June 26, 1940
Delano, California, United States
Director, Playwright, Screenwriter
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Born to parents of Mexican descent, Luis Valdez spent his childhood as a migrant farm worker. After graduating from San Jose State College he spent a year with the San Francisco Mime Troupe which culminated in a cultural exchange trip to Cuba. Upon his return to the US, Valdez returned to his hometown of Delano and joined Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers. There he formed a workers' theatre company, "El Teatro Campesino," which developed original material in the form of short agitprop skits called "actos." "El Teatro Campesino" also produced several short films of their plays.After several years with "Teatro Campesino," Valdez decided to expand into more conventional theatrical venues. He wrote and directed the musical drama "Zoot Suit," which opened in August 1978 in Los Angeles and was an immediate hit. On a budget of $2.5 million, Valdez filmed the play. Released in 1981, "Zoot Suit" is based loosely on the infamous Sleepy Lagoon case in 1942 Los Angeles. Daniel Valdez (Luis' brother and the talented composer of the film's musical numbers) plays the leader of a gang of 'pachucos' (streetwise Chicano kids wearing zoot suits) named Henry Reyna, who is arrested and convicted by a racist court for a murder he did not commit.Valdez' second feature, "La Bamba" (1987), was tremendously successful in both mainstream and Hispanic markets. To chronicle the life of the first Mexican-American rock star, Ritchie Valens (ne Valenzuela), Valdez used the classical Hollywood narrative style, and some reviewers criticized him for becoming too conventional. Valdez responded that his style was appropriate for communicating the theme of acculturation to a national audience.Valdez wrote and directed for TV an adaptation of his play, "Corridos! Tales of Passion and Revolution" (1987), a series of vignettes based on Mexican-American folk ballads. Using both English and Spanish dialogue, "Corridos" raises the consciousness of Chicano and non-Chicano viewers who usually have little contact with Mexican-American history.