Ric Salinas (at left) stars as Fausto, a former gang member seeking redemption, in “Placas,” a play by Paul S. Flores (at right). Photo Mabel Jiménez

With a rare glimpse of what it’s like to feel isolated from the community, torn between identities through the concept of redemption and the true meaning of family—“Placas: The Most Dangerous Tattoo,” comes to the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre Sept. 6-16.

The San Francisco International Arts Festival, CARECEN and Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts present a Play by Paul S. Flores, starring Ric Salinas. Detailing the emotional story of a middle-aged, ex-gang member’s journey to redefine the past relationship he once had with his family after spending 9 years in prison.

Salinas plays Fausto Carbajal, an aging Salvadoran gang member, who—as a requirement of his parole—must remove the tattoos that have silently pushed him further from his son who is relentlessly following his footsteps.

“It’s a story ultimately about a family that’s broken … Gang life is a lack of family because you have young people who cannot connect to their own mother or father for whatever social economical reason … They gravitate to their other family,” Salinas said.

The play introduces the issues of Central American culture where street gangs become the bi-products of geopolitical events, past war wounds and the quest for immigration.

Salinas, a former member of the performance trio Culture Clash, grew up in the Mission District and was himself a victim of violence.

“I lived on the corner of 25th and Harrison. I went outside to help a young guy getting beat up by a gang and somebody pulled out a shotgun and shot me in the chest,” Salinas said. “I survived it and I’m still living here and my life is to try to show people that we’re here only a little bit … Do the best you can, life is short, treat your fellow neighbors, your fellow friends with respect.”

This dramatic play has taken Flores over four years to develop—interviews with gang members, mothers, grandmothers, brothers and sisters, neighbors, law enforcement officers, social workers and victims were all important and substantial to the real-life backbone of the play.

“The play has been such an intensive process of discovery, of limits and patience … There were so many amazing stories each one of those people told me whether they were a gang member, a mother of a gang member, whether they were someone that had lost their brother or sister to a life of gangs,” Flores said.

“Placas” is based loosely on the real life drama of an ex-Salvadoran gang member and pieced together through countless interviews with other gang members whose life dynamics aren’t easily forgotten.

“You hear all these stories, and you think ‘How am I supposed to represent a story that isn’t so painful?’ … I think it’s a mistake to assume that gang members are separate from us,” Flores says, referring to misconceptions about joining gangs.

He believes most gang members aren’t bloodthirsty killers; they are young people with wounds. There is love but there is also a lot of pain, he says.

“No matter what this man did in his past there’s such a thing as redemption and as anyone who goes through something bad, if they want to change, I think it’s possible … They have those ghosts of the past but there’s the future where they can make a change,” Salinas said about the message of the play.

The small cast of six will explore the gap between a father and son’s relationship through the real meaning of family, acceptance and sacrifice.

“I wanted to explore where the archetypal father goes in our Latino culture … Where did the real macho go—the one that lives for his family who supports his family?” Flores said. “I didn’t want to present another stereotypical father story about a father that was incapable, this is about a father who is trying to redeem his in-capabilities.”

PLACAS: The Most Dangerous Tattoo will run Thur-Sun, Sept. 6-16 at 8 p.m. including Sunday’s matinee at 3 p.m. at the Lorraine Hansberry Theater at 450 Post St. in San Francisco.

This Saturday, Aug. 18 the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, will host a tattoo-video party titled Placas: The Stories Behind your Tattos at 6:30 p.m. Join the event and tell your tattoo story, attendance is free and open to the public, an RSVP is required if you want to participate in the video story.