An examination of the intersection of public discourses on sexualities with recent political, economic, and social shifts in the national context of Mexico and the Mexican diaspora in the United States.
Series: Chicana Matters Series
Using interdisciplinary performance studies and cultural studies frameworks, Laura G. Gutiérrez examines the cultural representation of queer sexuality in the contemporary cultural production of Mexican female and Chicana performance and visual artists. In particular, she locates the analytical lenses of feminist theory and queer theory in a central position to interrogate Mexican female dissident sexualities in transnational public culture.
This is the first book-length study to wed performance studies and queer theory in examining the performative/performance work of important contemporary Mexicana and Chicana cultural workers. It proposes that the creations of several important artists—Chicana visual artist Alma López; the Mexican political cabareteras Astrid Hadad, Jesusa Rodríguez, Liliana Felipe, and Regina Orozco; the Chicana performance artist Nao Bustamante; and the Mexican video artist Ximena Cuevas—unsettle heterosexual national culture. In doing so, they are not only challenging heterosexist and nationalist discourses head-on, but are also participating in the construction of a queer world-making project. Treating the notion of dis-comfort as a productive category in these projects advances feminist and queer theories by offering an insightful critical movement suggesting that queer worlds are simultaneously spaces of desire, fear, and hope.
Gutiérrez demonstrates how arenas formerly closed to female performers are now providing both an artistic outlet and a powerful political tool that crosses not only geographic borders but social, sexual, political, and class boundaries as well, and deconstructs the relationships among media, hierarchies of power, and the cultures of privilege.
MLA Prize in United States Latina and Latino and Chicana and Chicano Literary and Cultural Studies
- Introduction. Unsettling Comforts: Notes on Language, Politics, and Sex/Sexuality in a Transnational Context
- Part One. Reimagining the Archives of Femininity and Sexuality
- Chapter 1. Sexing Guadalupe in Transnational Double Crossings
- Chapter 2. Gender Parody, Political Satire, and Postmodern Rancheras: Astrid Hadad's "Heavy Nopal" Aesthetics
- Chapter 3. Fue en un cabaret: Nation, Melodrama, Gender, and Sexuality in Contemporary Mexican Performance
- Part Two. Chicana and Mexicana Queer Performative Interventions
- Chapter 4. Nao Bustamante's "Bad-Girl" Aesthetics
- Chapter 5. Ximena Cuevas's Critical Collages
- Coda. Transtortilleras: Political Cabaret in the Twenty-first Century
- Works Cited
In the fall of 2003 Mexico City-based queer cabaret performance artist Astrid Hadad performed two successive shows—on two separate nights—as part of the Sabor a México (A Taste of Mexico) series during the 2003-2004 season of the University of Arizona's UA Presents program. As one of the primary artists whose work I study in this book, her 2003 performances in Tucson, my recently adopted hometown, inevitably helped to enhance my ongoing research and thinking about her cultural production. But Hadad's visit to southern Arizona and her performances during those two nights also illustrate a number of theoretical and critical points that I believe will help exemplify the link between a number of critical threads and categories of analysis that I explore throughout this book. These intricate connections, which I believe are still underexplored in current cultural criticism, are: Mexican female sexuality, the female body, performance and performativity, mexicanidad, nationalism and transnationalism, queer identity and cultural practices, and reception/spectatorship. In Performing Mexicanidad I exercise such a critical movement, which not only makes visible the interconnectedness of these matters but also scrutinizes them. For the moment, however, in these introductory pages, I turn to the anecdote, as I want to focus on a number of aspects that came to the forefront during those two nights in Tucson. In weaving the behind-the-scenes anecdote with my "rememory"—those memories that live in the present—of what transpired on the stage those two nights during that weekend in Tucson, I am also indirectly engaging the notion of cultural translations and cultural mistranslations, which I now want to put forward as the invisible threads that bind the subsequent chapters. Taking my cues from Meaghan Morris's Identity Anecdotes, I deploy "anecdotal tactics" because of their "practical value in translating effort across the necessary heterolingual, socially rubble-strewn continuum" (20). Following Naoki Sakai, who has theorized the term, Morris understands "heterolingual" as a mode that more or less encapsulates the effort behind the need "to address an essentially mixed [academic] audience (whether within one language or between two or more)" (5). I propose, as I aim to explicate, that the following anecdote about the (mis)translation may very well prove to be the missing link needed to bring to the surface a number of oblique (or not so oblique) relationships that stem from wearing multidisciplinary lenses while attempting to apprehend performance and performative public interventions that move in a transnational (semi)public sphere; that is, in addition to illustrating a number of issues that I understand to be important in these transnational performances and performative interventions, the anecdote "approximates—if we understand, following Morris, that the personal anecdote functions as a sort of allegory of a proximity" to our subjects (5)—me to these relationships that I aim to tease out by moving between my own subjective position as critic (and my relationship to my heterogeneous academic audiences) and as fan (who celebrates the artists—as some other fans/followers may—because of their continual commitment to challenge) and the cultural production being examined here.
During those two nights, save a couple of new numbers, Hadad performed what I would consider to be her "traveling show" at that moment, a selection from her best-known repertoire, her constantly transmuting Heavy Nopal show—the subject of Chapter 2—that has given name to her aesthetic and political strategy since the early 1990s, "una estética heavy nopalera" (a heavy nopal aesthetics). After the first night's performance and in a postperformance backstage conversation with the artist, the cabaretera asked me to be harsh and critique her onstage broken English. For the performances in Tucson she elected to perform most of the monologues in (translated and broken) English—something I assume she does when she has shows in the United States and other English-speaking contexts—while the songs were sung in Spanish, with the exception of "Soy Virgencita (I'm a Little Virgin)," which was a bilingual performance. As I describe in Chapter 2 in further detail, Hadad intersperses monologues with songs in her live presentations, which are a mix of different popular and theatrical traditions to create her specific "heavy nopal" style, which is both ironic and entertaining. That first night, during one of her monologues, Hadad helped frame for her audience the excessively violent song that was coming up in the show, the modern-day Colombian carrilera classic "La Cuchilla (The Shaving Knife)." For this occasion, the cabaretera had transformed "La Cuchilla" into a ranchera, a classic Mexican melodramatic ballad that is usually about a love that is impossible, unreciprocated, or lost and whose narratives usually transpire in a premodern to quasi-modern rural landscape [hence the rancho (or ranch) in its name]. And, as should be noted, Hadad's transformation of a carrilera into a ranchera is enhanced by the postmodernized strategy, which I discuss in Chapter 2. Onstage that night, prior to singing "La Cuchilla," Hadad explained that when she first heard this song in Colombia she thought that it contained a certain dose of humor, which helped make it palatable, but overall it was for her taste "a bit too violent." However, she clarified and emphasized that the violence represented by the protagonist of "La Cuchilla" paled in comparison to then-president Bush's violence, exemplified by the U.S. invasion of Iraq earlier that year, which set in motion a continuing war there. Hadad proceeded to connect Bush to the most potent world powers and to say the following, more or less, in English: "The group of eight, the G-8, you know how they are always having their meetings, they are the most powerful and rich governments in the world. But in spite of their potency, they can never find the G-point." The monologue and the song that followed were performed while Hadad was wearing her "china poblana leather en style chic violento" outfit. For as long as Hadad has been practicing her "heavy nopal" aesthetics—since the late 1980s and early 1990s—she has been appropriating and transforming the china poblana dress, which is the one most often associated with Mexican femininity and particularly with female singers of the ranchera tradition. In this particularly over-the-top appropriation of a dress with ties to twentieth-century mass-marketed nationalism, Hadad altered the traditional colors of the china poblana dress—usually those associated with the Mexican flag: green, white, and red—and the expected materials—sequins and beads sewn to a wide ample silk skirt and a white embroidered top—into an S&M-like black leather china poblana outfit, all with the appropriate accessories: a leather spike arm and neck straps, a black wide-brim charra hat, and a make-believe shaving knife (see Figure 1). While the song about drunkenness, love gone wrong, spite, vengeance, and violence remains traditional, rhythmically speaking at least, Hadad literalized it visually in her deployment of the "china poblana leather en style chic violento" outfit and, more specifically, created a visual and aural link that is seldom discussed in cultural criticism, the one between traditional Latin American popular culture and masochistic pleasure. Accompanied by her musical group Los Tarzanes (The Tarzans), who remain subdued, for the most part, during the performance, Hadad sings "La Cuchilla" with great passion:
Si no me querés
te corto la cara
Con una cuchilla
de esas de afeitar
El día de la boda
te doy puñaladas
Te arranco el ómbligo
y mató a tu mamá.
[If you don't love me
I'll slash your face
with a knife
as the ones used for shaving
On the wedding day
I'll stab you, repeatedly
I'll pull out your belly button
and kill your mom.]
At the same time that she sings, Hadad emphatically points to, with slashing gestures, her own face, belly button, and the audience with her make-believe shaving knife, all in the most appropriate moments.
The link created here by the lyrics of the song, the literalization of the lyrics through the dress, and the over-the-top theatrics and gestures, such as the licking of the knife, is part and parcel of Hadad's "heavy nopal" aesthetics, which bring to bear and make visible the masochism that is prevalent, though mostly hidden and seldom articulated, in Mexican cultural and social practices. As I argue in Chapter 2, Hadad, more than any other contemporary performer, brings masochist pleasure out of the veritable closet in the Mexican context; that is, Hadad's chain of signification does not merely associate popular cultural practices and Mexican female sexuality and pleasure—something that still needs critical attention—she incorporates into the link of associations two other important practices and concepts: masochism and politics.
After the performance and again backstage, and because she had requested that I make any necessary clarifications regarding her onstage use of translated English in her monologues, I told Hadad that she had literally translated punto G as "G-point," as opposed to G-spot, the equivalent in English, at least in regard to meaning. After listening to this, the cabaretera was initially taken aback, but then, and as example of her quick thinking and witticism—part of a live performer's necessary improvisational strategies—she replied in Spanish (and I translate here):
That's what happens when you get a man to translate these things for you, they don't even know where the G-spot is, how would they know how to call it? Plus, think about it, it's much worse when you get a gay man to translate for you, what do they know or care about the G-spot?
When I heard this, my initial reaction was laughter; she was not only informing me that the translation of the monologues was done for her by someone else but also making it into a joke that would only resonate with me later. It was not until days later that I began to reflect on the mistranslation that I had helped rectify, both in her text and in the monologue during the following night's performance, when it struck me that this was a concrete (albeit comic) example of the ideas that provide the contours of this book, namely Mexican female sexuality's invisibility and its (cross-cultural and transnational) misunderstanding. Moreover, the punto G/G-spot confusion made patent for me that Mexican female sexuality and its artistic and popular cultural representations were entangled within a network of (cultural) translations that were related to a set of differences: national, cultural, ethnic, gender, and sexual.13 Lastly, my role in correcting that mistranslation made evident not only that I was implicated in the manner in which ideas were read across national and linguistic borders that night but that this book was also part of a network of translations—in the clearest etymological sense or "trans-lations": movement of something across space; that is, Performing Mexicanidad is part of the movement of words, concepts, theories, performances, and products across "borders" in which I figure prominently as a fan and as a critic, a sort of cultural and critical trafficker. And, as the cultural work that I examine in Performing Mexicanidad is moving, as it is production that is participating in a transnational circuit of performance or exhibition, I am, at times, moving right alongside it. Again, following Morris, "anecdotal tactics" have not only "practical" but also theoretical value when someone attempts to make sense (for him- or herself and for different academic audiences) of the "socially rubble-strewn continuum." But a question persistently lingers: What's the point?
More pointedly, what does actively and publicly talking about representations of sexuality—be it in Hadad's show, our personal conversations, or my scholarship (or someone else's) produced in the "aftermath" of her (or someone else's) performances—mean in light of Mexico's continuous move to the right of the political spectrum and its incessant neoliberalizing projects for over two decades now, but most definitely since the implementation of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994? It could be argued that sexual permissiveness in cultural representation and in public discourse has found a sort of ally in neoliberalism in the context of Mexico—in the realm of films, two cinematic examples come to the forefront: Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, 2001) and Frida (Julie Taymor, 2002)—and that academic work that focuses on sexuality (particularly deviant sexualities) has increased alongside the diminishing critiques and progressive politics espoused by feminist theory and criticism. This apparent demise of feminist criticism and the simultaneous rise of gender (femininity and masculinity) studies within Latin American and Latino Studies is, however, a conversation that would need to happen in a more systematic and continuous fashion, perhaps in a conference setting dedicated specifically to this subject. My comments here are meant to function only as a temporary placeholder, at least until a more sustained discussion ensues or continues to take place; I am critically invested in being part of the incipient yet growing corpus of scholarship that produces criticism that pays critical attention to the interconnectedness between sexuality and/or sexual permissiveness—in particular representations of so-called deviant sexualities—and neoliberalism. Thus, Performing Mexicanidad attends to the intersection of public discourses on sexualities and the political, economic, and social shifts of the last twenty years or so in the national context of Mexico and Mexican diaspora in the United States. Put differently, and following Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner's lead in their essay "Sex in Public," I am more interested in sexualities that are "mediated by publics" than in discussing the "sex people already have clarity about" or "the identities and acts" that are constructed through these sexual practices. But, like Berlant and Warner, I am not developing a project that argues for the liberation of a "wildness [that is] in need of derepression" (547). My attention is more focused on the idea that representations of sexuality are a primordial element in public cultural debates related to censorship and control or, in more general terms, to politics and the economy. The artists whose work I analyze in Performing Mexicanidad are keenly aware of sexuality's pervasive presence in culture and thus deploy it as a trope of sorts, at times masking it as entertainment. But, in direct contradistinction to mass-media representations of sexuality, they create counterdiscourses that make evident societal hypocrisies in relationship to sexuality, particularly female and/or queer.
Thus, if we go back to our anecdote, watching Hadad perform the sort of monologues that deploy sexuality and sexual practices as a way to tell a story or frame the performance of the songs that she incorporates into her shows—whether this takes place in Tucson, Arizona, in broken English before a diverse group that includes season tickets holders to UA Presents, curious university students, or Mexican immigrants or Chicanos residing in Tucson who happen to be Hadad fans, or before a familiar setting in El Bataclán, the intimate theater/cabaret space located in La Bodega restaurant in Mexico City's trendy La Condesa neighborhood—one may walk away, albeit laughing, with the idea that the connections she draws between sexual acts or female erogenous zones and politics may in fact be overly superficial and facile commentaries, as with the G-8/G-spot example mentioned above. Such a reading, however, would be an early dismissal of Hadad's performances as mere entertainment—perhaps a momentary and necessary escape valve for some—and would diminish her extraordinary ability to entertain at the same time that she makes pointed and critical observations regarding contemporary issues. This is, of course, in addition to her literal yet over-the-top, theatrical interpretation of classic Latin American songs, well-executed and at times deconstructive dance steps, and her visually astounding wardrobe that interplays with her songs. But one thing is certain regarding Hadad's performances, at least in the last ten years since I have been following her work: She is unrelenting in her insistence in making clear the sometimes occluded links between so-called perverse sexualities and contemporary national and international politics. Stated differently, what Hadad does and does well in her shows is to juxtapose these two allegedly opposing discourses, confusing them by pointing to the parallels that exist between them and, ultimately, displacing the notion of perversity—so often solely associated with so-called deviant sexualities—in order to relocate it within the realm of political (and economic) practices. The bulk of the cultural representations of female (queer) sexuality in the work that I examine in Performing Mexicanidad is never done in isolation or without paying attention to political culture as it is "mediated by publics," again following Berlant and Warner (547). Hadad is not alone; fellow cabaret performance artist Jesusa Rodríguez is likewise drawing links among sex/sexuality, politics, and publics.
Neoliberalism, Performance, and Performativity
During the third meeting of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics held in the summer of 2002, Mexican director and cabaret performance artist Jesusa Rodríguez and two of her long-term collaborators—her artistic and romantic partner and amazing composer/singer Liliana Felipe and Regina Orozco, an opera singer, film actress, and fellow cabaretera—performed a piece entitled New War, New War, a reflection on post-9/11 fears and anxieties and, most directly, the "war on terror" discourse. For the 2002 encuentro, I joined the group of scholars, artists, and activists who had gathered in Perú's capital city, where they were deploying performance studies methodologies to work through a number of social and cultural issues under that year's Hemispheric Institute encuentro's theme, Globalization, Migration, and the Public Sphere. Rodríguez, Felipe, and Orozco also positioned their performance piece as an artistic intervention in the otherwise heavily academic discourse that the encuentro's thematic title elicits. Very early in this post-9/11 performance, which most directly and obviously alludes to the song "New York," a rather heavy-set Orozco comes onstage dressed as the Argentine child character Mafalda from the 1960s and early 1970s comic strip of the same name by Joaquín Lavado, better known as Quino. Mafalda, a beloved and recognizable character across the Americas, comes to life here via Orozco's characterization of the child comic-strip icon; in this political cabaret piece she comes skipping toward the proscenium while we hear the identifiable tune "New York," played on the piano by Felipe. In Orozco's sketch Mafalda stands before us, the audience, and, uttering only one word, "composición" (composition), lets us know that she is about to "write" her class assignment; that is, we are about to witness her scholarly contribution to the Hemispheric Institute's theme. At this point she brings toward her mouth the object that she has been carrying in one hand, an inflatable world globe, which she begins to inflate. Though it may not have been obvious to all in the audience, the obvious intertextual/visual reference here is one of the most recognizable Mafalda strips in its history, the one in which Mafalda places a world globe in bed, takes its temperature, and comments that the world is indeed sick and needs some respite. Orozco, as Mafalda, then uses the inflated globe to literally (i.e., visually) illustrate the topic of her composition: She holds the globe up in one hand and gestures to it as she says, in Spanish, "globalization"; holds the globe with both hands in front of her and kicks it toward the back part of the stage, walks toward it and says "migration"; walks back to the proscenium and faces the audience, extends her arms to gesture toward us, and says "public sphere." There is laughter to this ingenuity mixed with witticism that characterizes the child comic strip that Orozco appropriates for her skit, but the laughter begins to subside when Mafalda proceeds to "compose" before us the rest of the assignment. The composition is a series of enunciated words (such as "inflation," "deflation," "privatization," "capital flight," and "social outbreak") that Mafalda utters at the same time that she manipulates different balloons into various forms (inflated, deflated, hidden, and punctured) to illustrate the restructuring of economic systems as well as their social repercussions. The only complete sentence that she utters are her last words; right before she walks off the stage Mafalda says: "Cómo habrán golpeado a la Argentina que ya ni Mafalda tiene sentido del humor" (How much beating did Argentina receive that not even Mafalda has a sense of humor?). By playing with words in Spanish, Orozco offers a critical intervention on the excesses of the neoliberal state when she comments that not even Mafalda, who is widely known to usually make sense of most if not all the societal and political absurdities, cannot offer an ironic and witty insight into globalization's repercussions. The word for balloon in Spanish, globo, is also the root word in "globalization"; thus Mafalda is able to play with the balloon properties (inflatable, deflatable, elastic, and so forth) as she "writes" her composition. In Chapter 3 I discuss the performance piece Víctimas del pecado neoliberal (Victims of the Neoliberal Sin), in which the same artists discussed here and a few others use popular cultural texts, cinematic melodramas to be more precise, as a site for reflecting on the most excessive and distorted forms of affectivity: neoliberalism. Just as New War, New War uses a comic-strip character from popular culture to make a critical intervention on current political and economic excesses and absurdities, Víctimas del pecado neoliberal deploys melodramatic excess to highlight the fact that, for these queer political cabaret performance artists, this former type of social and cultural excess is a far better option to the present neoliberal state-sanctioned forms of affect and excess.
The above-mentioned monologue is the first comedic-theatrical sketch of New War, New War, but it is not the opening number. As I will further elaborate in Chapter 3, an essential feature of contemporary political cabaret, at least the type practiced by the Rodríguez-Felipe duo, is the strategy of juxtaposing the humorous and the sober. This particular political cabaret performance opens with Felipe playing the piano and singing her own composition, the song "Como Madame Bovary (As Madame Bovary)," which functions as the counterpoint to the "composition" that Mafalda will "perform " for us a few minutes later. Felipe, who, in addition to being a singer/composer, was also the partner/manager with Rodríguez of the (in)famous El Hábito (The Habit), an independent theater-bar/cabaret space in Mexico City, for fifteen years. There is no doubt that Felipe's songs are some of the most political, feminist, irreverent, and derisive compositions in contemporary Mexico, although they circulate rather subculturally and among alternative feminist and left-leaning circles. While some of these songs are adaptations of a number of poems from the Western literary canon or "borrowed" from an extensive tango repertoire, the majority of her songs are original lyrical compositions that contain a heavy dose of social and political critique; they are written by Felipe herself, her partner Rodríguez, or in collaboration with the latter, as is the case with "Como Madame Bovary." In "Como Madame Bovary" the fictitious character's illicit affairs, as depicted in the classic Madame Bovary (1857) by Gustave Flaubert, are equated with Latin America's "lovers," from foreign investors to supranational banking and lending systems like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The song begins with the following verse: "Como Madame Bovary, todos tenemos un amante por ahí" (As Madame Bovary, we all have a lover here and there), but it is not until Felipe is halfway into the song, when she sings "Como Madame Bovary, todos tenemos deudas con el FMI" (As Madame Bovary, we all have debts to the IMF), alluding to Latin America's external debt, that the extended simile becomes more obvious. Felipe's "Como Madame Bovary" is more than a simple equation that compares the so-called imprudent behavior of some of the most famous female characters of literary and cultural production to the carryings-on of the different Latin American governments. In her opinion the fact that these countries just continue to pay and pay is in part due to the fact that this "esta ostentación grandilocuente / napoleónica y mayúscula / no exige responsables y pagamos" (this grandiose ostentatiousness / Napoleonic and magnificent / does not demand accountability and we pay). Thus the modus operandi for Latin America has become that "we" continuously "aguantamos" (endure) and "pagamos" (pay). Thus, much in the same way that Hadad delinks "perversity" from female and/or dissident sexualities, Felipe rechannels our thinking to regard the "ostentatious," adulterous, or transnational liaisons, respectively, of female characters from world literature and other artistic works like Madame Bovary and Madame Butterfly, who also makes a cameo appearance, as being less perverse than the relationships that Latin America fashions with the supranational economic and banking systems. In their multifarious performance strategies, the artists thus far mentioned most definitely deconstruct rigid gendered and sexual systems in Mexican society. But I contend that in the cultural production by these Mexican political cabareteras, representations of so-called deviant sexualities are also used deliberately for another purpose: to dislodge the concept of "perverse" from the queer female body and displace (or transfer) it to the (national or supranational) body politic.
Performing Mexicanidad: Vendidas y Cabareteras on the Transnational Stage attends to this type of oblique connection that performers such as Felipe and Hadad draw in their songs and monologues between what is overwhelmingly considered to be an intimate practice, sex, and what is deemed very public, transnational political and economic accords. In general, I would say that the work by the artists whose work I examine throughout this book—the Chicana visual artist Alma López; the Mexican cabareteras Astrid Hadad, Jesusa Rodríguez, Liliana Felipe, and Regina Orozco; the Chicana performance artist Nao Bustamante; and the Mexican video artist Ximena Cuevas—are all, in some performative mode, exercising artistically what Berlant and Warner have theorized: "intimacy is itself publicly mediated" (553). While mass media do much to occlude the relationship between intimate sexual practices and governmental policies, as well as national and transnational politics, and mainstream cultural production seldom pays attention to these connections, these artists, consciously or not, present the spectator with the possibility of never entirely disengaging sex/sexuality from political culture precisely by nudging us into a process that "rethinks intimacy." Part of this practice entails not only "redescription" but also "transformative analyses of the rhetorical and material conditions that enable hegemonic fantasies to thrive in the minds and on the bodies of subjects while, at the same time, attachments are developing that might redirect the different routes taken by history and biography" (Berlant, 286). Taking this set of ideas into account, particularly what Berlant has written about the subject, I want to now propose that contemporary political cabaret, as a live performance practice, is particularly positioned to "rethink intimacy." Through its deployment of satire and parody, political cabaret performances are an ideal forum for discussing the most urgent issues that in many instances are censured or distorted by contemporary mass culture and mass new media. The political cabareteras are not only challenging hegemonic political and social systems but also (at times humorously) examining the implications that these policies/politics have on human bodies, particularly those that are queer and racialized.
The artists whose work makes up the analytical backbone of this book deploy various and multifarious strategies to signal the ways in which the queer and, in the context of the United States, racialized bodies have endured material and psychical damage. One of the ways in which queer political cabaret undoes this complicated position that the queer and racialized body occupies in culture is by excessively and humorously proposing alternate ways of seeing ourselves. For example, in the same performance piece mentioned above, New War, New War, Rodríguez incorporates two characters from Arquetipas, a performance piece of the previous year: La Soldadera Autógena (The Autogenous Female Soldier) and La Serpiente Enchilada (The Fired-Up Serpent), also known as Chilicoatl la Chuperhéroe. Through them Rodríguez reappropriates two cultural icons: the female soldier from the Mexican Revolution, who has been mythified in postrevolutionary culture, and the Masked Superhero, popularized by the explosion of Mexican wrestling, lucha libre, but equally mythified in the mass cultural representations of the 1960s and 1970s—to ultimately critique rigid constructions of femininity and masculinity, Mexican nationalism, the Mexican presidential administration during that moment (under Vicente Fox, 2000-2006), the treatment of Mexican immigrants in the United States, and the close yet problematic relationship between Mexico and the United States. The critical intervention that Rodríguez enacts on this otherwise serious and sober set of issues is aided and, perhaps, achieved by the use of her unique style of humor, namely political satire. For example, to impersonate La Soldadera Autógena, Rodríguez cross-dresses as the stereotypical Mexican revolutionary by incorporating all of the appropriate material signs, including the iconic guitar used to accompany the singing of corridos—revolutionary ballads popularized during the moment of social, political, and military conflict. And, as Rodríguez is a master of parodic mimicry, she also integrates the vernacular language that stereotypically denounces these figures as campesinos (or peasants). However, in her reworking of the revolutionary iconography and cultural texts, Rodríguez contemporizes them by declaring that the real revolution is the one that will eradicate the various -isms, like machismo and feminismo (feminism). The "real" revolution, Rodríguez mockingly proposes, is La Revolución Genética (The Genetic Revolution) as it is the only one that will allow for the biological sexes to mix to the point of not being distinguishable. La Soldadera Autógena declares:
¡se acabaron esas babosadas de las geyerías y las bugueses!, ¡se acabó la desigualdad entre mujeres y hombres! ¡Ora semos una y otra, al mismo tiempo y decretamos la abolición de la familia! ¡Viva el libre albedrío! ¡Viva la cópula de autoservicio! ¡Semos el futuro, mal que les güelva a pesar!
[No more stupid things like gay and straight! Inequality between men and women has ended! Now we are simultaneously one and the same and we declare the abolition of the institution of the family! Long live free will! Long live self-service copulation! We are the future, even if that will weigh you down again!] ("Ni frío ni caliente," 369-370)
Yet, at the same time that La Soldadera Autógena's call to action proposes yet another revolution, Rodríguez uses irony to destabilize even her own discourse when she quotes William Burroughs: "Las revolucionas cambian muchas costumbres, pero dejan la mierda intacta, no tienen sentido" (Revolutions alter societal customs, but they leave shit intact, they do not make sense) ("Ni frío, ni caliente," 369). After this monologue, Rodríguez, still as "La Soldadera Autógena," reinterprets a Mexican revolutionary corrido, "Rosita Alvírez," by depicting Rosita not as having been shot because she turned down Hipólito at the dance that her mother had warned her to not attend, but as having gone to a cabaret and received medicinal shots that helped her in her transformation from female to male or somewhere in between. The recent developments in the biotechnology fields—which Rodríguez is mocking rather than embracing uncritically—can be used to revolutionize society and culture by ridding them of the rhetoric of oppositional dichotomies.
As I have already mentioned, Rodríguez's particular style of live theatrical expression, which is both an entertaining and a critical look at contemporary Mexican culture, society, and politics, is political cabaret. This practice is espoused not only by other artists in Mexico City, including the aforementioned Hadad and Orozco, but also by a newer generation of political cabareteros, thus attesting to the ways in which the practice has become more or less institutionalized in the last decade. Most specifically, beyond these introductory pages, in Chapters 2, 3, and the Coda of Performing Mexicanidad, I fully engage with this Mexico City-based type of politic cabaret that is queer. Writing academically (in English) about the queer cabaret cultural production from Mexico City, as I have suggested with the opening anecdote regarding mistranslation, may prove to be complicated beyond what has already been written regarding the challenges that writing about ephemeral performances provokes and evokes.
As the reader may have already perceived in the brief analyses of the political cabaret pieces in the previous pages, one of the strategies that this political and cultural practice incorporates is the continuous humorous rewriting of past popular cultural texts that may help shed light on contemporary societal and political issues. And, as part of this strategy involves parodic mimicry and political satire, the artists more often than not deploy wordplay tactics to already vernacular language. Additionally, in political cabaret performances from Mexico multiple references to the contemporary, national, regional, or local political moment and/or historical past abound. The multiple and multilinguistic references ultimately make the practice of reading, for the different publics that may be gathered before these performance productions, a multilayered practice of (re)signification. Thus, for the cultural critic who may take on the task of reading political cabaret performances in a particular way, the concept of translating acquires additional meaning beyond the one that writing about ephemeral performance already entails.
Put differently, in addition to helping me set up some of the ideas that I explore in Performing Mexicanidad, I use the above-mentioned performance pieces as a way to begin to map some methodological concerns, namely the writing about the various intersecting points that I have suggested thus far: sex/sexuality, language(s), nationalism, (trans)national culture, and (inter)national politics. But, I also want to emphasize another aspect involved in the writing about the intersection of sexuality as a category of analysis and the Mexican and Chicana cultural production that I discuss in this book, the majority of which happens to be ephemeral performance practices. As I proposed in the opening pages, I am implicated, whether by minute ephemeral examples, as my help in the translation of a word ("G-spot") exemplifies, or by actual academic writing (in English nonetheless) in the multiple movements in the transnational circuit of these artistic performances or performative interventions, which navigate in a transnational and cross-cultural field. All of which is complicated by the fact that I occupy a sort of in-between space as I am doubly positioned as a fan of the work and of the artists I discuss here as well as a critic. Thus, before proceeding, the work examined here requires a discussion, however momentarily, on the limits and pleasures or the obstacles and rewards involved in writing about ephemeral artistic production.
Writing about live art is challenging for students and scholars of performance because, as Peggy Phelan has argued in Unmarked (1993) and Mourning Sex (1997), "the object of one's meditation, the performance itself, disappears" (Mourning Sex, 3). Thus, from a performance studies perspective, at this point I want to further clarify why I use "the anecdote as evidence"—or other "conversations" that I evoke at different times—and, in general, the multiple performances that I engage with throughout Performing Mexicanidad, and what are the implications of making use of them here as they may only exist in fragmentary fashion in my memory. Phelan explains that "[l]ive performance and theatre ('art with real bodies') persist despite an economy of reproduction that makes them seem illogical and certainly a poor investment" (Mourning Sex, 3). Additionally, as others have already grappled with this problem, writing about embodied performance disrupts more than "the logic of late capitalism"; it reconfigures the paradigms of critical scholarship that have historically depended on the written text, particularly in the humanities. Diana Taylor has convincingly argued—and contributed tremendously, particularly with The Archive and The Repertoire (2003)—that new methodologies of scholarly production are needed in Latin American Studies. As Taylor suggests, scholarship needs to consider not only the archive as repositories of knowledge but also various forms of embodied performance, or what she categorizes as "the repertoire," as receptacles of fundamental knowledge, something that has to be taken into account when studying Latin America, its cultural production, its societies, and its people. Or, perhaps another way to read the title of this introductory chapter is to consider that my contribution to the field of cultural studies, because the bulk of the cultural work examined here falls under the purview of performance or ephemeral acts, is also "unsettling comforts" within the otherwise rigid and conventional ways of producing scholarship, that is of examining culture that is either material (in the form of objects) or symbolic (in the form of literature or film) but ultimately bound to a certain set of conventions of the form.
"Unsettling Comforts": Preliminary Sketches on Transnational Queer Performativity and Reception
The title of this introductory chapter is used to intentionally confound the reader as I purposely employ polyvalence so that "unsettling" may be read two ways; that is, it is to function as both a verb and an adjective, depending on how one reads the phrase. On one level, it denotes the act by which comfort becomes unsettled; that is, "unsettling" here is an action verb that announces that something has happened to disturb comfort or, in other words, normalcy. And yet, on another level, "unsettling" can also be read as an adjective where, for example, the "is" in the phrase "comfort is unsettled" functions as a descriptor that makes "unsettled" (or "unsettling") read as the result or state after a process. Even if readers "get" the intentional double meaning of "unsettling," they may still find this concept paradoxical and advance a double-pronged question: How can comfort be unsettled and, even more confusing, how can "unsettlement" be comfortable?
The use of "unsettling" as a verb is meant to highlight the disruptive character of the work of the artists that I examine in Performing Mexicanidad. More specifically, the cultural production of the artists (López, Hadad, Rodríguez, Felipe, Orozco, Bustamante, and Cuevas) gathered in this book, whether exhibited, published, or performed—live or mediated—unsettle heterosexual national (and nationalist) culture. Or, phrased differently, the artists unsettle a certain sense of comfortableness or naturalness about gender and sexual systems, which have acquired a sense of normalcy in the different societies that I examine here. However, we need to understand this sense of heterosexual national culture to never be static and view it as a process that is ultimately linked to notions of intimacy, as Berlant and Warner have argued: This heterosexual national (and nationalist) culture is achieved via "the ideologies and institutions of intimacy" (553). Thus, within heterosexual culture:
Community is imagined through scenes of intimacy, coupling, and kinship; a historical relation to futurity is restricted to generational narrative and reproduction. A whole field of social relations becomes intelligible as heterosexuality, and this privatized sexual culture bestows on its sexual practices a tacit sense of rightness and normalcy. This sense of rightness—embedded in things and not just in sex—is what we call heteronormavity. (Berlant and Warner, 554)
Berlant and Warner continue, and I concur by continuing to quote at length from their essay "Sex in Public":
Heteronormativity is more than ideology, or prejudice, or phobia against gays and lesbians; it is produced in almost every aspect of the forms and arrangements of social life: nationality, the state, and the law; commerce; medicine; and education; as well as in the conventions and affects of narrativity, romance, and other protected spaces of culture. (554-555)
Throughout Performing Mexicanidad I pay attention to the ways in which the artists critique culture, indirectly at times, head-on at others, in particular the heteronormative paradigms and structures associated with mexicanidad (or Mexicanness), chicanismo, or americanidad (the latter, translated as Americanness, understood here as that which participates in the inter-American hegemonic belonging). Thus, at different and intervening moments throughout this book, I provide critical analyses of the ways in which the artists tackle or attack head-on mexicanidad, chicanismo, and/or my concept of americanidad as more than nationalist and patriarchal ideologies, as how they are conventionally conceived. They challenge and deconstruct the ways in which these sets of heteronormative notions are produced and continue to be reproduced via a notion of intimacy (or sexuality) that has been relegated and naturalized as belonging to the private sphere and that the feminist and queer artists succeed in bringing to the public one. In general, Performing Mexicanidad attends to the intersection of public discourses on so-called deviant (or queer) sexualities and the political, economic, and social shifts of the last twenty years or so in the national context of Mexico and the Mexican diaspora in the United States. I put forth that the work of the artists examined in Performing Mexicanidad—the Chicana visual artist Alma López; the Mexican cabareteras Astrid Hadad, Jesusa Rodríguez, Liliana Felipe, and Regina Orozco; the Chicana performance artist Nao Bustamante; and the Mexican video artist Ximena Cuevas—unsettles heterosexual national culture in ways that are important to study from the vantage point of an eclectic methodological and interdisciplinary lens that weds queer theory, performance studies and theory, and Latin American and Latina/o studies.
In spite of my unconventional use of "unsettling" as an adjective applied to the word "comfort," I employ it as a descriptor that is meant to signal the idea that "unsettled comfort" or dis-comfort may in fact be a way of life (particularly among the queer artists included in this book or the queer counterpublics that participate in the consumption of these artists' work) and that it is, above all, a politicized and queer modus vivendi; that is, that the notion of "unsettling comforts" I develop in this introduction and exemplify throughout this book has to do with an idea that is beyond what I have described above or, in other words, that heteronormavity is challenged. It is my contention that these artists are not only challenging head-on heterosexist and nationalist discourses ("unsettling comforts," if we understand "unsettling" to function as a verb) but also participating in the construction of a queer world-making project much in the ways that Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner have discussed in "Sex in Public" or José E. Muñoz in Disidentifications. Given this thesis, I am in agreement with these queer cultural theorists as I also see potential for transformative politics within this type of world-making project. However, I also argue that within this critical movement there is also a need to theorize "unsettled" comfort (and here "unsettling" functions as an adjective). I find the evident tension in the concept "unsettled comfort" or, to be more precise, dis-comfort, as a productive category of analysis when discussing the sort of queer world-making projects in which the artists are participating. This is due to the fact that these projects, by their very own constitution, however performative and ephemeral these worlds may be, they are simultaneously spaces of desire and fear; that is, following Ben Anderson's attempt to theorize musical listening practices and their potential for utopia, if we re-think dis-comfort in regard to queer counterpublics, we may find here also "apparently inconsequential 'daily' geographies of hope" mapped ("A Principle of Hope," 212). Or, as Berlant, who has been at the forefront of theorizing affect among queer theorists in U.S. academia, has said in her opening remarks to the special issue on intimacy for Critical Inquiry: "[It is vital] to appraise how we have been and how we live and how we might imagine lives that make more sense than the ones that so many are living" (286).
At this moment, and keeping the above in mind, I want to briefly call forth a representation that I envision as a potential visual stand-in for some of the themes that crisscross in this book; that is, the image used on the cover of Performing Mexicanidad, Anima Sola by the Guadalajara-based visual artist Lucía Maya, serves as a visual translation of the dominant idea that I am developing in this section: unsettling comforts. The original source of Maya's digitally manipulated image is the iconic religious figure that is often referred to as Anima Sola (Lonely Soul) and that is most often imprinted in a wallet- or pocket-size Catholic stamp that is usually carried by believers and followers of the sacred image and who seek additional protection—or those who are praying for a fast-paced track through purgatory for a deceased person who died before being able to repent of a sin committed while living. In short, the Anima Sola is a Catholic depiction of a suffering person who is waiting in purgatory for salvation, eternally burning yet never being fully consumed by the surrounding flames. What is interesting, particularly for Hadad, who works with and reworks Catholic female imagery, is that the suffering person here is gendered a woman. The female figure being echoed in Anima Sola is featured standing—amidst flames that never consume her (although the image only frames the torso and the legs are covered by fire)—with her gaze veered upward with a look of high reverence; she knows that salvation will eventually come because the chains of her momentary prison have been broken. In Maya's reworking of the Catholic image, and as can be seen in the image used on the cover of this book, the cabaretera stands in the middle of the flames, and the chains here have been replaced by some visible bracelets. Not only is the reimagined Anima Sola (Hadad) not raising her hand to a higher being (in a posture of high reverence), here she wears one of the outfits used in her performances, that of the infamous biblical figure associated with prostitution, María Magdalena (Mary Magdalene), La Pecadora (The Sinner). In addition, Hadad's gaze is not directed toward a higher being per se as the Anima Sola; instead she looks upward yet slightly left (her right), enough to differentiate from the original portrayal. Moreover, given that her head is slightly thrown to the back and her lips are slightly open, Hadad's face encapsulates some sort of masochistic (dare I say "sexual"?) pleasure. By being digitally centered amidst flames by Maya—in a place and moment of purposeful dis-comfort—Hadad represents a full embrace of ambiguity, which is an integral part of the queer modus vivendi that I described in the previous section. As opposed to the Catholic image, where the female body is awaiting and wanting to be rescued from this transitory space (of purgatory), Maya's image highlights the ways in which in-betweenness, particularly for minoritarian subjects, may, in fact, be the home address of all those involved in a queer world-making project. Simply put, I am using the digitally manipulated artistic rendition Anima Sola, which fuses a Catholic image with that of a photograph of the political cabaret performance artist, as a visual representation of my polyvalent concept of "unsettling comfort."
Moreover, the re-articulated Anima Sola image by Lucía Maya that features the cabaretera extraordinaire Astrid Hadad is also highlighting the principal idea in this book and its title; that is, that Performing Mexicanidad needs to be read as the recast Anima Sola on the book's cover: a performative intervention in the notion of mexicanidad. While the artistic production of López, Hadad, Rodríguez, Felipe, Orozco, Bustamante, and Cuevas "unsettles" national heterosexual culture, which could be understood as "lo mexicano" (that which defines all things Mexican), mexicanidad is used throughout this book—as it is the cohesive glue that binds the artists, if not aesthetically, at least culturally—as a malleable concept; that is, the artists who "unsettle comfort" are deploying performance/performative strategies to challenge general and fixed understandings of "lo mexicano" but do not completely distance themselves from this dominant narrative of national and cultural belonging. The vendidas and cabareteras who make up the pages of Performing Mexicanidad are queerly reshaping "lo mexicano."
The Book's Body
Performing Mexicanidad is divided into two parts: Reimagining the Archives of Femininity and Sexuality, and Chicana and Mexicana Queer Performative Interventions. In the first part I scrutinize mexicanidad by examining this very discourse though the lenses of sexuality, representations of the female body, and neoliberal politics/policies in art exhibitions and artistic performances. More specifically, in the three chapters that make up this part, I also ponder questions related to public reactions and censorship in the work of Mexican and Chicana artists (the cabareteras and the vendidas alluded to in the book's title) who appropriate from and reimage three of the most important archives of mexicanidad (or what may be deemed as imperative in the archives of heterosexual national culture): the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe, ranchera music, and cinematic melodrama.
The first chapter, Sexing Guadalupe in Transnational Double Crossings, begins with an assumption: There is no icon that has achieved greater importance in the realm of mexicanidad than that of the Virgen de Guadalupe, who, in fact, may very well be the stick by which Mexicanness is measured. In more specific terms, in this chapter I interrogate the existing relationship between Mexican (trans)national identity and guadalupismo and the ways in which this relationship is fractured when artists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border offer, in their artistic reinterpretations of the Virgen de Gudadalupe, sexualized images; that is, rather than examining these visual works as isolated cases, I approach the bulk of images that have unsettled comfort transnationally by paying attention to the different public reactions to these counterdiscursive artistic works. In particular I examine the public outcry of two different public exhibitions, separated by time and space: the 1987 installation by Mexico City-based artist Rolando de la Rosa that featured his collage of the Virgen de Guadalupe with Marilyn Monroe's face and cleavage, and the 2001 exhibtion in New Mexico that contained Chicana queer artist Alma López's Our Lady (1999). In addition to analyzing the collage and digitally manipulated print, respectively, I also examine issues of regulation and censorship that stem from the public exhibition of these artistic images, which activate and rework the Virgen de Guadalupe by sexualizing, arguably, the most revered image/icon of the Americas. By situating these discussions in the forefront, at the beginning of the book; that is, my aim is to posit that patriarchal institutions exercise control (in regard to gendered social and sexualized roles) through the female body, symbolized here by the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and, moreover, that these images sexualize the archetypical mother figure, which is often depicted as asexual.
In the second chapter, Gender Parody, Political Satire, and Postmodern Rancheras: Astrid Hadad's "Heavy Nopal" Aesthetics, I build upon the previous one by arguing that Mexican postrevolutionary cultural practices, música ranchera specifically, were mobilized during this period to create narratives that constructed nationalist notions of womanhood and manhood. In specific terms, I examine Mexican queer cabaret performance artist Astrid Hadad's most successful performance piece to date, Heavy Nopal, which deconstructs these gendered narratives. Hadad does this primarily through the reappropriation of songs and symbols that were part of the cultural industry that helped to create the twentieth-century concept of mass audiences via the different nation-building projects. I pay particular attention to the subtle ways in which Hadad's conjoined aural and visual aesthetics not only reinterpret these songs and symbols but also unsettle heterosexual national culture. Via a close reading of Hadad's Heavy Nopal, including here the performance of the songs as well as the carefully choreographed dance steps and excessive dresses that she wears, I argue that the use of irony and camp strategies imbue nationalist songs and symbols with new meanings; that is, in her performances of the songs that have forged the nation, Hadad literalizes them via the use of nationalist symbols and objects—most often worn on her own body, transforming it into a mobile stage of sorts—in order to challenge and transform them from within. Just as the visual artists discussed in Chapter 1, Hadad's Heavy Nopal, and her performances in general, reimagines the archives of mexicanidad, particularly ranchera music and, likewise important to signal here, opens up a space, however ephemeral, to create counterdiscursive spaces of hope for her queer counterpublics.
The third chapter follows the second very closely, however. In Fue en un cabaret I pay attention to the ways in which another archive of mexicanidad—film melodrama—is reimagined by Hadad and her fellow queer cabareteros. Specifically, I examine the cultural practices of Mexican queer performance artists who deploy melodrama in order to tease with certain public (spectator) assumptions regarding gender and sexuality and to tease out the relationship between national identity and subject formations and the structures of power that inform them. In particular, this chapter focuses on the ways in which urban melodramas such as Aventurera (Alberto Gout, 1949) and Nosotros los pobres (Ismael Rodríguez, 1947), are reworked in the political cabaret performances of the most important queer political cabareteros working in Mexico today: Astrid Hadad, Tito Vasconcelos, Ximena Cuevas, Regina Orozco, and the artistic, business, and romantic partners Jesusa Rodríguez and Liliana Felipe. On one level, I am interested in the ways in which these queer artists are excellent students of the iconography contained in melodramatic cultural texts of the postrevolutionary period. I argue, however, that they are not just concerned with the subtextual ideologies contained in these texts in regard to nationalism and rigid notions of gender and sexuality; the political cabareteros included in this chapter approach the melodrama as an "archive of feelings." The ultimate goal of this chapter is to use the stage work of these cabaret performance artists to begin to theorize what I perceive to be significantly understudied, the "structures of feeling" of Mexican melodrama. Some of the question that arise are: What sort of communities does melodrama create? What happens when the spectators of melodrama are women or belong to nonmajoritarian groups? What are melodrama's contemporary uses in the neoliberal context? Is melodrama just an "intertext" in the work of these political cabareteros? Far from offering concise answers to these questions, what I primarily argue in this chapter is that the strategies deployed by these artists who reimagine melodrama are intervening critically in the dominant discourses of nation, gender, and sexuality.
The second part of this book, Chicana and Mexicana Queer Performative Interventions, focuses on what may fall under the purview of avant-garde performance practices, but, as I demonstrate, the division between the avant-garde and mass media, within the context of Mexican and Chicana cultural production, as in other cultural contexts, is not easily discernible. The artists whose work I examine here, Ximena Cuevas and Nao Bustamante, are considered doyennes of Mexican and Chicana avant-garde art, respectively. In their exercise of "unsettling" the national heterosexual culture, however, they do more than appropriate popular cultural representations to produce experimental art. What Cuevas and Bustamante participate in is what I have termed queer performative interventions; that is, not only do they "disidentify" with majoritarian discourses, to borrow from Latino queer cultural theorist José E. Muñoz, but they also intervene in and literally infiltrate dominant mass-media forms. The work examined in the second part continues to build on the first part in the sense that the cultural work examined here is also performative, performance art in some instances, which also engages with a live audience. However, in this second part I am interested in examining cultural work that also moves beyond the space of the museum and/or the theater-cabaret. I argue that the relationship to the public established by the artists examined here is fractured even more when the artists themselves step into mainstream popular culture.
In Chapter 4, I examine the performance piece America, the Beautiful in order to discuss the relationship that Chicana performance artist Nao Bustamante establishes with her publics. In addition to enacting a close reading of the performance piece, I posit that by "unsettling comforts" during the performance of America, the Beautiful, Bustamante is aware of the performance art conventions that regulate artists' public relations. In the remainder of the chapter, I continue to build on this idea by examining Bustamante's mass-media intervention into The Joan Rivers Show in the 1990s, which featured Bustamante as Rosa, a "stunt exhibitionist"; this "performance-art prank" produced a short video piece entitled Rosa Does Joan. In a general sense, in this chapter I examine these performance/video pieces for several reasons: first of all, in order to situate Bustamante within a historically wider context of what avant-garde performance art is, that is, by disengaging this practice from the traditionally held belief that it belongs to "bad [white] boy" artists who engage with it for its "shock value." Secondly, I am interested in the ways in which Bustamante's racialized and gendered body-centered performances are important critical interventions (at times literally) in dominant and mass-mediated (Latino) American discourses in regard to notions of femininity and the female body. In conjoining the idea of the centrality of the body in Bustamante's work with the public conventions/reactions, I am also interested in the ways in which Bustamante's work ultimately "unsettled" conservative politicians and journalists when her brother, Cruz Bustamante, was discredited by the media as a liable leader during the 2003 California recall election because of Bustamante's body-centered performance pieces, in addition to other reasons.
Just as the previous chapter does, Chapter 5, Ximena Cuevas's Critical Collages, also examines the work of an experimental artist. In this particular case I analyze the video montages that Mexican video artist Ximena Cuevas has produced at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but, in stark contrast to Cuevas's previous work, which I have previously analyzed elsewhere, here I pay attention to the performative interventions into and infiltrations of mass media carried out by Cuevas in the first few years of the new millennium. Here I examine several issues of the tabloid/gossip magazine TV Notas, which outed Cuevas as a lesbian and presented the public with Cuevas's alleged story of lesbian coupledom; Cuevas's incursion into the television talk show Tómbola (Raffle); and, lastly, her infiltration of the filming of a McDonald's television commercial. In part, I examine Cuevas's newest body of work in order to disrupt the idea that video artists merely appropriate mass-mediated conventions and representations to produce new works that do not circulate beyond certain avant-garde artistic circles. Put differently, the video and performance work of Cuevas that I analyze in this chapter—what I have indexed as queer performative interventions—has had a wider dissemination than other, earlier video art pieces, just as Bustamante's performative intervention in The Joan Rivers Show is her most viewed performance piece. And, again, just as with Bustamante's presentation in the popular press as a "bad girl" who takes her clothes off, Cuevas's persona is also scrutinized by the mainstream press, particularly the tabloid journals and television talk shows, because of her association with a public figure in Mexican culture, her father, the visual artist José Luis Cuevas. And, similar to Bustamante, Cuevas is aware of public comportment conventions, but, in clear contradistinction to the Chicana performance artist, the Mexican video artist is able to lead her audiences to a point where they begin to question for themselves the limited positions of spectatorship that mass-media conventions have allotted them.
And, finally, rather than offering a conventional conclusion, the last component of Performing Mexicanidad is a coda, which I have entitled Transtortilleras: Political Cabaret in the Twenty-first Century. This last chapter, however brief, is a combination of personal thoughts regarding how my thinking about both female sexuality and the female body in contemporary performance/performative practices has evolved since I began to pay attention to these artists. In more specific terms, this coda is a reflection on the ways in which the cultural and political work of the two most (in)famous queer cabareteras from Mexico City, Jesusa Rodríguez and Liliana Felipe, has shifted over the trajectory of their careers. For that reason, I deploy the term tortillera here with a different political turn of the word, one that extends its use as a descriptor of lesbian sex and desire in the Latin/o American context to look at the pair's most recent work, which is concerned with the food politics that have surfaced and/or have been accelerated thanks to the free-trade agreements. In this coda I offer an analysis of their performance piece El Maíz (Corn), which needs to be read in a fashion analogous to two other things: the closing of their theater-cabaret space El Hábito in 2005 and the public-sphere civil disobedience strategies that Rodríguez, in particular, with her Resistencia Creativa (Creative Resistance) movement, has been engaging in since 2005.
In more specific terms, I read El Maíz, performed by the duo right before they announced the closing of their independent theater space, El Hábito in Mexico City, as a sort of lament on the limits of artistic production when creating art that has at its core a progressive politics discourse. Although it is important to mention that Rodríguez has been associated with the effort to uncover the presidential election fraud of 2006 by spearheading the artistic resistance component associated with this movement, here I examine El Maíz side by side with the public/street performances she has been carrying out in the last four years, which target head-on the neoliberal policies related to corn: from the introduction of genetically modified corn to the recent increase in the price of tortillas under the Calderón administration. I read these performances through Rodríguez's own rereading of Henry David Thoreau's notions of "civil disobedience" because, as she has said: "We believe that making and eating tortillas made from Mexican corn is, these days, a self-defense act and civil disobedience." To a certain extent, it may very well be that, with her public actions in the defense of corn, the quintessential Mexican food source, Rodríguez is reimagining the most important archive of mexicanidad.