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22 The Latino Comedy Project and Border Humor in Performance

Aldama, Arturo J. ePub

JENNIFER ALVAREZ DICKINSON

This is a nation of aliens, going back to the
first one: Christopher Columbus.

GEORGE LOPEZ, ALIEN NATION, 1996

In a 2007 article for the Huffington Post, Roberto Lovato calls attention to the proliferation of anti-immigrant humor in mainstream entertainment, particularly anti-Latino immigrant humor, providing several recent examples of demeaning humor: at the 2007 Emmys, Conan O’Brien showed a clip depicting his writing team as day laborers; one of Bill Maher’s August 2007 “New Rules” is a ban on fruit- and vegetable-scented shampoos, quipping, “Gee, your hair smells like a migrant worker”; and Jay Leno observes that illegal immigrants arrested for prostitution are “just doing guys American hookers will not do” (Lovato). While it may be tempting to dismiss these jokes as simply comedic gaffes, they are reflective of a larger anti-immigrant discourse that has resurfaced in recent years, what Otto Santa Ana calls an “explosion” of anti-immigrant representations in American popular culture (Santa Ana 2009). With the emergence of border vigilante groups, increased proposals for immigration legislation, the ongoing construction of a border wall, and cable news anchors regularly vilifying immigrants, it is clear that advocates for immigrant rights face significant challenges in shifting public opinion. Despite the long history and significant economic and cultural contributions of Latinos in the United States, fears of terrorism and an economic slowdown can easily reverse gains made in improving the popular images of Latinos and Latino immigrants. As Santa Ana points out in Brown Tide Rising, “human thinking, at base, is not mathematical code or logical expression. Human thought is constructed with images that represent reality” (Santa Ana 2002, xv).

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3 The Other Train That Derails Us: Performing Latina Anxiety Disorder in “The Night before Christmas”

Aldama, Arturo J. ePub

ANGIE CHABRAM-DERNERSESIAN

Anxiety is an activation of our senses and our physical readiness so we can assess our surroundings or look for dangers—and so we can be more ready to run or fight. Like the flashing red lights and crossing guards that come down over a railroad track when the train—still miles away—goes over a switch.

DR. J., “ANXIETY, PRACTICALLY SPEAKING

After a hard day’s work, Doña Elena sits down to watch her favorite telenovela, armed with a piping hot cup of café con leche (coffee with milk) and her favorite pan dulce (pastry). She has much company in this much-awaited daily ritual, according to transnational studies of Spanish media culture (see, e.g., LaPastina n.d.).1 Across Latina/o America, viewers of Spanish-language television—men, women, and children alike—join her in savoring yet another installment of this hugely popular televisual genre.

In this particular instance, not long after a reprise of the previous day’s melodramatic plot line, Doña Elena’s television ritual is rudely interrupted by a program change. In a programmed announcement, Doña Elena and her fellow viewers are met head-on with the image of a larger-than-life train that threatens to barrel out of control, lunging out of the small screen and engulfing their bodies, spirits, and home spaces. The burning light of the train offers no escape from televisual darkness or human entrapment. Viewers are thus caught unawares, somehow right in front of the path of the monumental, horrific train, provoking a primal urge to flee or seek protection—what therapists call the “flight syndrome.”2

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12 Sonic Geographies and Anti-Border Musics: “We Didn’t Cross the Border, the Borders Crossed Us”

Aldama, Arturo J. ePub

ROBERTO D. HERNÁNDEZ

What must be done is to restore this dream to its proper time . . . and to its proper place . . .

FRANTZ FANON (1967)

Strong whirling sounds grow louder and louder. The surrounding brush sways violently and is nearly uprooted. A helicopter hovering overhead nears, and you hear the desperate words, “Levántate compadre / ¿Que pasa? / ¿Oyes ese zumbido? / Si, compadre . . . es el helicóptero . . . / Métete debajo de esos matorrales . . . de volada, apúrate. / Híjole, se me hace que ya me agarraron / Eso es lo de menos compadre, se me hace que ya nos llevo, la que nos trajo compadre.”

(Get up compadre / What’s happening? / Do you hear that noise? / Yes, compadre . . . it’s the helicopter . . . / Get under those bushes . . . quickly, hurry up. / Oh shit, I think they got me . . . / that is the least of it, compadre . . . I think the one that’s taking us . . . is the one that brought us here, compadre.)1

The above exchange opens Tijuana NO’s 1998 hit song “La Migra,” whose land and soundscape bears an eerie resemblance to the terrain near my childhood home, where corrugated steel extends into the Pacific Ocean, creating a rhythmic rumbling sound as wave after wave crashes up against the U-S///México border2 wall in the area once known as Friendship Park.3

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4 The Art of Place: The Work of Diane Gamboa

Aldama, Arturo J. ePub

KAREN MARY DAVALOS

In 2008, Southern California witnessed its first major “post-ethnic” art exhibition in Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement.1 Building on the performances and visual arts of Asco, the Los Angeles–based collective originally composed of Harry Gamboa, Jr., Gronk, Willie Herrón, and Patssi Valdez, the exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) intended to challenge conventional parameters of Chicana/o art and offer one strategy for interpreting conceptual art produced by artists who came of age after the Chicano Movement. Co-curators Rita Gonzalez, Howard Fox, and Chon Noriega posit that the temporal curatorial model of art produced after something allowed them “the freedom to follow an idea, rather than represent a constituency.”2 Interestingly, the show was simultaneously a complete success and a dramatic failure. Ticket sales evidence that it was overwhelmingly popular, breaking LACMA attendance records. Yet local artists and critics found the exhibition lacking. They hosted several public discussions, generated hundreds of blog posts, and published articles in regional and national media to address the show’s historical, aesthetic, and positional errors. Some critics responded by producing their own exhibitions performed as errata that offered a corrective vision of Chicana/o art in Los Angeles.3

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5 Human Rights, Conditioned Choices, and Performance in Ana Castillo’s Mixquihuala Letters

Aldama, Arturo J. ePub

CARL GUTIÉRREZ-JONES

An acclaimed poet known for combining protest themes and formal experiment, Ana Castillo became part of a new wave of Chicana fiction writing with the publication of her 1986 novel Mixquiahuala Letters. Like her poetry, the novel is particularly striking for its formal play and especially its attention to narrative structure. Mimicking Julio Cortazar’s novel Rayuela (1963), Castillo presents her reader with various choices regarding how to participate in the text’s construction, soliciting a self-conscious performance that resonates with inquiries regarding the nature of choice—how choices are recognized and conditioned—by characters in the novel. Specifically, Castillo divides Mixquiahula Letters into numbered chapters, then invites readers to restructure the order of the original presentation along certain suggested paths (paths that reorder the letters, sometimes omitting certain letters). For Cortazar, the announced goal was to distinguish active from passive reading, a distinction that he infamously coded in explicitly sexist terms—male reading equated with active interpretation, female reading equated with passive capitulation. (To his credit, Cortazar offered an apology for this formulation later in his career.) Castillo playfully appropriates this narrative territory in order to flip Cortazar’s initial sexual politics on its head: in Mixquiahuala Letters, responsible, engaged reading and the construction of understanding itself inevitably partake of a Chicana feminist critical analysis informed by the human rights movement.

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