Anthony J. Garcia on Ludlow: El Grito de Las Minas

Amongst the striking coal miners and their family members murdered by the Colorado National Guard during the Ludlow Massacre were five Mexican-American children. To commemorate this almost-forgotten chapter of history, Su Teatro's Anthony J. Garcia wrote Ludlow: El Grito de Las Minas (The Cry of the Mines); he's directing a production of the play that will open tomorrow, March 13. In advance of the opening, Westword spoke with Garcia about the Ludlow Massacre, Chicano history and Su Teatro's new show.

See also: CSU-Pueblo Professor Tim McGettigan locked out for likening layoffs to Ludlow Massacre.

Westword: Talk about Ludlow: El Grito de Las Minas.

Anthony J. Garcia: The piece is called Ludlow: El Grito de Las Minas (The Cry of the Mines). This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre in southern Colorado. Ludlow was just a railroad station between Trinidad and Walsenburg. In 1913, the United Mineworkers of America started to organize the miners there. It was a pretty rough kind of exchange. The biggest coal-mine operator down there was John D. Rockefeller. The Rockefeller family owned all the mines there under the name Colorado Fuel & Iron. They don't run mines there anymore, but they still had that foundry in Pueblo for years.

In September 1913, the miners went on strike and the company kicked them out of their houses, so they set up tents outside Ludlow Station. They suffered through that whole winter. Tensions grew between the company and the miners, and the company brought in a group called the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, a hired security force. The miners asked the state to serve as a buffer between themselves and the security company. The state sent in the Colorado state militia. Little by little, as the guys from the militia came back to Denver, they were replaced by Baldwin-Felts' guys. They were given the authority of the Colorado state militia, and the animosity continued.

The company developed a piece of equipment called the "Death Special." They mounted a machine gun on the back of a Model-T Ford. They used it to shoot down on the miners and their tents. The miners dug pits underneath their tents in order to hide their families. They had women and children there. When the shooting would start, they would hide in the tents. On April 20, by then the militia was pretty determined to end the strike and to get rid of this obstacle. They started firing on the tents, and eventually they come down and set the tents on fire. In the fire, something like nineteen people were trapped underneath, and eleven of them were children -- five of them were Mexican children. For us, as Mexican-Americans, there is a definite connection to it. Although not everybody that died that day was Chicano, a lot of our families worked in those mines. So that's the history of it. This happened on April 20, 1914. This April will mark the hundredth anniversary.

For me, I wanted to tell the story of our families. It's a fictional story. It's about a family stuck in the crossfire of that strike and how that kind of tragedy shapes so many things and is still a part of our history, a part of our memory. I'm always about wanting to hear those voices of our past that were silenced and give them an opportunity to be heard.

There is a lot of information out there now about Ludlow. The state has created this Ludlow Commission. There have been events happening up and down the state since last September. Keep reading to find out more about Ludlow: El Grito de Las Minas.

Talk about what the production looks like -- what are audiences going to see when they show up?

It's a drama based on history, but it's not an historical drama. It's not a biography. All of these people are fictional people, but they are people who are recognizable, in terms of us, as Coloradans, as a part of our lives. So this is the story of our family and is about family memory. I think audiences will like the music a lot. Even though I wrote it, the reason it's going to sound good is that my collaborator, Daniel Valdez, has put a lot into it. I put it down, and after he takes it, it sounds good. It doesn't sound as good when I first do it. I think people are going to find that it will be an interesting and powerful story, very moving. There is wonderful acting, too.

It is important to understand that this is Colorado history. It's about our lives. It's about something that shaped us and shapes the state that we live in right now, and all our families were a part of it. Not just Mexican-American families, but all of our families. As somebody who has lived here all of my life, and my family is from here, it's the oddest thing that when we, at Su Teatro, tell these stories, people say, "Oh, I didn't know that you guys did that. I didn't know that happened to you." As Chicanos and Mexican-Americans, we're still placing ourselves in history. This is a play that's not Mexican history. This is a play about Colorado history. In many ways, our memories are so short in terms of how we got to where we are right now. This helps put us back into history. Are there other events focused on the Ludlow Massacre dealing with Chicano history?

In all the activities that are happening, we are included. We were a part of it, you know. In that whole southern Colorado region, you have a big Mexican-American population. They're all included. I've seen the exhibit in the Pueblo museum, and there are Mexican-Americans involved in it. You see them in it as part of the group. On the names that were written on the monuments, you can just read them. There was a whole Valdez family -- kids, just little kids. They just added the names. There was one who was just five years old when he was killed. He died when the tents collapsed. What happened when the tents collapsed is that the fires sucked up all the oxygen, so they asphyxiated. It was horrible. We did it; it was authorized by the State of Colorado. It's just a huge tragedy. Those kinds of tragedies create a tough, hardy sort of people.

Talk about how the creative process works for you?

It just sucks you all in, and then when it's done, it's like a relationship. When it's done, I'm like, "I'm moving on ... Wait ...Where am I?" You have to move on to the next one. And that's what Su Teatro does. This is a big year for us to focus on history, our history, and again, I have to repeat, it's Colorado history. It's U.S. history that we're talking about. These events happened to U.S. citizens born and raised in the United States. So much of our history is looked at like, "You're just the other." There's the one history that we see as common, and there is this other one that is just as prominent, but somehow, our voices got lost in that. This is an opportunity for us to put our voices back into that space. The Su Teatro Cultural and Performing Arts production of Ludlow: El Grito de Las Minas runs from March 13 through March 30; tickets are $20. For more information, go to the Su Teatro website or call 303-296-0219.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris