Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands


In this interdisciplinary volume, contributors analyze the expression of Latina/o cultural identity through performance. With music, theater, dance, visual arts, body art, spoken word, performance activism, fashion, and street theater as points of entry, contributors discuss cultural practices and the fashoning of identity in Latino/a communities throughout the US. Examining the areas of crossover between Latin and American cultures gives new meaning to the notion of "borderlands." This volume features senior ...

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In this interdisciplinary volume, contributors analyze the expression of Latina/o cultural identity through performance. With music, theater, dance, visual arts, body art, spoken word, performance activism, fashion, and street theater as points of entry, contributors discuss cultural practices and the fashoning of identity in Latino/a communities throughout the US. Examining the areas of crossover between Latin and American cultures gives new meaning to the notion of "borderlands." This volume features senior scholars and up-and-coming academics from cultural, visual, and performance studies, folklore, and ethnomusicology.

Indiana University Press

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Editorial Reviews

author of Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography - Emily Maguire

"This collection brings together a wealth of Latino Studies scholars in a dynamic interdisciplinary dialogue around issues of performance, identity, and de-colonization. The valuable conversations that emerge from their essays extend into many scholarly disciplines, including Latin American Studies, Queer and Gender Studies, and African American Studies." —Emily Maguire, author of Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

author of The Wounded Heart: Writing on Cherríe Moraga - Yvonne Yarbro Bejarano

"This timely volume utilizes a growing body of scholarship in the field of performance studies, while filling in significant gaps and expanding the objects of study in the area of Latina performance. The editors have selected a wide range of essays that represent a splendid array of topics and themes of intrinsic interest to the field." —Yvonne Yarbro Bejarano, author of The Wounded Heart: Writing on Cherríe Moraga

author of Queering Mestizaje: Transculturation and Performance - Alicia Arrizón

"The essays in Performing the US Latina & Latino Borderlands expand the field of Latina/o cultural studies while situating innovative discussions of performance in the context of borderlands studies. In its totality, the collection focuses on specific formations of collective identities-in-resistance, or what the editors call, the performance of a "borderland consciousness". Performing the US Latina & Latino Borderlands is suitable for graduate and upper undergraduate courses in Latina/o American studies, ethnic and cultural studies, and performance studies." —Alicia Arrizón, author of Queering Mestizaje: Transculturation and Performance

From the Publisher

"This collection brings together a wealth of Latino Studies scholars in a dynamic interdisciplinary dialogue around issues of performance, identity, and de-colonization. The valuable conversations that emerge from their essays extend into many scholarly disciplines, including Latin American Studies, Queer and Gender Studies, and African American Studies." —Emily Maguire, author of Experiments in Cuban Literature and Ethnography

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253005748
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 11/19/2012
  • Pages: 522
  • Product dimensions: 8.80 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Arturo J. Aldama is Associate Professor of Latino and Ethnic Studies, University of Colorado at Boulder.

Chela Sandoval is former Chair and Associate Professor of Critical Theory in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Peter J. García is Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies and Musics at California State University, Northridge.

Indiana University Press

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Performing the US Latina & Latino Borderlands

By Arturo J. Aldama, Chela Sandoval, Peter J. García

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 Indiana University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-00877-0


Body as Codex-ized Word / Cuerpo Como Palabra (en-)Códice-ado: Chicana/Indígena and Mexican Transnational Performative Indigeneities


In the performance work of Mexican actress, writer, and director Jesusa Rodríguez and Chicana/Tepehuana painter / installation artist / performance artist Celia Herrera-Rodríguez, the body functions as the critical site for the (de)construction of national and Indigenous identities. The corporeal operates as the primary signifier in the reclamation of denied histories. Through the self-consciously performative style of cabaret and espectáculo (spectacle), Jesusa Rodríguez monumentalizes México's Indigenous histories as she employs discourse central to Mexican national identity and cultural citizenship. Celia Herrera-Rodríguez enacts Indigeneity as intimate ritual and positions her work as personal historical recovery and pedagogy aimed at creating dialogue among Indigenous communities on a global level. Their aesthetic methodologies are mediated by multifarious contradictions, colonial epistemologies, and discursive strategies for survival. In the critical recognition and negotiation of these refractory mediations, performance functions as an embodied attempt at reclamation of Indigenous narratives, in and out of the "nation."

How can one body traverse historical moments in performance, specifically between elements of contemporary Chicana and Mexican cultural production and pre-Columbian Indigenous practices? How are mythologies mapped and weighted onto specific bodies? What if that body is Indigenous? And what marks it as Indigenous? What if that body is queer? How do nation and citizenship function in the performative monumentalizing?

Influential Latin American historians and performance scholars Jean Franco, Diana Taylor, and Roselyn Costantino have most prominently examined Jesusa Rodríguez's body of work spanning the past two decades. Central to many of their analyses are the stylistic methodologies with which Rodríguez so incisively critiques repressive institutional figures and ideologies central to popular Mexican historical narratives that systematically exclude Indigenous communities and feminist figures. Costantino asserts that as a performer, Rodríguez "chooses forms that permit her to render corporeal and, thus, visible, the tensions among the ideological, religious, social, political, and economic discourse operating on and through the individual and collective human body." Rodríguez deploys her body as an expedient for the critique of colonial legacies in the Mexican national imaginary and contemporary governmental regimes. Jean Franco writes,

The remarkable thing about these performances is not only their polymorphous nature, their infinite and baroque metamorphoses, not even the gusto with which Jesusa dances, moves, sings, speaks, mimes, but how she uses her body. She is not so much nude as naked, and it is a nakedness that gives the body a power of expression that we normally associate with the face alone.

Rodríguez utilizes this explicit corporeality in her performances, and through this "nakedness" she exposes multiple contradictions in the political histories of the Americas. Embodying images of multiple historical figures, contemporary Mexican performance artists, like Rodríguez, draw from what Diana Taylor identifies as "the repertoire to add historical depth to their political and aesthetic claims." While Franco, Taylor, and Costantino discuss how Rodríguez's performances function in these critiques of the Mexican nation-state, I am invested in a transnational analysis that interrogates how class and sexuality function in the work of this highly controversial Mexico City–based artist.

In Celia Herrera-Rodríguez's performance work, she offers generative mandates for this transnational framework, expanding its focus to a hemispheric exploration of Indigeneity while negotiating her subject position as a Chicana/Tepehuana living and teaching visual art practices in Oakland, California. She is predominately recognized for her painting and installation art; there remains little discussion of Herrera-Rodríguez's body of performance work. One of the most critical moments in the trajectory of Herrera-Rodríguez's work is the moment at which she stepped out of her canvases and began to perform as part of her installation pieces in order to re-claim her Indigenous identity. Herrera-Rodríguez inserts herself in the installations, creating landscapes—often in the form of altars—on which to interrogate multiple iterations of Chicana and Indigenous subjectivities.

Despite their distinct artistic processes and contrasting audiences on both sides of the Mexican/United States border, Jesusa Rodríguez and Celia Herrera-Rodríguez inscribe multiple colonial histories on their bodies. Their staged cultural practices function in terms of what Diana Taylor identifies as an embodied "process, a praxis, an episteme, a mode of transmission." Unsettling aesthetic disciplines, these artists create spaces in which to challenge transnational representations of Indigenous identities.


Since the 1990s, Rodríguez has employed the figure of Mexica mother goddess Coatlicue at a number of public protests and formal theatrical presentations. She most famously performs as this deity in "La Gira Mamal de la Coatlicue," in which she scrutinizes the media coverage and national resources expended for the Pope's 1996 visit to México. Performing as Coatlicue, Rodríguez embodies an articulation of what Taylor conceptualizes as the "repertoire." Taylor cites a critical distinction not between the written and spoken word "but between the archive of supposedly enduring materials (i.e., documents, buildings, bones) and the so-called ephemeral repertoire of embodied practice/knowledge (i.e., spoken language, dance, sports, ritual)." Belonging to the "archive" by virtue of its archaeological excavation and framing in Mexico City's Museo Nacional de Antropología, the image of Coatlicue sustains the power of having survived the destruction of the conquest.

In her critique of the Pope's visit, Rodríguez utilizes the "repertoire" of the mother goddess to attack the relegation of the Indigenous past to the museum and the 1996 quincentenary celebrations of the "discovery" of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. From inside a mammoth foam puppet of Coatlicue, she publicly exclaims to the Mexican public in the nation's capital,

Listen to me carefully, Mexicans, Mexarians, Mexers, Mexants, and resident aliens! I am the origin of origins. But nobody has ever met me at the airport. Unlike the other idol, I can't get them to print 500,000 posters to advertise me. They haven't built my mammarydome; they have yet to come up with a machine that will allow me to kiss the floor of the airport. Nobody's organized an official visit to Chapultepec or Tlatelolco, let alone Chalco. I've never been able to realize my beautiful dream of a mammary tour—for the purpose of carrying on my evangelical mission, of course. And yet the time is ripe for an ecological religion. Listen, ungrateful offspring! Unlike these other idols I still love you. Even though you rub the Buddha's belly button, even though you spend your money on medals and rosaries and even though you'll search for Mecca from here to eternity, you'll always be my children.

Rodríguez positions the Indigenous female deity as speaking subject and juxtaposes herself as the mother of all modern-day Mexican citizens. Addressing her offspring with farcical monikers, Coatlicue scolds the citizens of México for their ingratitude, their falta de respeto, or lack of respect. Analogizing herself with the Pope, she sardonically refers to the "Holy Father" as the "other idol." Mocking the Pope's diplomatic reverence while visiting his "children," (the extensive touring of local Catholic churches and other sacred sites in which he performs acts of worship), Coatlicue alludes to the fact that she cannot even properly revere her homeland upon returning by kissing the airport floor. Instead, the mother goddess must navigate her tour without technological assistance despite the hindrance of her colossal stone frame. Critiquing her children's contemporary veneration of non-Mexican/non-Indigenous deities in the place of her Mexica pantheon, she scathingly accuses her children of a new-age/de-contextualized appropriation of the ancient global spirit practices of Islam and Buddhism. But in the end, she affirms that, despite their utter lack of respect, she still loves her "ungrateful offspring."

In this performance, Rodríguez situates herself as the powerful Mexica matriarch testifying against the early-twentieth-century celebration of pre-Columbian artifacts in the name of nation-building by federally funded Mexican archeologists. The Mexican government invested in the excavation and preservation of México's Indigenous past while simultaneously enacting policies leading to the genocide of the descendants of the very deities erected in museums. The unearthing and public presentation of Mesoamerican artifacts and monuments overseen by the Mexican government became a lucrative business and continues to make many regions in México attractive tourist destinations. As Bolivian cultural theorist Javier Sanjinés writes, "Indigenous exteriority calls into question the dialectics and philosophies of history that the discourses of national construction lean on for support, as do the discourses of power." In this case, the Mexican government remains dependent on the signifying power of the ancient for contemporary nation-building and violently restructures communities of those who remember and practice "the ancient" into the Mexican nationalist rhetoric of mestizaje.

In México, mestizaje was central to modernist ideologies of nation-building and the consolidation of ethnic and religious identities within a sovereign state, specifically in the years following the Mexican Revolution. María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo writes, "The discourse of mestizaje was deployed as a strategy of national identification and unification in the aftermath of a divisive revolutionary war against the oligarchic class of the porfiriato." Despite the violently embedded discrimination against Indigenous communities and privileging of Europe's legacy in México, political leaders purported a rhetoric of México as a nation of mestizos and mestizas. Influential Mexican anthropologist Manuel Gamio (often referred to as the "father of Mexican anthropology") served as general inspector of archeology in México and later became the director of the International School of Archaeology and Ethnohistory. In Handbook to Life in the Aztec World, Manuel Aguilar-Moreno states, "Gamio left the field of archaeology to devote himself to working to solve the social problems of the Indians of Mexico." Gamio's vehement commitment to the "social problems" of México's Indians was deeply rooted in the nationalist project of mestizaje that he explicated in his treatises. Among the most famous of these treatises is Consideraciones sobre el problema del indigenismo (Considerations on the Problem of Indigenismo) (1948). In this seminal text, Gamio focuses on the cultural assimilation of Indigenous communities into the racially mixed society of México. Sheila Contreras writes,

Public policies designed to acculturate Indians—most especially through the institutions of schooling, anthropological projects, such as Gamio's world-renowned stratospheric excavations at Teotihuacan ... contrived to make past greatness visible and cement public acceptance of the desirable characteristics of Indigenous cultures.

Through the enactment of these policies, the state could increase the number of Mexicans classified as mestizo and decrease the number of citizens classified as Indigenous. Principles of Mexican citizenship were predicated on the abandonment of Indigenous identities and practices, which were professed as "residual" and cast as hindrances to modernist notions of progress. These systemic campaigns of assimilation relegated the Indian to a historical past, one that was well preserved in the Museo Nacional de Antropología and other museums around the country. As Contreras affirms, "These approaches, however, belie the basic premise of Mexican state indigenism: the only good Indian is the mythic Indian."

However, Mexican historian and anthropologist Guillermo Bonfil Batalla reminds us that the survivors of the project of mestizaje, those who embody epistemological practices that are transferred onto pre-Columbian monuments, constitute the very nation. Performing the monolithic figure of Coatlicue, Rodríguez asserts herself as Mexica matriarch. In this allegorical move, Rodríguez as Coatlicue spectacularizes this legacy as she indicts the Mexican government for its institutional exaltation of an Indigenous past and simultaneous repression of contemporary Indigenous communities.

In Jesusa Rodríguez's 2004 "Cabaret Pre-Hispanico," the massive foam Coatlicue puppet returns, erupting as a centerpiece with pulsating heart, fluttering mouth, and rotating serpent heads, kicking up her heels to amplified banda music. The "repertoire" literally cites the "archive," as Coatlicue on stage mirrors the one that stands erect in the gallery named "La Sala Mexica" in the Mexico City museum.

Visually, it is astounding when Rodríguez's petite frame is born from the pulsating foam labia of Coatlicue: you realize that she was the only one moving the puppet's various body parts, enacting multiple elements of the mythology. We hear grunts as she struggles to emerge from Coatlicue in the shiny regalia of a modern-day danzante Azteca or "Aztec dancer," shaking sonajas proclaiming, "Ay, traditions are heavy." A Viennese ambassador, played by her wife and collaborator of over twenty-five years, Argentine composer/pianist Liliana Felipe, delivers her headdress. Rodríguez secures the feathered artifact returned from the museum on her head, fixes her long braids, straps on her high heels, and, with a staunchly serious facial expression, attempts to re-enact a "traditional" danza Azteca. Except she fails miserably. She doesn't know how to do "it," the dance that she is supposed to know how to dance; there is a failure of what she relies on as embodied memory. Instead, employing the repertoire of a contemporary "Aztec dancer" born of the mother goddess, she prances around the stage with radiating conviction, attempting to execute modern dance phrases and falling while the crowd howls with laughter. As the "Aztec dancer" character, she centers Indigenous exteriority, but there is slippage in the embodied spiritual practice of the Indigenous subject. While reifying the signifying power of "Aztec dancer's" regalia and instruments, Rodríguez humorously rejects the specifics of the ritualized dance. The frivolity of the cabaret style allows Rodriguez to critique popular media images and tourist consumption of contemporary Indigenous performances.


Excerpted from Performing the US Latina & Latino Borderlands by Arturo J. Aldama, Chela Sandoval, Peter J. García. Copyright © 2012 Indiana University Press. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword \ Alicia Gaspar de Alba

Introduction: Toward a De-Colonial Performatics of the US Latina and Latino Borderlands \ Chela Sandoval, Arturo J. Aldama, and Peter J. García

ACTO 1. Performing Emancipation: Inner Work, Public Acts
1. Body as Codex-ized Word / Cuerpo Como Palabra (en-)Códice-ado: Chicana/Indígena and Mexican Transnational Performative Indigeneities \ Micaela Díaz-Sánchez
2. Milongueando Macha Homoerotics: Dancing the Tango, Torta Style (a Performative Testimonio) \ Maria Lugones
3. The Other Train That Derails Us: Performing Latina Anxiety Disorder in "The Night before Christmas" \ Angie Chabram-Dernersesian
4. The Art of Place: The Work of Diane Gamboa \ Karen Mary Davalos
5. Human Rights, Conditioned Choices, and Performance in Ana Castillo's Mixquihuala Letters \ Carl Gutiérrez-Jones
6. Decolonizing Gender Performativity: A Thesis for Emancipation in Early Chicana Feminist Thought (19691979) \ Daphne V. Taylor-García

ACTO 2. Ethnographies of Performance: The Río Grande and Beyond
7. Performing Indigeneity in a South Texas Community: Los Matachines de la Santa Cruz \ Norma E. Cantú
8. Re-Membering Chelo Silva: The Bolero in Chicana Perspective (Women's Bodies and Voices in Postrevolutionary Urbanization: The Bohemian, Urban, and Transnational) \ Yolanda Broyles-González
9. Roland Barthes, Mojado, in Brownface: Chisme-laced Snapshots Documenting the Preposterous and Fact-laced Claim That the Postmodern Was Born along the Borders of the Río Grande River \ William Anthony Nericcio
10. Decolonial Border Queers: Case Studies of Chicana/o Lesbians, Gay Men, and Transgender Folks in El Paso / Juárez \ Emma Pérez
11 "Te Amo, Te Amo, Te Amo": Lorenzo Antonio and Sparx Performing Nuevo México Music \ Peter J. García
12. Sonic Geographies and Anti-Border Musics: "We Didn't Cross the Border, the Borders Crossed Us" \ Roberto D. Hernández
13. Lila Downs's Borderless Performance: Transculturation and Musical Communication \ Brenda M. Romero

ACTO 3. Nepantla Aesthetics in the Trans/Nacional
14. El Macho: How the Women of Teatro Luna Became Men \ Paloma Martínez-Cruz and Liza Ann Acosta
15. Suturing Las Ramblas to East LA: Transnational Performances of Josefina López's Real Women Have Curves \ Tiffany Ana López
16. Loving Revolution: Same-Sex Marriage and Queer Resistance in Monica Palacios's Amor y Revolución \ Marivel T. Danielson
17. Is Ugly Betty a Real Woman? Representations of Chicana Femininity Inscribed as a Site of (Transformative) Difference \ Jennifer Esposito
18. Indian Icon, Gay Macho: Felipe Rose of Village People \ Gabriel S. Estrada

ACTO 4. (De)Criminalizing Bodies: Ironies of Performance
19. No Somos Criminales: Crossing Borders in Contemporary Latina and Latino Music \ Arturo J. Aldama
20. "Pelones y Matones": Chicano Cholos Perform for a Punitive Audience \ Victor M. Rios and Patrick Lopez-Aguado
21. Mexica Hip Hop: Male Expressive Culture \ Pancho McFarland
22. The Latino Comedy Project and Border Humor in Performance \ Jennifer Alvarez Dickinson
23. (Re)Examining the Latin Lover: Screening Chicano/Latino Sexualities \ Daniel Enrique Pérez
24. Rumba's Democratic Circle in the Age of Legal Simulacra \ Berta Jottar-Palenzuela

List of Contributors

Indiana University Press

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