Another play that is also a great reflection of the unjust minorities felt is within the play Who Shot Miguelito. The whole play revolves around the death of a young Latino street mural artist that is shot to death in Mission district in San Francisco. Similar to the previous play mentioned above, Chasing Mehserle, this play is also full of scenes that depict the oppression and the negativity that many minorities feel within society. There is one scene that is especially touching, it is when in the chorus, a representative from each racial group within the cast states the number of death by police brutalities within their respective group. At some moments, the number of deaths reached all the way up to the hundreds. It is just shocking to see that there are so many deaths that shouldn’t have happened. These numbers are just absolutely absurd the sheer number of death can almost constitute a massacre. It is just not expected for these numbers to be so large in one of the most powerful and advanced countries in the world. This scene further unveils the flaws and barriers between different races in America that theoretically should be open and equal to all. In addition to depicting the unfair treatment of minorities of the play, another major take away from the play is the detrimental effect of the Anglo-centric ideology have on other cultures and heritage. Throughout the play, a native goddess appears and helps out the characters numerous times, showing the yearning the Latinos have toward their own culture and heritage. By “summoning” their own original holy beings in contrast to praying to the Anglo Saxon God, the Latino characters shows a defiant way against the overwhelming “corroding” effect Christianity has sometimes against the cultures that are not Christian. In addition, in one of the scenes, Miguelito’s mom deliberately throws white plaint on to colorful murals in an attempt to “whitewash” the walls. The murals in the play symbolize the wish and hopes of modern Latinos and is a unique representation of Missions culture in San Francisco. However by covering the walls over with white paint, in essence, means the effects of the “whites” ruining the original native culture, both subjugating the minorities culturally and as seen previously in the play physically. This again is a manifestation of racial inequality in America. Through the process of the whole play, though perhaps not evident, again depicts a journey for the search for justice. By finding the murderer of the young female mural artist Miguelito, the play unveils numerous cases of injustice and unfairness, which is perhaps the real cause of death of Miguelito. This warns the audience with a powerful message: the injustices might not affect everyone the same way, but it might be the noose around other’s necks. Thus this play is, in a way, a journey for the audience’s mind.

(Top Left) (fig 8): Migrant Farmers, people like Martin (Top right) (fig 9): A scene from Mother Road where Martin, William and Mo are in the "Cesar" the car they used to travel to Oklahoma (Bottom) (fig 10): Route 66, the Mother Road

Speaking of journeys, the play Mother Road depicts a real journey. The play tells the story of a White Oklahoman Farmer, who brought his Latino Migrant farmer relative back home to Oklahoma to inherit his farm. This play is quite different from the other two plays. Throughout the entire play, although like before, there are numerous acts of unequal treatment between different races. For example during the scene at the gas station where Martin, the Latino migrant farmer is physically assaulted because he is suspected to be a thief when in reality he just wants his family Bible back from William, the White Oklahoma Farmer. In addition, many places within the play we can see that the reason behind such high racial tension is not because people are by heart bad people, but rather they are affected by the wicked thinking America is founded upon. Although the country is founded on the principle that “all men are created equal” but ever since the beginning the “men” refer to only white males. Those who are not, such as the Native Americans and Africans are seen as lower status than Whites and are suspected to cause more civil unrest than whites. This mentality is clearly present in the play Mother Road, especially the part where William found out that Martin went to jail before because he “jumped” a cop. William, when he first heard about that he is extremely mad about it, jumping to the conclusion that Martin is actually some sort of criminal just because he is Mexican. However different from other plays, this plays also provided the positive aspect of humanity and fairness that sometimes minorities receive. When William heard of the reason why Martin jumped the cop(resisting an ICE officer for beating up a young undocumented kid), Williams forgives Martin and changed his attitude against him. Many more places within the play also portray this kind of positive action including one very interesting “coincidence”. In the play, William is about to die from cancer from alcohol, whereas Martin’s mother, a Latino, died due to exposure to pesticides. This seemingly minor detail is actually rather important. It shows that no matter what race you are everyone is, in the end, the same, you will die of the same disease others had died from. After all, in the grand scheme of things, everyone is “a Joad”(related) and “heritage is more important than the DNA test”. Everyone, all race are in essence related and are the same. This notion is further emphasized in the final scene where William, Mo, Martin, and Curtis together reached “home” their Oklahoma farm. This group consists of multiple ethnicities stands peacefully and happily together in their “home” farm. This home is the home that all these characters searched for. This is also the home that everyone sought for. It is accepting, fair, and is what ideal America should be, the real melting pot of culture and a land of justice and equality.

These three plays together, though each describes different things, in essence also depicts a journey to find a place of justice and equality. Seen from many of the plays, perhaps as people living in modern America, we are not doing that good of a job treating each other equally and fairly. However, we should not forget that as seen from the plays people are still striving for hope even under such negative situations. Thus as an American we should reflect and act to help bring the hope into reality, building everyone a real safe home.

Bibliography

Plays:

  1. Chasing Mehserle, Chinaka Hodge
  2. Melting Pot, Israel Zinge
  3. Who Shot La Miguelito, Sean San José
  4. Mother Road, Octavio Solis

Websites:

  1. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/route66/maps66.html (fig 10)
  2. https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/05/01/oscar-grant-barts-internal-investigation-reveals-cops-roles-in-fatal-shooting/ (fig 4)
  3. https://thesource.com/2019/05/06/new-report-oscar-grant-shooting/ (fig 3)
  4. https://www.kqed.org/news/138809/bart-cop-johannes-mehserle-testifying-in-oscar-grant-shooting-lawsuit (fig 2)
  5. https://es.catholic.net/op/articulos/72017/cat/1077/cual-es-el-mensaje-de-la-virgen-de-guadalupe-para-el-mundo-actual.html (fig 7)
  6. https://www.google.com/maps/place/17th+St+%26+Harrison+St,+San+Francisco,+CA+94110/@37.7641157,-122.415207,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x808f7e3aa91fd429:0xa01541256b5720d2!8m2!3d37.7641157!4d-122.4130183 (fig 6)
  7. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/justice-justice-you-shall-pursue/ (Cover art)
  8. http://djmattwerner.blogspot.com/2012/11/oscar-grant-protests-retrospective.html (fig 1)
  9. https://www.sftourismtips.com/mission-district-murals.html (fig 5)
  10. https://www.migrantclinician.org/issues/migrant-info/migrant.html (fig 8)
  11. https://www.goodmantheatre.org/press-room/2015-2016-Season/New-Stages/MRProduction_01/ (fig 9)

Reflection