‘Culture Clash’ goes beyond immigrant jokes

Entertainers who sustain a career that lasts three decades are rare, but three young Latinos with an urge to entertain, and later a vision to also educate, are among that elite group. Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya began their comedy troupe Culture Clash in 1984 and have been on the road and in theaters ever since. Their noted show “Culture Clash in AmeriCCa” opens at the San Diego Repertory Theatre on Feb. 18.

The Culture Clash troupe’s first years were diverse. Through its use of satire, vaudeville, mime and spoken-word vignettes, the troupe experienced everything from being run out of towns to creating iconic characters such as a Puerto Rican political activist in Manhattan and Ugandan cab drivers in San Diego.

“We were touring like a rock band,” Montoya said. “We would go from town to town, set up in a community theater, be loud, and put on an assortment of plays, skits and musicals. We were barnstorming America!”

Ultimately, the group began to comprehend other aspects of its journeys. It realized that Latinos in Massachusetts were different from those in Miami or California.

“Those experiences chan-ged our work,” Montoya said. “We went from West Coast Mexican-American and Chicano issues to considering second- and third-generation matters — where they live, do they think like their grandparents, and how the different Latino groups behave in different regions of the country. We came away from that 10-year experience with a broadened world view. We understood we were not just a monolithic group, but that the Hispanic makeup is a wide group of people all with different experiences.”

Over the years, Culture Clash grew away from folkloric and ethnic-themed theater and became serious about performance art. Although it still incorporates comedy in its work, it seeks to portray the common daily experiences of Latinos. Montoya, Siguenza and Salinas’ plays include “Palestine,” “New Mexico,” “Bordertown,” “The Mission,” “Carpa Clash,” “Chavez Ravine,” “A Bowl of Beings,” “Radio Mambo,” “Nuyrican Stories” and the “Birds,” all performed in prestigious theaters.

Montoya, born in San Diego in 1959, brought his play “Water & Power” to the San Diego Rep in 2008. The play artfully combined Montoya’s comedy with poignant themes of family bonds and politics.

The Culture Clash Chicano/Latino performance troupe has performed “Culture Clash In AmeriCCa” for nine years, but the show continues to be updated. It’s adapted from interviews with people from across the country who live radically diverse lives. Still containing these artists’ extraordinary com-edic talents, the show also brings insight and depth to their vision of America in the 21st century. Culture Clash continues to set precedence in the theater scene. Montoya appreciates the accolades but claims he and his partners find their rewards in the work and the impact it has on audiences.

“I believe the measure of our work will be measured by those who come to the theater and think something different on the way home,” Montoya said. “Theater is an ancient form and one of the last venues where you can make a claim, plant a flag and say, ‘Old values are really worth visiting.’ ”

‘Culture Clash in AmeriCCa’

  • When: Feb. 18–March 7
  • Where: San Diego Repertory Theatre, Lyceum Theatre, Horton Plaza
  • Tickets: $29-$47 (students $18); (619) 544-1000,