Coca-Cola in Mexico
Here’s an arts story for this month’s issue of Twin Cities Luxury and Fashion magazine.
Coca-Cola in Mexico
A St. Paul Latino theater production examines the dynamics between the U.S. and Mexico
By Anna Pratt
Teatro del Pueblo explores the Americanization of Mexico in its latest production at St. Paul’s Gremlin Theater.
“The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico” is centered around two filmmakers who head to Mexico to shoot a documentary about Coca-Cola’s misdeeds. But this isn’t a tale about Coca-Cola, per se. Teatro’s artistic director Alberto Justiniano says it’s a thoughtful and humorous critique of American capitalism. Justiniano helped found Teatro del Pueblo – the small nonprofit theater company on the city’s West Side, which is home to many Latinos.
The story, which was written by Patrick Scott and Aldo Velasco, has an interesting premise. The filmmakers believe that Coca-Cola has wrongly “taken over the lives of Mexicans and has undue influence across the globe,” Justiniano says. But in the process of filming in Mexico, the documentary makers fall into the same trap, using their status as Americans to get whatever they want and trampling over those for whom they are supposed to be advocating. For example, when the filmmakers don’t find evidence of Coca-Cola’s exploitation of Mexicans, they manipulate information to prove their thesis. As Justiniano explains, this is counterproductive to uncovering the truth, much less building trust between them the filmmakers and their subjects. (That’s analogous to situations in which the media sensationalizes particular events, he adds.)
The play is a thought-provoking commentary on capitalism. Utilizing comic relief, the two actors play a wide variety of characters spanning decades of oppression in Mexico, including everything from a conquistador to a Coca-Cola employee.
Through the dramatization, the audience is given a sense of what Mexicans have endured, underscoring the disparity between the haves and have-nots. “A small percentage of the population controls a large amount of the resources … there’s little hope for the people in the lower classes,” says Justiniano. He adds, “That’s not something we’re familiar with in the U.S. because we have a huge middle class.” The way he sees it, for the U.S. to gain maturity, “We need knowledge … to see other points of view. Then we can reassess our position on some things.”
Justiniano, who is also a playwright, screenwriter and director, says he was initially attracted to the script because it brought the opportunity to speak directly to the Latino community. But anyone can empathize with the two main characters. Creating such opportunities for understanding and cross-cultural dialogue falls in line with the Teatro’s mission to cultivate Latino artists and instill pride in the community, which it accomplishes through its regular theater season and educational programs.
Recently, the Teatro held its annual Political Theatre Festival jointly with Intermedia Arts, the University of Minnesota and the Resource Center of the Americas, with social justice as its driving theme. Independently, the Teatro produces several shows yearly. This season, it has featured work from the noteworthy local playwright Dominic Orlando, among others.
Since the theater company was founded nearly 20 years ago, following a racially-charged high school shooting, the local Latino population has tripled, perhaps making the company’s work even more relevant. Justiniano says he hopes that one day, its productions will be even more inclusive of the huge influx of immigrants from all around the world to Minnesota. “That’s my dream,” he says. “The True History of Coca-Cola in Mexico” runs from April 23-May 9 at the Gremlin Theater, 2400 University Avenue West, St. Paul. For more information about the show and times, visit http://www.teatrodelpueblo.org.