Lucas Artists Fellow

  • RESIDENCY DATES : Sep 8th 2008 to Dec 18th 2008
  • FROM : USA
  • MEMBER OF Alma

“Witty and fiercely political, Lira pointedly takes on such issues as racism, ethnic stereotypes and the current war in Iraq. He has a knack for combining crowd appealing humor and harsh criticism of the system at large.”
- Donald Munro, The Fresno Bee, 2007

Born in Torreon, Coahuila, Mexico, in 1945, Agustin Lira (NEA National Heritage Fellow, 2007) emigrated first to Lordsburg, New Mexico and then shortly after to California with his mother, brothers, sister, and a cousin at the age of seven. The family wandered through small, farmworker towns and labor camps, following the crops up and down the San Joaquin Valley, finally settling in Selma.

In 1965, at the age of 19, he cofounded El Teatro Campesino with Luis Valdez during the Delano Grape Strike headed by Cesar Chavez. The company created songs and plays, performed on picket lines, at rallies and toured throughout the United States, giving voice to the farmworkers’ plight and demonstrating the power of artistic expression in uniting and inspiring the farmworker communities.

Campesino received the New York Off Broadway Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Award, appeared at the Newport Folk Festival and was the subject of feature articles in Time, Newsweek, and the Wall Street Journal. Lira’s powerful singing and socially relevant lyrics were at the heart of El Teatro Campesino and established his role as the preeminent musical voice of the early Chicano Movement. Lira blended Mexican song traditions with Anglo folk and popular musical forms to create a new kind of folk music that continues to evolve.

After leaving Campesino in 1969, Agustin resumed his work in music and theater, forming several theater groups notably El Teatro de la Tierra which dramatized the urban Chicano experience. He also taught drama, music, and creative writing at universities, schools, and community organizations throughout California. With musical group Alma (formed in 1979 by Lira and Patricia Wells Solorzano), he has performed at national and international festivals in the United States, Mexico and Cuba.

Lira has produced numerous recordings over the years and was recently highlighted prominently on the Smithsonian Folkways retrospective Rolas de Aztlan: Songs of the Chicano Movement. His music has appeared in theatrical productions, film and has himself been the subject of two award-winning NPR and Latino USA radio documentaries by journalist Jon Beaupre. Previous recognition of Lira’s work includes the California Latino Legislative Caucus Award, 2007; Organizational Way of Peace Award, 2007, from the Fresno Center for Nonviolence; Local Hero Award, 2006 from Valley Public Television, Channel 18 and Union Bank.

“You always carry Agustin’s music with you. It is inspirational, visionary and spiritual.”
- Dolores Huerta
, Cofounder United Farm Workers Union