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Collaborating with the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), performing artist Paul Flores developed the stage play PLACAS, portraying a contemporary Central American narrative on stage. The piece was directed by Michael John Garcés and starred Ric Salinas of Culture Clash. It also featured the work of painter and installation artist Victor Cartagena, scenic designer Tanya Orellana, and videographer Josué Rojas. The San Francisco International Arts Festival assisted with marketing and producing the piece.

“Placas” is slang for graffiti tags or body tattoos. In street culture, tattoos signify an individual member’s loyalty to a gang and serve as a mechanism to create a new identity. Laser tattoo removal is complicated and painful and can be risky for ex-gang members as their former comrades see it as betrayal and may target those seeking treatment.

With assistance from CARECEN, Flores began researching PLACAS in 2009 by interviewing 65 gang members, parents, and intervention workers in the Bay Area, Southern California, and El Salvador. He refined the piece through community feedback sessions and work with director Garcés.

Paul Flores is widely recognized for his work as a community-based artist, and his experience mentoring youth and juvenile offenders. Previous works include You’re Gonna Cry, directed by Brian Freeman, and Representa!

Established in 1986, CARECEN is an immigrant family wellness and empowerment center. Its services include the Second Chance Tattoo Removal Program, an initiative to help gang members leave gangs.