Can I get a witness!! Looking for e pluribus pluribus with George Emilio Sanchez’s “XIV” at Dixon Place

With XIV, my favorite experimental constitutionalist bruthrr George Emilio Sanchez is crashing a brown, brooding and bold biography into the broader American histories of other fights for equal rights. XIV offers an incisive and often intimate look at the never ending challenge that is our country’s constant separations of equality in a show that continues tonite, tomorrow and next week at Dixon Place. Centered around a 1946 class action lawsuit by 5 Mexican American families, that precedes standard civil rights 8th grade textbook worthy narratives about Brown vs. Board of Ed by almost a decade, Sanchez offers a trip through the 14th (equal protection under the laws) amendment. And in doing so exposes our collective amnesia and unfortunate ignorance in this moment of incredible constitutional crisis.

Here is a call for a more perfect union, here is a call to hold the truths of equality for all to be held as truly evident, here is the call for e pluribus pluribus… let us unify in our love of being many out of many. In poetic protest, George includes the confusion of class and color biases he experienced as a young American born Ecuadorian kid growing up in Orange County California right next door to where Mendez versus Westminster (a fight by 5 Mexican-American families to have their children enrolled in Orange County, CA public schools) had unfolded:

But to the principal and the teachers….we were Mexican. “Sanchez.”
(aerial shots of El Barrio….) But I quickly found out the Mexican kids all lived in the same area, and none of them lived in the tract homes I did. Everyone referred to the Mexican neighborhood as El Barrio. Three things distinguished El Barrio from the mostly white neighborhood I lived in. First, only Mexicans and Mexican-Americans lived in El Barrio. Second, each home was different from the next, unlike our formulaic neighborhood where every home was one of four built models. And, third, Thelma, blank and Naomi Streets were all unpaved when I first came to know El Barrio. And these three markers all defined my first encounter with segregation. I saw and felt segregation before I recall hearing or reading the word. As a young brown-skinned boy seeing El Barrio was something incomprehensible and unexplained. The silence of segregation landed on my subconscious and continues to pulse through my brownboy lens. The sight and reality of El Barrio, a neighborhood that consisted of a single ethnic/cultural group, starkly contrasted with my middle-class neighborhood that I failed to recognize was just as segregated as El Barrio.

In characteristically personal and provocatively edifying style, Sanchez puts persona and potent acumen together to challenge how the inspirational language of American ideals has hid the repeated oppression of certain citizens, often through the absence of true due process and lawful implementation. XIV speaks from the margins and dreams a body that serves all bodies.

How was I provided equal protection of the laws when little white kids taunted me, older adults, U.S. born or foreign-born, shamed and ridiculed me simply and only because I was and am darker than many? How was my personhood and humanity validated and affirmed when the racial bias countless learned in school or over dinner were hurtled in my direction? Where and when does the impact of laws and amendments ever merge or intersect in public and private life to protect and defend the targets of those who believe they are racial superiors against those they deem unworthy and lesser-than? And then it hits…why did it take 13 amendments to finally legislate what should have been most obvious, that everyone is part of the Constitution. We the people did not mean ‘Everyone’. Right? No, it took over 70 years from the ratification of the Constitution to finally see there were no guarantees or rights for people named in the Constitution that applied to ‘Everyone’.

By including both the pain of childhood taunts with the very familiar, all too constant and very current pain of adult road rage inspired – “go back to your own country”- verbal assaults, we get the sense that things haven’t evolved enough, that for all the progress we are rapidly retracting. Its artists like George Emilio Sanchez, also a vocal organizer of NYC First Amendment Sanctuary Spaces, staunch examiner of Second Amendment mistreatments with two 24 hour gun-violence performance filibusters, Hemispheric Institute/Emerge NYC artivist educator, professor, fellow-CUNY-picket line protestor and seriously invested dad, who remind us at each turn of our inalienable rights and our right to fight institutionalized alienations for the sake of our nation’s soul.

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