She passed on Good Friday, and it seems curiously appropriate, even in these days of so much death and dying in a global pandemic.
Diane Rodriguez was an amazingly unique, beautiful and creative spirit: an actor, playwright, director, producer, advocate and mentor to younger artists, and indefatigable political activist for the arts from Los Angeles to Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. She was in the end the distillation of all the forces that had molded her as she evolved into one of the most influential defenders of the American theater community in all its colors, works and vibrations.
I knew her first almost 50 years ago as a beloved member of the family of El Teatro Campesino. A month ago, when my wife, Lupe, and I last saw Diane, it was around the death bed of her cousin, Felipe Rodriguez, another '70s member of the Teatro family. Diane looked great, healthy and vibrant as always, on her way to direct the 30th anniversary production of Josefina Lopez’s “Real Women Have Curves” in San Francisco.
As we reminisced with the Rodriguez family, I recalled that back in the mid-'50s my family lived on a dead-end dirt street in East San Jose that we called Sal Si Puedes (Get Out If You Can). On the corner of that block was an old wooden Protestant church that was always filled with song and human voices on Sunday. This was the church attended by the Rodriguez family, who as it turned out were Methodists. Diane must have been 5 years old at the time. Without knowing it all those years later, our paths had already crossed.
In saying goodbye to Felipe, our parting shot was, “I’ll see you when I see you.” Painfully, I had no idea the same was soon to be true of Diane.
We all live in denial with respect to death, particularly of our loved ones if not of ourselves, but life forces us to face the inevitable. The incredible truth about Diane is that she knew it was coming for the last year and half, and she still went on working and living to the hilt despite chemo and radiation and all the horrible consequences of our fragile human physicality. Obviously, her spirit was strong and love of life insuperable. In that she remained an exemplary artist in the face of overwhelming odds. Who could ask for anything more of our sisters and brothers?
Diane ultimately amazed and impressed us all with the ascending arc of her evolution.
She joined El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, Calif., in 1973 as part of a wave of new brilliant talents from all over California and the Southwest. She had recently graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in theater. Her husband to be, Jose Delgado (JD), similarly arrived in San Juan Bautista from the campus of UC Berkeley. They almost instantly became a power couple in the company and rose to positions of leadership on the strength of their intelligence and creativity.
Loving and faithful to the end, JD was at Diane’s side until her last breath at just past midnight. As we used to do in the old days in our old drafty tin warehouse, our Teatro family cannot gather around Jose and collectively embrace him with all our love and compassion. What was once an improvisational gesture of heart, blood and bone has become impossible in this time of human suffering and separation. So we must do it symbolically, sending all our heart-felt vibration from a distance.
Ultimately, all we have is the universality of our human being, for we are all connected in the common core of our Creator. God bless you, Diane, and may God speed you to your cosmic rebirth. Con amor y lagrimas.