Out of the Wings

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El censo (c.1957), Emilio Carballido

English title: The Census
Date written: c. 1957
First publication date: 1957
First production date: 1957
Keywords: morality > honour, identity > class/social standing, identity > hierarchy, identity > ethnicity, society > poverty

It is 1945 in La Lagunilla, a poor area of Mexico City.  Two sisters, Herlinda and Dora, with their not-so-complacent sidekick, Concha, are running an underground tailor shop.  Struggling to make ends meet, the sisters neglect to pay taxes on their profits so when they get a knock at the door from a man taking a census, a pang of fear shoots through them.  They are convinced that their underhand dealings are about to be exposed by this official, and their livelihoods destroyed.  In this comedy, misunderstanding is the source of hilarity as colourful characters from all levels of society play their own parts in trying to stay afloat in an economic depression.


In a poor area of Mexico City, La Lagunilla, a modest home is converted into a sewing workshop with four sewing machines and a wardrobe with cheap mirrors that distort the image of whoever looks in them. The play opens with a large and wealthy upper class woman, Remedios, trying on a dress while two of the seamstresses, Herlinda and Dora, try to flatter her and dissuade her from believing that the mirror truthfully reflects her bulging appearance.  Meanwhile, Concha, a working class woman and also a seamstress, makes sarcastic asides to the sisters’ flattering and ingratiating comments.

However, although Concha is aggrieved by her low social status, her fellow seamstresses could not be said to be well off.   Herlinda and Dora struggle to make ends meet and excuse themselves from paying taxes on their earnings. When an official arrives at the door wanting to register information for a national census, the sisters are struck with fear about being exposed and losing their livelihoods. Herlinda tries to bribe the official with ten pesos mistakenly believing the census information will be reported to the tax office.   The official seems unable to convince the seamstresses that the personal details in the census information will remain private.

Dora’s husband, Paco, arrives home drunk, and the official holds out some hope that at least the man of the house might understand what a census is for.  But Paco is also ignorant about what a census is.   The official’s frustration is growing as the pressure to deliver a certain number of censuses by the end of the day grows.  Paco proposes that they unite to solve the problem by turning the official’s work into an act of creative writing.  Herlinda, Dora, Concha, Paco and the official set about inventing the remaining forms which need to be filled out to meet the official’s quota.

Entry written by Gwendolen Mackeith. Last updated on 8 August 2011.

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