Carmen Soto de Vasquez was in her 50s when she launched her own artistic revolution, thereby thrusting Tucson into the role of Southwestern cultural center. During the 1920s, the city enjoyed a cultural renaissance as music, operas, and theatrical productions became an important part of life in the desert town.
Born in 1863 in Tucson, she was a member of a prominent pioneer family. Her mother, Carmela Comadurán de Soto, was descended from AntonJo Comadurán, captain of the Royal Presidio at the Fort of San Agustin de Tucson. Her husband, Ramon Vasquez, was also born in Tucson, and he later became the owner of one of the largest mercantile businesses in Nogales.
Carmen Soto de Vasquez was a businesswoman and a cultural leader. She founded El Teatro Carmen and commissioned a renowned architect and builder, Manuel Flores, to build the theater. The building was designed in the Sonoran-mission style and was located at 348 S. Meyer, the heart of what is now Tucson’s historic district. Carmen Vasquez developed the theater project to provide a place for the performance of outstanding Spanish language literary productions as well as operas, musicals and melodramas.
Under her guidance, Teatro Carmen attracted internationally acclaimed troupes from Spain and Mexico. Excellent actors and actresses performed for appreciative audiences in a western city that no longer could be dismissed as a sleepy, little cowtown.
The opening night for El Teatro Carmen was May 20, 1915. Featured was Cerebro y Corazon, a play by the Mexican author and poet Fardias Iassi. It was a grand night, a tremendous success, and a great social event, judging by newspaper accounts. El Cronista, the pseudonym used by the literary critic of the Spanish newspaper El Tucsonense, wrote:
“The inauguration of Teatro Carmen was a great artistic and financial success, and the announcement of the forthcoming programs was received by Tucson society with much enthusiasm.”
Carmen Soto de Vasquez was the impresario of El Teatro Carmen for nine years before moving to Nogales with her husband and family. In that time, the theater became more than just a place where high quality productions were performed. It became the cultural center of the community.
The project was very successful financially, but it meant much more than that to Mrs. Vasquez. Armando Miguelez, in his study of Hispanic theater in Tucson, noted:
“Carmen Soto de Vasquez was conscious of her role as a culture promoter who put the theater at the disposal of the public so they would have the opportunity to enjoy art characteristic of their culture and so that by supporting these events, (Mexican) culture would be retained in the city.”
Carmen Soto de Vasquez died October 8, 1934, in Nogales.