Literature Annotations


Moraga, Cherríe L.
Heroes and Saints


Genre Play (149 pp.)
KeywordsAIDS, Alcoholism, Cancer, Caregivers, Catastrophe, Children, Cross-Cultural Issues, Death and Dying, Disability, Disease and Health, Epidemics, Family Relationships, Freedom, Grief, Human Worth, Illness and the Family, Infectious Disease, Latina/Latino Experience, Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender Issues, Loneliness, Mother-Daughter Relationship, Mother-Son Relationship, Mourning, Nature, Poverty, Prayer as Medicine, Public Health, Racism, Rebellion, Society, Suffering, Survival, Technology, Women's Health
Summary

This searing play takes place in California's central valley where Mexican immigrants are employed at survival wages to work in fields poisoned by pesticides. Their ramshackle government homes are built over dumps where toxic waste poisons the water. The community has suffered a high incidence of cancer--especially in children--, birth defects, and other illnesses related to long-term intake of toxic substances.

One of the main characters, Cerezita, has only half a body, and often occupies center stage encased in an altar-like contraption where only her head shows. She turns pages, points, and performs other basic functions with tongue and teeth. She is a prophetic figure, willing to see and speak, because seeing and speaking are all she can do, and to name the evils that others prefer to call the will of God.

She seeks and finds intellectual companionship in the local priest who is struggling to find an appropriate way to minister to a parish divided among disillusioned cynics turned alcoholic, pious women who want nothing to do with politics, and the angry young, including one young homosexual who feels driven to leave a loving but uncomprehending family, and reveals to the priest that he has AIDS.

The community has been involved in recent protests that consist of hanging the bodies of recently deceased children on crosses in the fields. This dramatic protest has caused public outrage and attracted media attention. The play culminates in a protest in which Cerezita and the priest are shot down and the young man with AIDS cries out for the community to burn the fields. The curtain falls on burning vineyards.

Commentary

This play has justly won the awards and acclaims that have followed in its wake. Its intense topicality constitutes both its limitations and its strength. It challenges non-Latino readers to imagine a squalid and dangerous life imposed on a large immigrant population consigned to environmental dangers more privileged populations can, for the time being, avoid or mask.

The fact that readers must make their way through an idiomatic mixture of Spanish and English is completely pertinent to the play's purpose of engendering empathy with the fate of outsiders who run up against culture barriers daily, language being only the most audible. Scene by scene discussion yields a rich ore of topics for reflection, including multiple links between environmental and agricultural policies and public health, the ways poverty and illness still go together, the ways we manage to avoid coming to terms with systematic violations of human and civil rights, and the role of the church in health issues.

SourceHeroes and Saints & Other Plays
PublisherWest End
Edition1994
Place PublishedAlbuquerque, N.M.
MiscellaneousThis play won the Drama-logue Award, Pen West Award, Critics Circle Award, and Will Glickman Prize. The author is Chicana.
Annotated by McEntyre, Marilyn Chandler
Date of Entry 02/19/98
Last Revised 12/14/06