The First Embrace
The stage is dark.
An unseen harmonica player plays some blues.
There is a table in the center of the stage with a chair on the left and a chair on the right.
The music fades out. The lights come up. Two men enter the stage from left and right. The one stage right is Mexican, the one stage left is Anglo. Thirtyish. Dressed for business in the nineteenth century style.
The Mexican (extending his hand): I am Sebastian Camacho, Secretary of State for the Republic of Mexico. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.
The American (shakes hands tentatively, with some condescension): I am Joel Poinsett, the new United States minister to Mexico.
[pauses as they sit down, clears his throat as if he is hesitant to speak, although that’s not how he really feels]
I realize that we have pressing governmental business to discuss but…first, I have something personal to clear up. In this matter, I would greatly appreciate your assistance. [this is said not as a request but with the expectance of immediate compliance]
Camacho: How may I assist you, Mr. Poinsett? [said politely, but with a note of apprehension]
Poinsett: Last year, I established a cotton business in South Texas. My most trusted personal servant, Jonathan, has run away from there. I know that he is now in Mexico, near Guadalajara, staying with his wife who had previously run away. I would like you to have Jonathan apprehended and returned to me.
[Poinsett’s Spanish pronunciations are bad, not in a comic or clownish way, but in a way that implies he has no intention of trying to get it right because he doesn’t care. He speaks somewhat like Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone]
Camacho: Well, sir, as a representative of the Mexican government which is your host while you are in Mexico, I would like to be of assistance to you. But….[pause]
Poinsett: Yes? Yes? [impatiently]
Camacho: [resentfully, a little defensively] Senor Poinsett, last week our President, Vicente Guerrero, signed a decree banning slavery in Mexico. You should know that the Mexican government is also preparing legislation that will grant free land to anyone who escapes from slavery into our territory.
Poinsett: Why on earth would you do that? [expresses genuine surprise]
Camacho: Senor Poinsett, I think perhaps you are not familiar with the history of my country. Mexico has only recently obtained its independence from Spain and from the slavery that Spain imposed upon us. During the struggle for independence, our forces issued the Bando de Hidalgo, which declared that all slaves must be given their freedom and that masters who do not comply will be executed. Mexican Federal Law now mandates that all slaves must be emancipated.
Poinsett: This means that thousands of American citizens in Texas such as myself will lose the property that we brought with us, property we must have to make something useful of that God-forsaken wasteland.
And I have here (he waves a newspaper slowly, contemptuously, fanning himself), today’s issue of a newspaper published in this city, El Diario del Gobierno, which says that any Mexican who favors the legitimate rights of American citizens in Texas is a traitor. Outrageous!
Camacho: [sharply] May I remind you, Senor Poinsett, that Texas is in Mexico? The whites there are in our country illegally. They have settled in Texas in defiance of Mexican law. [Camacho’s general demeanor is shifting from enforced deference to projecting that he is equal to Poinsett and willing to battle him]
Poinsett: Your country has done nothing to develop Texas. I am originally from South Carolina where my family’s plantation has been in successful operation for nearly one hundred years. You want to abolish slavery? You don’t know anything about it!
Camacho: On the contrary, I am very familiar with slavery. Mexicans were the slaves of the Spanish for hundreds of years. And I am from Veracruz, where over 200,000 African slaves were brought to Mexico by the Spanish.
Poinsett: Well, Mr. Camacho, I have traveled extensively in Europe, Asia, and South America and I have seen with my own eyes that the progressive system of labor we have in the Southern United States is the best in the world.
Camacho: You say that slavery is “the best system of labor in the world.”
[He says this a bit sarcastically, raising an eyebrow a little]
I have here a letter from our General Teran in Texas. He tells us how slaves are treated there. I quote: “They extract their teeth, set the dogs on them to tear them to pieces, the most lenient slave owner is he who flogs his slaves.”
Poinsett: I certainly don’t treat my slaves that way. And they run away anyway! And when I ask you, man to man, minister to minister, to help me retrieve my property, you respond with the typical lies of an abolitionist.
Camacho: [Feeling moral superiority and thus superiority as a man] Mexico is a young country finally getting its freedom. We embrace all who seek to join the ranks of the free. Mexico considers all men to be brothers, created by our common father.
Poinsett: [sarcastically] You have such concern for the slaves. There are now 21,000 whites in Texas. What about us? We have paid for the slaves. We feed and clothe and house them and give them something to do.
If a slave, in order to be free, has only to pass the Mexican frontier, the loss of property would soon become so great as to compel this government to reclaim it.
Camacho: [with an air of resignation] As you know, sir, our two governments have been trying to conclude a treaty to deal with these issues. And the reason that treaty hasn’t been ratified by Mexico is due to Article 33, which my government will never agree to.
Poinsett: Article 33 simply provides that Mexico agrees to ensure that the property of U.S. citizens found on Mexican soil will be returned to its rightful owner.
Camacho: It would be most extraordinary that in a treaty between two free republics that slavery should be encouraged by obliging us to deliver up fugitive slaves to their barbarous masters in North America.
Poinsett: I have been instructed by the United States Secretary of State to arrange for the return of any fugitive slaves in Mexico to their rightful owners. The choice is yours. The burden of the ultimate result will lie upon your shoulders.
Camacho: [sharply] Are you threatening Mexico with war?
Poinsett: [angrily, a little defensively] Those are your words, sir.
[Gets up and paces, agitated, deep in thought, comes back to the table and, still standing, leans toward Camacho, putting one hand on the table]
Mr. Camacho, I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this. [pauses}
[innocently, arrogantly] I am authorized by my government to propose to you the purchase, at a mutually agreeable price, of the state of Texas.
Camacho: [Stands up abruptly, angry] Mexico is not for sale!
Poinsett: Buy, sell, war, peace. [says it like “blah, blah, blah”] One way or another, Texas will be ours!
Poinsett turns and storms off the stage, leaving Camacho sitting alone in the light, seething.
Stage goes dark.
An unseen harmonica player plays some blues.
The music fades out.
One act play / 2007