PNN-TV/Prensa POBRE: PLACAS- the Most Dangerous Tattoo - a new theatre production

Tiny - Posted on 17 August 2012

Vinia R Castro/PNN Mayan Skolar

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Interview with Paul S. Flores, playwright of PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo


Poor News Network (Prensa POBRE/POOR Magazine), a poor people-led, indigenous peoples-led grassroots, non-profit, arts organization spoke with compañero Paul S. Flores,  about his latest play, PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo that is set to premier in San Francisco at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater on September 6, 2012. The play outlines the complexities of the human migration & the struggle to survive amidst systemic violence.

The plays central figure is loosely based on the life experiences of Alex Sanchez, a former gang member who now is the executive director of Homies Unidos, an organization that works towards ending gang violence, giving inner city youth alternatives to violence. Alex Sanchez, who was a consultant for PLACAS, migrated to the United States with his family from El Salvador during the US-backed oppressive & violent regime of the 1970s and remained in the Los Angeles area during the Civil War that engulfed that country until 1992 that left about 100,000 precious lives lost (~80,000 dead + ~20-30,000). The dilapidated infrastructure of the country that resulted from the war was not able to support the mental & social health needs in the lengthy road towards healing the people of El Salvador, from the traumas of migration & violence that lied ahead.

The oppressive history of colonialism & US intervention has played a role in destabilizing the lives of many in Latin America & commodifying Pachamama and her people into labor & capital. This is the reality of everyday life for many who are stuck in this go-between of surviving post-traumatic stress & making of a dollar.

Paul Flores, who has had a long trajectory as a community based artist, with experience mentoring youth, including gang members emphasized the optimism and realities of the precarious peace that exist today in El Salvador with the truce that was developed by the gang members themselves in the prisons of El Salvador.  The peace process which is in the works with global allies like Luis Rodriguez & Alex Sanchez attest to the need for economic support in the impoverished communities that gang members come from as Flores states, “Poverty breads violence.” In this bleak scenario, a glimpse of hope is being developed. Imprisoned gang members in El Salvador, have taken it upon themselves, independent of the government, to attempt to create a path of peace in order to heal from trauma that is a current reality in Central America.

The central character of the play, named Fausto is a former gang member whose family migrated to the United States from El Salvador, and has to have his tattoos removed as part of his probation agreement. The title, the word PLACAS, is barrio slang for tattoos, which is central to the play. Tattoos have different meanings particularly, as Flores states, “gangs offer support that families can’t,” because they serve as a support system for folks that can’t find it elsewhere.  

Tattoos, gangs & El Salvador have a very distinct history that has garnered extensive attention in recent years and has categorized the small Central American nation of El Salvador in negative light. At one point the government of El Salvador illegalized tattoos in order to curve gang violence, becoming a failed government policy, because it was a policy that demonized people who had tattoos but did nothing to provide economic security and alternatives to youth that were in gangs or in the path of joining one.

PLACAS sheds light to the precarious dance of survivance (survival + resistance = survivance) that not only Salvadorans have to go through but all oppressed, people of color and migration people, as well. The spirit of PLACAS can pave the way for gang members to create their own plays to express their own experiences and create their artworks that endures and represents their histories/herstories. The current peace process led by the incarcerated gang members is giving a voice to the voiceless, empowering our youth, & remembering our Ancestors struggles for dignity. By speaking even if their voice trembles, gang members are establishing a new road for social change in El Salvador that can set a new example of youth agency around the world.

Vinia Castro is an NDN/political hood pundit, first generation gringa whose DNA hails from the coffee fields of Panchimalco highlands in El Salvador (the coffee originally from Ethiopia). Currently, she is PNN’s Mayan scholar-in-residence & Bolivian analysis junkie.


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