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Arts & Culture

San Diego’s South Bay gets its own swap meet musical

"Pásale Pásale" wants to be more than just a theater performance.

It's a reflection of the funny and heartwarming experiences that many in San Diego and Tijuana can relate to — along with the hustle to make ends meet.

“I grew up in National City and would go every single Saturday, with my grandmother, to the swap meet,” said the show's director Maria Patrice Amon. “We would buy clothes, household items, everything at a really great price — everything at a bargain — and have delicious food also.”

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"Pásale Pásale" actors rehearse for their upcoming musical, May 28, 2024.
Jacob Aere
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KPBS
"Pásale Pásale" actors rehearse for their upcoming musical, May 28, 2024. San Diego County, Calif.

Amon is co-artistic director of Tuyo Theatre that’s putting on the musical.

She said the idea for the performance was inspired by her experiences with a wide range of cultures and languages at the swap meet.

“Everybody had that similar impulse to find a good deal, but also create businesses for themselves. It's a place where micro-businesses and micro-entrepreneurs can really thrive and begin to build out a business for themselves,” Amon said.

"Pásale Pásale" is not only based on local places in San Diego’s South Bay, it also stars local actors, like Analia Romero.

She plays Doña Lulu, a piñata vendor.

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Stuffed animals and piñatas fill vendor stands for "Pásale Pásale," May 28, 2024.
Jacob Aere
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KPBS
Stuffed animals and piñatas fill vendor stands for "Pásale Pásale," May 28, 2024. San Diego County, Calif.

“And it's my livelihood. I don't make a lot of money, but this is the way I make money, by selling piñatas to the swap meet people. So I'm, in a sense, the oldest vendor around,” Romero said about her character.

Sophie Gonzalez is also in the musical. She’s playing Veli and is the only high schooler acting in the performance.

“She’s the younger sister of the main character Jazzlyn,” Gonzalez said. “She's really spunky and artistic and she's all over the place and a chaos monster, and really wants to sell.”

The storyline follows a group of vendors who are dealing with new fees they have to pay and difficult economic circumstances.

Amon said it's a musical with a deeper meaning.

"Pásale Pásale" actors rehearse for their upcoming musical, May 28, 2024.
Jacob Aere
/
KPBS
"Pásale Pásale" actors rehearse for their upcoming musical, May 28, 2024. San Diego County, Calif.

“Within the world of theater Latinidad isn't often represented, or when it was in the past, it was very stereotypically limited on stage,” she said. “So we want to be part of that generation of artists — part of that generation of theater makers — who are telling broader stories, who get to show the rich complexity of our culture.”

Audiences are active participants in the show.

They’ll taste some treats and be encouraged to sing along with the swap meet vendors, as the actors find communal strength to face adversity.

“It just relates with a lot of people of the Latino community,” Gonzalez said about the musical. “Everyone at some point has come across a swap meet and we've all been in a position where we are in danger of losing something very important.”

Romero sees it as a conversation starter for the difficulties artisans can face in the present day. Plus, like Amon, she too has a family bond to the story.

A swamp meet boutique sign hangs behind clothing, May 28, 2024.
Jacob Aere
/
KPBS
A swamp meet boutique sign hangs behind clothing, May 28, 2024. San Diego County, Calif.

“In a sense my character is my grandmother,” she said. “And it's also other family members that came before me that took me to the swap meet.”

Performances of "Pásale Pásale" are underway and run through June 30 at Bayfront Charter High School in Chula Vista.

Actual South Bay food vendors will be there after each performance, in case the audience needs a feel for some real swap meet food.