Saturday, May 16, 2015

American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose

Rather than read his American history textbook, one eighth grade boy I observed curled the pages and tucked them into the book's crease until he had an alluring display of loops. Another student told me she wished she could dissect her textbook. By dissect, I do not mean she wanted to analyze important events in history. No, she actually wanted to cut a cell phone-sized hole in the pages of her textbook so she could play on her phone and it would appear to authority figures as though she were engrossed in American history.

That is how dull some kids find history, and really, who can blame them? When I was younger, I placed gummy bears all over the pages of my school book, so when my eyes reached the resting place of a gummy bear, I could eat one and continue reading until my eyes landed on the next gummy bear.

I don't remember what I read, just that red gummy bears taste the best.

Well, over the years, I've made up for my failed gummy bear approach to studying. I have read fun history books without gummy bears serving as distance markers and motivational tricks, books such as A Little History of the World, by E.H. Gombrich
And most recently, I saw a play about history. The play was called American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose. This play has everything: Sacajawea wearing orthodontic headgear, a sumo wrestler flaunting scandalous tassels, a square-dancing Arizona sheriff with a beer belly, and so much more! 

The play acknowledges real people in history who are often left out of textbooks. I am excited about passing on what I learned to my students so that they too will know about Ralph Lazo, a teenage boy of Mexican and Irish descent, who joined his Japanese friends and their families in an internment camp for three years by his own free will. That's just one important person our American history textbooks left out. 
You can still see American Night: The Ballad of Juan Jose next Thursday-Sunday at the Milagro Theater. Think of a friend who enjoys a little raunchy humor and history and go see it together. Also, check out this interview on NPR with the playwright, Richard Montoya. 

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