Culture Clash’s Ric Salinas heads the cast of PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo by Paul S. Flores as a Salvadoran immigrant trying to reclaim his family while letting go of his gangbanger past. Developed with and directed by Cornerstone Theatre Company artistic director Michael John Garcés, PLACAS (barrio slang for body tattoos) is a bilingual tale of fathers and sons, transformation and redemption that illuminates one man’s determination to reunite his family after surviving civil war in El Salvador, immigration, deportation, prison and street violence.
“Living in San Francisco in the eighties, the time when the war sent many refugees to places like San Francisco's Mission District, I saw first hand how this wave of immigrants impacted the neighborhoods and how the realities of trying to adapt to living in the U.S. impacted Salvadorans,” said Salinas, who was born in El Salvador. “I was almost killed trying to prevent gang violence in front of my home in the Mission, so it is something I have first hand experience with. I agreed to play Fausto because I'm hoping that by telling his story, it will allow audiences, old and young, to experience and learn about the consequences when loved ones become caught up in gang activity.”
In street culture, placas (tattoos) signify an individual member’s unswerving loyalty to the gang and also serve as a mechanism to create a new identity. Using Fausto’s tattoos as a metaphor, PLACAS explores the process of tattoo removal as one possible path for former gang members to move forward. Laser tattoo removal is a complicated and painful procedure that can take years to conclude, and it is especially risky for ex-gang members because their former comrades see itas betrayal and may target those who seek treatment. Partly because of this risk, gang prevention workers, police, probation ofiicers, judges and case workers see tattoo removal as a legitimate step gang members can take toward reintegrating into civil society.
“What a gang member has to go through to be human is huge,” Flores explained in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. “There's a mangled sense of identity, of life outside the gang clashing with the code of the gang. How do you recover from that? How does a man like Fausto recover his humanity after a lifetime of war and violence?
As part of the writing process, Flores interviewed over 100 gang members, parents and intervention workers in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and El Salvador. Ric Salinas, a founding member of the critically acclaimed performance group Culture Clash, was approached to play Fausto Carbajal, a role loosely based on a real person named Alex Sanchez. Now in his 40s, Sanchez is an ex-gang member who founded the non-profit Homies Unidos and who worked closely with Flores to set up interviews with gang members during his research. Last year, a nationwide campaign launched in Los Angeles named We Are Alex, was successful in clearing Alex Sanchez of erroneous charges brought in a RICO grand jury indictment in 2009.
In addition to Salinas, the PLACAS ensemble includes Luis “Xago” Juárez, Fidel Gomez, Xavi Moreno, Caro Zeller, Edgar Barboza, and Sarita Ocón. Set design for PLACAS is by Tanya Orellano; lighting design: Tom Onteveros; sound design: Alejandro Acosta; costume design: Keiko Carreira; and fight choreography is by Edgar Landa.