"I was mentally tripped up by this idea that every single moment of our lives is theater," she says. "I lived in this fantastical world. You get a script and say, 'Okay, I'm this now.' You take on all of these roles that are fake; every single day is an act. I think because of my theater background, I had all these internalized emotions that I'm just starting to sort out. I'm realizing that honesty is so important. It's so much more important to be honest than to act like something you're not."

Hare now lives with her parents, not far from North High School, and works at a downtown law firm. Though performing is not currently part of her life, she dreams of opening a small, experimental theater that explores the connections between perception, the senses and drama. Alice is never very far from her mind.

"I've carried Alice along with me throughout my life," she says. "She fought for what she believed in, even though she didn't know what would happen. I feel like I'm always fighting for something and never winning. Right now I guess I'm just fighting to be a positive person, to be happy, and to figure out what that means." **********

José Antonio Mercado was only going to live in Denver for a year.
Anthony Camera
José Antonio Mercado was only going to live in Denver for a year.
Alexandra Paulson has stayed afloat since Zoot Suit.
Anthony Camera
Alexandra Paulson has stayed afloat since Zoot Suit.

For all the splash it made in the media, Zoot Suit Riots was never any part of any academic assessment, as is so often the case with extracurricular arts-based programs. Still, it produced some impressive stats. In 2004, North's graduation rate was estimated at 60 percent by Denver Public Schools (and significantly lower by the community group Padres Unidos), yet all but one of the twenty young people who participated in Zoot Suit Riots graduated from high school. More than half went to college.

Many, like Jacquie Adam, were the first in their family to do so.

Adam (then Jacquie Granados) was in the group of drama students who traveled to Scotland with Mercado in 2006. When she returned, invigorated, she applied to both the Daniels Fund for a scholarship and the University of Denver for admission. She was granted both, and earned a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in theater. One of her younger brothers followed her to DU; he graduated last year, also a Daniels Scholar. Her youngest brother entered Metro State University of Denver last fall.

"Before Scotland, I had no idea of what my future looked like," says Adam. "I was just a little Mexican chick, you know? That trip really opened my eyes, showed me there was this whole world out there. It showed me, like, 'Yeah, we can travel. We can learn. We can do awesome stuff.'

"When I came back, I was super-inspired to get myself together, to do something with my life," she adds. "My mom and dad were so proud. I'm the first person in my family to go to college. That trip really changed my whole family's future."

Now 24 and married, Adam is back at North — as a teacher-mentor with Colorado Uplift, which helps develop student character and leadership skills. "I was exposed to so much at North, being in those plays," she says. "I wanted to see how I could help the kids come out and do something with their lives, instead of just being in the 'hood. I wanted to show them there's a whole world out there. It's not just about the north side."

**********

Elvis Nuñez was on his fourth high school when he was cast in Zoot Suit Riots — and it wasn't North. He'd started at Highlands Ranch, where he lived with a supportive aunt and spent the first month picking fights with well-off suburban kids. Closer to home at Manual High School, there were fewer fights but also less actual school. He soon moved on to North. "I bullshitted my way through it," he says. "Academics? I didn't care for them."

For Nuñez, the whole school scene was impossible to take seriously. He'd seen real life: His mother went to prison when he was six and stayed there for a decade; he'd been raised by a loving grandmother in the rough Swansea neighborhood.

By the time Mercado held auditions for Zoot Suit Riots, Nuñez had been kicked down the road to the Denver Public Schools's Contemporary Learning Academy, with other problem kids.

Today Nuñez has tattoos, a few battle scars and the same burstingly bright brown eyes and smile that led Mercado to cast him as El Pachuco, Zoot Suit's conscience. The play gave him a place to put his energy and style, his creativity and anger — all equally present within his teenage personality. It gave him a stability, a second family. "The people who were cast in that play, we connected on a level that was so deep," he recalls. "And then it was over, and it was so devastating. It was like a breakup, only worse, because you're breaking up with so many people at once. That play wasn't going to happen without our positivity, without us loving each other as much as we did. It wouldn't have been as magical."

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5 comments
Laura Naranjo
Laura Naranjo

We are elated to read a much needed and hearty reprise of Zoot Suit Riots. In this preview of spring a curtain call for a neighborhood home to so much cultural diversity and many corazones in solidarity and appreciation of the efforts community wide, of Jose Mercado and Padres Unidos, Cesar Chavez Committee, Sisters of Color, Escuela Tlatelolco. Sadly public education is still searching for millennial solutions via a post industrial age, out of date system. That resounds among the interviews of the people whose lives were transformed and whose lives continue to create progressive change. In gratitude Laura Bond is still searching and researching our Xicanismo/a. So well written and thoroughly lived. Our corazones y almas...are with the young people giving back to our communities; Elviz, Emily, Alexandra y todos con respeto, Laura Naranjo & Familia, Denver

lynnS
lynnS

Is he a Greeley Native?

Alexandra Monique Inda Escobedo
Alexandra Monique Inda Escobedo

North Denver Vikings has a great drama teacher now Megan Gillman. My son in drama and he love's it Mrs. Gillman really inspiring

 
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