HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT ANTIQUES OR COLLECTIBLES?

Send me an E-mail
(Please, no questions
 about value.)

Instructions for sending photographs of your pieces with your question.

Who is P.T. Barnum?

The founder of the Ringling Brothers Circus.
A clown in the Cole Brothers Circus.
An American showman who said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
                     To see the answer

Picker's Pocket Guide - SIGNS: How to Pick Antiques Like a Pro

This book packs 208 full-color pages with tips, tricks, and strategy on how to collect and sell vintage advertising signs into a easily portable package.
More Books

Have Bob speak
 on antiques to your group or organization.

More Information

Can't find what
 you're looking for?

Go to my Sitemap

Share this page with your friends using the buttons provided with each article.

Here you'll find articles on interesting facets of the world of antiques
and collectibles. To read more, go to More Special Features.

LATEST FEATURE____________________________________

Mexican-American Tent Shows—
A Family Affair

by Bob Brooke

 

The U.S.-Mexico Border region is full of stories about immigrant families who came north from Mexico to find a better life in the United States. One such family was the Garcias, a family of circus performers who fled Mexico after family member Victoriano Huerta was deposed from his brief reign as President of Mexico during the Mexican Revolution in 1914.

Manuel V. Garcia and his wife, Teresa, formed La Carpa Garcia, a small traveling tent show—carpa is Spanish for tent—in 1914. They brought their talent and circus acts to the poor people of the communities, entertaining them for more than 30 years. During this period, they traveled and performed in Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. The show eventually settled in San Antonio and toured throughout South Texas.

La Carpa Garcia
La Carpa García, known in English as the García Brothers Show, was a Mexican American carpa that performed until 1947. Carpa García consisted of performers from several families, including Manuel V. and Teresa García, Manolo and Florinda García, Raymond and Virginia García, Rodolfo García, Consuelo and Pilár García, Esther García Robinson, Esperanza, and Aida García Castro and husband, Alfredo. Teresa García also had three talented children, Rafael, Juan, and Gilberta, from her previous marriage.

Pilar Garcia also came to the U.S. in 1914 and toured with another famous tent show, La Carpa Cubana, before joining La Carpa Garcia. Pilar perfected and performed a very dangerous high wire act that made him famous in the circus community. His wife, Consuelo, also performed as a singer, dancer and acrobat.

The tent shows, usually run by one family and featuring a mix of bawdy stage comedy, traditional Mexican song and dance, acrobatics and clownery, featured performers dressed in sequined and embroidered costumes, much like those in traditional circuses.


History of the Carpas
The concept of the carpa evolved from the acrobatic and clown tradition of the Aztecs. Before the carpas, companies of tumblers called maromas toured Mexico, entertaining at bullfights. In the late 19th century, European circuses toured Mexico, bringing new acts. Not to be outdone, the Mexicans formed carpas combining their ancient traditions with modern circus elements.

The name, carpa, refers to a portable structure with a canvas roof, such as other circuses used for touring towns and cities. Unlike classical circuses, carpas represent a mixture of simple humorous or satirical performances, as well as those featuring traditional music. They began in Mexico City and spread to other cities, replacing the "theater of the rich," whose functions had little or nothing to do with ordinary people and whose ticket prices were out of reach for most. Early carpas in Mexico City featured vaudeville, burlesque and flimflam artists from both sides of the border.

In their simplest form, especially following the Mexican Revolution, carpas consisted of a family with a dilapidated truck filled with tarps, ropes, planks, and such that some of the locals helped unload. They created a simple stage and seating area with wooden folding chairs. People stopped to see what was going on and thus the show built its audience. They often asked the local padre to announce the artists presented in each act.

The San Antonio Ledger first recorded the presence of Mexican circuses in Texas on November 8, 1852. By the time they got to the state, the big-top Mexican circuses had incorporated some aspects of the Italian, English, and United States circuses, most notably the English clown with baggy pants and red wig. The carpa, an unpretentious form of entertainment that developed in Mexico to entertain the poor, was also part of the Mexican circus tradition introduced in Texas. Over time, it outlasted the traditional circus.

During the first half of the 20th century, such Mexican circuses as Teatro Carpa Independencia, Circo Cubano, and Carpa García, the most famous of the three, made San Antonio their home base, and the city became the hub of both the big-top circuses and the carpas. The carpas regularly offered entertainment in rural South Texas in the 1920s and 1930s. The Mexican tent shows became an important part of Tejano (Tex-Mex) culture in South Texas.

In 1912, the family of Ysavel Monsivais, who crossed the border to escape the Mexican Revolution, formed Carpa Monsivais and toured until the late 1940s. La Carpa Cubana toured the southwest from 1920 to the 1930s. Founded by Virgilio and Federica Abreu, members of a famous Cuban circus family who lived in Mexico, they brought their show north to the U.S.

While on the road, the carperos or members of the carpas had to function as a small business, meeting payrolls, getting city permits and keeping equipment maintained. They constantly had to replace tent parts, worn lumber, and costumes. And even ordered candy to serve during the show.


La Carpa Comes to Town
The show began with the arrival of a truck full of equipment. Locals helped unload in a neighborhood plaza or street, then helped erect a modest tent with a floor that could accommodate up to 100 spectators. Makeshift dressing rooms were behind a small stage. Some carpas had larger tents that hold up to 200 people and probably a better backstage arrangement.

Most of the carpas, especially at the beginning, presented mostly comedians, dancers and singers, and sometimes a magician and juggler or ventriloquist. Shows consisted of three acts. The first was for people of all ages, including children, and featured lesser-known artists. The second increased the quality of the show while the third, held after 8 P.M. was the main act and featured noted comic characters and performers such as Cantinflas and Manuel Medel.

The crowd, composed of mostly workers and employees, journalists and art critics, arrived with the expectation of seeing musical numbers with a minimum of singers in costumes and political satire expressed by characters like the neighborhood drunk, and a lot of rogues who ridiculed politicians, and who always put the ingenuity of lower-class characters above upper class ones.

Those attending the shows also had the opportunity to meet the artists, singers and comedians that they heard on the radio, as well as beautiful starlets that delighted them with their colorful costumes full of sequins and feathers. Members of the audience often interacted with the performers with jokes and shouts.

The Show
While the carpas presented traditional circus acts in the pista or ring, they performed comedy and burlesque acts on a small stage. And though larger shows had trained dogs and horses, none had side shows or freaks or large animal acts like traditional circuses.

Folkloric dances from other countries also separated the carpas from traditional circus shows. Though dances from Mexico, such as "El Jarabe Tapatio" or the Mexican Hat Dance, were popular, the carpas also performed dances from Japan, Germany and Holland, as well as the Charleston and Jitterbug.

The carpas, which were most popular among working class Texas Mexicans, combined traditional circus routines with theatrical traditions by mixing acrobatics, pantomime, clowning, singing and dancing, comedy routines, and dramatic monologues. They also introduced important stock characters, the most important of which was the pelado or underdog, who engaged the audience with hilarious sketches dealing with treacherous political schemes and other human foibles and scandals. The pelado also delivered sardonic comments on Tejano social life and used his wits to survive. He symbolized the audience's struggles with racial discrimination and acculturation. Two notable pelados who represented the Tejanos' situation were called Don Slico, or Mr. Slick, and El Bato Suave, the Smooth Guy. Beatriz Escalona Pérez, the noted comedienne, created a female equivalent in the late 1920s.

For the carpas, the family was all important, as it is in all Hispanic cultures. Ties were strong and everyone participated to make the show a success. Most carperos had to be able to perform at least four acts to replace performers in a pinch.

The carpas outlasted the more established circuses, as well as the Great Depression. They lasted into the late 1940s because they offered their audiences both temporary escape from, and an understanding of, their daily experiences.



< Back to Home Page                                    More Special Features >

BACK IN TIME
Read about antiques in history.

CARING FOR YOUR COLLECTIONS
An occasional feature about caring for your antiques and collectibles.

ANTIQUES TO VIEW
A new feature showcasing outstanding museums where you can see unusual antiques.

No antiques or collectibles
are sold on this site.

How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

Book: How to Recognizing and Refinishing Antiques for Pleasure and Profit
Have you ever bought an antique or collectible that was less than perfect and needed some TLC? Bob's new book offers tips and step-by- step instructions for simple maintenance and restoration of common antiques.

Read an Excerpt

Provided by: News-Antique.com