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Buford Gomez makes his Dallas debut

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Rick Najera, playwright, as Gomez: Now lemme introduce myself to all you good American people, you legal human beings. I'm Special Border Patrol agent Buford Gomez. We're tightening things up at the border after 9/11.

Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 Reporter: Rick Najera, who created that character, says he grew up 15 miles from the Mexican border in San Diego. A serious and quiet child, he was influenced not only by the close proximity to Mexicans and illegal immigrants, but by a large and patriotic U.S. family whose members included political extremes.

Najera: I've got this right-wing kind of all-American Latinos within my family. And my other cousin was married to Cesar Chavez's daughter. So I also have the kind of more union, liberal side.

Zeeble: Those experiences, says Najera, helped lead to the birth of Buford Gomez, a kind of Archie Bunker-at-the-border.

Najera as Gomez: I'm Mexican-American. Some might call me more American than Mexican. When I say who asked you, you liberal hippy, I'm proud to be a member of Border Patrol! Deportation is my business and business is good. I'm a lean, green deporting machine. I put the panic in Hispanic. I put the pepper spray to Jose. I put the ill to the illegal. I'm the best at the arrest.

Zeeble: In this work, Najera puts protagonist Gomez into a plot that includes a drug cartel criminal who kidnaps him, family members who try to free him, and fringe players who try to capitalize on the situation. It's different from Latinologues, which was a series of disembodied playlets, in various parts of the country, where the only common threads were Latino characters. But the humor in both, remains. Dallas Morning News and KERA theater critic Tom Sime reviewed Latinologues during its run that just ended at the Undermain Theater. He called it hysterically funny.

Tom Sime, Dallas Morning News/KERA 90.1 theater critic: He seems to have a knack for bringing Hispanic sensibility into American comic sensibility so everyone can relate to it. When I spoke to him, he said he's more a unifier than a divider. He doesn't really have an axe to grind. He's found a way to bring us together that I think is extremely healthy.

Zeeble: Sime says Najera does that by staying away from the overtly political, unlike many other Latino playwrights. Najera, who's also written for TV projects from In Living Color to PAX TV's New Bonanza, says he's driven by personal and social observations. Like the time in the late 60s when his harried father first sought out an illegal nanny from Mexico to help raise his sick brother.

Najera: So he went to the border and crossed on over, and got in car, and lights came on. And so the Border Patrol is after my father. He actually out-ran the Patrol, the one success, who got away! A week later, they came knocking on the door. It was a scandal. My father said, "Look, I need help here." We needed help with the kids. They let him go.

Zeeble: In his writing, Najera moves swiftly from the poignant to the hilarious.

Najera: With Buford, at one point, he finds an illegal on the side of the road. He says, "That guy looked like me," and has an epiphany. Gets him to start to think. The only thing that separates these people is maybe the border and a generation.

Zeeble: Najera picked Dallas for this reading in part because he says this is the homeland of Buford Gomez types. And though he makes fun of the character, he identifies with him and respects his patriotism. The playwright's traveled around the world but says he's grateful every time he returns to America and his San Diego home, where he'll continue to work on Buford Gomez as a full-blown television project. The reading of "Buford Gomez: Tales Of A Right Wing Border Patrol Officer" plays tonight only. For KERA 90.1, I'm Bill Zeeble.

The reading of Buford Gomez is tonight at 7, in KERA's Community Room. For more information, phone (214) 243-2348.

To contact Bill Zeeble, please send emails to bzeeble@kera.org.