Comps Reading 4: Latina Performance

Arrizon, Alicia. Latina Performance: Traversing the Stage. “Self-representation: Race, Ethinicity and Queer Identity.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999. Print. 132-164. 

In this final chapter of Alicia Arrizon’s Latina Performance, the author explores lesbian Latina performance, as it intersects with queerness and the performance of self. Here, she offers the case studies of performers Monica Palacio and Carmelita Tropicano. Her goal is not to compare and/or contrast, or even to put lesbianism up against queerness. Rather, “[she] use[s] the notion of queer identity, i.e. the conscious recognition of oneself as “different” and the deliberate rejection of a heterosexist world view, to refer specifically to lesbian sexuality” (133). Continuing, she is interested in how queerness and lesbianism might come together as categories or theories, rather than entities that cannot coexist; “I want to emphasize the way lesbian identity is infused with the sense of queerness, rather than constructing queer as a category that replaces lesbian identity” (133).  As such, Arrizon’s is a unique argument, one that seeks inclusivity and harmony in queer and lesbian politics, while still maintaining a focused argument and object of study: lesbian latina performers. “By claiming the integrity of the lesbian body, I am not necessarily supporting essentialist definitions; instead I want to distinguish one of the “bodies” implicit in queer politics” (133). 

Arrizon first discusses the work of Latina 'Lezbo' Comic Monica Palacio. Here, she brings concepts on the coming-out narrative in concert with queer ‘performativity.” Coming-out narratives have a particular power for the Latina performer: “For Latin lesbians the performing (or narrative) aspects of coming-out acts balance their sexualized bodies with other important categories, such as race and ethnicity, providing the opportunity to democratically mark the evolution of the gendered subject” (139). As such, with Palacio, in her “coming out” as a “latina lezbo comic” performs lesbian in a way that demystifies it. Through it's geneology, or "the evolution of the gendered subject;" the coming-out narrative allows an honest performance of the lesbian self. In performing lesbian, Palacio provides “a body that produces an uncanny effect while inspiring it as performance” (146). Herein lies power; in social commentary, in satire, in general patriarchy smashing.

 Carmelita Tropicano

Carmelita Tropicano

Arrizon then discusses Carmelita Tropicano, delving into her camp aesthetic, her multiple identities as well as her performance of stereotypes. “Her extravagant massacred and its many transformations contract and deconstruct both Anglo and Lantino stereotypes of femininity and masculinity” (158). As such, in performing stereotype as campy identities, Tropicana performs the very thing she deconstructs, offering “critiques of homogenity” (158). As such, she highlights the “sardonic powers of transgressive imagination” (163). 

Ultimately, Arrizon looks at these two performers as exemplar in performing self-representation as lesbian Latinas. “Queerness,” she reminds us, is “an attitude, a way of reading against homogeneity and dominant discourses” (163). In looking at the different way these artists use queerness, Arizona highlights the importance of “laying claim to an identity that is simultaneously ethnic, and sexual subversive and strong’ (164). It is the lived experience as queer women of colour— their self-representation— that is the most applicable to queer theory. “Their work demonstrates, as [Sue-Ellen] Case reminds us, is how significantly the development of a theoretical notion of queer has been shaped by a process of self-representation” (163). In this “commitment to perform our lived experience as Latina lesbians,” there is a commitment to queer identity politics and performativity within the politics of visibility. The personal is political.