Ric Salinas plays a Bad Guy for a Good Cause in Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo at the LATC April 3-6th, 2014
By Judi Jordan
Ric Salinas just returned from Salinas in California’s Central Coast, where his new play – Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo – hit the spot like a hot pupusa. For the uninitiated, pupusas are Salvadorian savory treats—“Like a warm pancake, but stuffed with cheese and beans“. For Salvadorian-born Ric, these thick tortillas taste ‘like home.’ Which is pretty much what ’Placas evoked in his recent audience. His play — or rather, the play written by Paul Flores, and directed by Michael John Garces— fits Ric like a glove—and has been traveling coast to coast from D.C to Frisco and thereabouts, before it lands in L.A.
On this afore-mentioned recent occasion Placas was being performed in the mostly blue-collar town of Salinas, an area known as the “Salad Bowl of the World”, Salinas ranks in the top ten of American cities for its’ clean air; this is where 30 percent of the world’s lettuce is grown. In this benign-seeming town, Placas played to an audience that was apparently bursting with gang-related members. During the performance, Ric noticed that his theater audience was antsy, every actor’s nightmare.
Concerned, Ric investigated. “I asked Paul Flores what was going on—why was everybody so restless—were they bored?” He told me, “No man, they’re crying”. After the show, an audience member confirmed this, saying, “I could put a face I know to every character in the play”. Apparently, sleepy little Salinas has a major gang problem. Granted, a play about gang violence will attract both the curious– and the serious active participants who will blow the whistle on any lameness. But the good news is, those for whom this play might hold a profound resonance are seeing it—and taking away important lessons. Ric confirms feedback has been gratifying. “They see that by leaving their kids alone, to work two and three jobs– that their children find a second family—the gangs”. Is Placas helping people to find solutions? Ric thinks it is. “One mother told me ‘it’s not worth it to work three jobs’ if her children are sacrificed to this.” Ric adds, “They said, ‘Maybe we will have a little less to eat, but it’s more important to spend time with my kids'”. What a takeaway.
The play centers on an absentee dad, Fausto Carbajal, who returns after 13 years to try to convince his son, Edgar—now a teen, to quit the gang. An ex-banger, Fausto lacks cred to support his case, but knows that his boy will likely die unless he tries.
Salinas was never in a gang himself—and he personally has no tattoos, “I chose the artist’s life”. But he knows the significance of the “most dangerous tattoo —the number ‘13” which is the name of the most terrifying Salvadoran gang. It takes 2 hours to stencil the tats all over his body, so sometimes Rick will leave them on between shows. But he is careful where he goes.” I always totally cover up—I can’t be seen with these.” He is not joking. Salinas knows it can happen anytime, anywhere.
His brush with death in ’89 came via gangbangers who “sprayed me with a shotgun when I was helping a kid who lived in a bad neighborhood, I almost died.” At the time, Ric was just five years into his soon to be 30-year run with Culture Clash, which began on May 5, 1984. Imagine a world without Chavez Ravine, The Mission, and the contagious insanity of Richard Montoya, Herbert Siguenza…and…well, happily, Ric Salinas who survived. With the vehicle of Placas, and collaboration with organizations like Homeboy Industries, he is now teaching skills to the kids who want “out” of the gang families that hold them in thrall.
PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo runs at LATC form April 3-6, 2014. LATC is located at 514 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90013.
For tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.thelatc.org