Sunday, May 2, 2010

"performing mexicanidad"

for such a long time i had planned on titling my book "unsettling comforts." but one's particular likes and wants don't always match-up with the likes and wants of those in charge of the actual book's publication. so, after many-a-month hiatus, i come out of the woodwork to announce the birth of my first book-length publication: performing mexicanidad: vendidas y cabareteras on the transnational stage. by the way, i actually like the title that was used for the publication, specially the subtitle...vendidas y cabareteras has a nice ring in my ears! i want to thank everyone that made this book's birth possible--it's been a long time gestating--specially the fierce female artists whose work inspired the writing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

"te adoramos maría": mexico's 'playboy'...oh boy!!

as millions of guadalupanos, or devotees of the virgen de guadalupe, prepared to venerate her on her day, playboy magazine was also preparing its december issue that was 'graced' (pun well intended) with the model maría florencia onori on the cover. this maría posed as THAT maría and caused some...well, discomfort, much of what one of my forthcoming book's chapters deals with, representations that conflate sexuality and religion. in addition to the coincidence exploited by playboy executives and creative teams--december is a month for mexicans that is about december 12 (the day in which the virgen de guadalupe is honored) and december 24 (well, you know, the birth of baby jesus, that gave birth while still a virgin)--raul sayrols, publisher of playboy mexico, attempts to explain yet another one: "the image is not and never was intended to portray the virgin of guadalupe or any other religious figure. the intent was to reflect a renaissance-like mood on the cover." well, yes, i say...since then, playboy has apologized.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

tu futuro en libertad o el libro del sexo...¡gratuito!

i'd never set foot in the museo de historia natural, a natural history museum ensconced in the second sector of chapultepec park in mexico city, until one sunday afternoon earlier this month. i went there to attend a special event/performance for children/youth by jesusa rodríguez, which was to take place in the museum's sala del universo that, i should mention, has not changed at all since the museum opened in 1964, during the adolfo lópez mateos sexenio; its loveliness resides in its unintentional retro feel. as most, if not all of her performances, rodríguez's show, "el libro del sexo gratuito," used political satire to make a comment on the recently released book by mexico city mayor, marcelo ebrard, tu futuro en libertad: por una sexualidad y salud reproductiva con responsabilidad. this book, which has caused much controversy, was published by the government of mexico city and is to be or is being distributed to third year secundaria students, as well as those attending preparatoria (i.e. high school-aged youth). get yours free here or here:

in typical rodríguez fashion, the performance, even from its very title, offers up that witticism that has marked her political cabaret performances for over twenty years. that is, "el libro del sexo gratuito" can be read two ways, "the free book about sex" or "the book about gratuitous sex"...jejejejesusa! it's a one-woman show where rodríguez impersonates (i know, wrong word), i should say parodies elba ester gordillo; her character, elba estéril, stands in front of her class in the appropriately semi-lit room to (mis-)educate the children of mexico city about all things related to sexuality. here's a snippet, where, as you'll see/hear, rodríguez doesn't skip a beat and makes a comment regarding the much-discussed proposal ("reform") that would begin to privatize pemex.

[i apologize for the quality of the video, i have an old camera w/no lights, plus the room was very dark, something that rodríguez used to her advantage by saying that sex and discussions about sexuality in the mexican context are most often kept in the dark.]

p.s.a few weeks ago mexican journalist patricia vega published an essay in emeequis about the controversy of tu futuro en libertad that included an interview with guillermo bustamante manilla. in this interview the leader of the UNPF (unión nacional de padres de familia), a very conservative catholic right-wing organization, states that tu futuro en libertad basically promotes "a culture of death." what would jejejesusa say in regard to this? i'm sure she's integrated the controversy that came about after the book's release in her subsequent performances of "el libro del sexo gratuito."

p.s. #2 updated on sept. 3

i wonder if ms. palin reads spanish. probably not, huh? it may be worthwhile to translate tu futuro en libertad for her and her loved ones. or not, it may be too late; from indexed.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

in santa's chimalistac: a photoblog essay

i've often wondered if MYTH is an appropriate descriptor for santa, the fictional character that emerged in novelistic fashion from the mind and pen of federico gamboa. the novel, published in 1903 and considered the first bestseller in mexican literary history, has also 'inspired' one song* and four film adaptations, all of which also carry the title of santa, as the novel. but more importantly, santa is the mold by which the paradigmatic figure of the "noble prostitute," a fixture in mexico's cultural imaginary, was cast.

[fig 1. one of the most prevalent visual and aural images in mexico is of the female prostitute beneath a street lamp; see andrea palma's character in la mujer del puerto. this is my 'take' of santa under the 'farol'. in chimalistac, santa has a street named after her. click to enlarge this and all images included here.]

santa was engendered by gamboa from his memories of having lived in chimalistac, once a small sleepy town south of mexico city, but because of the mega-growth thing that happened around the middle of the twentieth century, now lies in the southern part of the megalopolis, adjacent to (or in the outer limits of) san ángel.

[fig 2. a shot of a tiled depiction in the paseo del río of what el río magdalena in chimalistac might have looked during santa's the river's dried up.]

i won't get into plot details, but suffice it to say that it was from chimalistac that santa was expelled by her family after a soldier, who had 'dishonored' her, also shun her (or refused to marry her). santa then traveled to mexico's capital city where her only "option" to make a living was to become a prostitute.

[fig 3. one of the bridges that went over the now dried-up river magdalena, where santa was dishonored by the soldier. can you see the couple making out? things never change.]

because of santa's literary success--blows the mind in a country that was mostly illiterate then!--gamboa was not only honored with a street named after him, but also got his own plaza in chimalistac, around the parish of san sebastián.

[fig 4. cross streets by the plaza federico gamboa.]

of the four film adaptations, the most famous and best regarded is the 1932 version directed by antonio moreno and starring lupita tovar as santa. the grandmother of those boys that brought you american pie, but that's another story. as i was saying: moreno's version also holds the honor of being the first talkie in mexican film history...hearing santa speak in melodramatic tone probably added more than one brick in the construction project to build this 20th century myth.

[fig 5. the plaque that gamboa read to tovar when they met, before the filming of moreno's version of santa.]

tovar herself traveled to mexico--she had already immigrated to hollywood and was working in the relatively short-lived spanish language film industry there--to meet with gamboa in the very plaza that carries the writer's name. and even went to meet the woman that inspired the character santa, emeteria, who was in her 70's by then. for more on this meeting go here. and to hear a relatively recent interview with tovar click here.**

[fig 6. the iconic franciscan cross that stands in the plaza a few feet in front of the very quaint parroquia de san sebastián where my favorite scene of the 1932 version was shot.]

* a few verses of the agustín lara composition inspired by santa.

Santa, santa mía
mujer que brilla
en mi existencia
Santa, sé mi guía
en el triste calvario del vivir.

Aparta de mi senda
todas las espinas;
calienta con tus besos
mi desilusión.
Santa, sé mi guía
alumbra con tu luz
mi corazón.

**picture of lupita tovar, "mexico's sultry screen 'sweetheart'" at 97 holding an original santa film poster (photo by stephen shugerman)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

thinking of the diva of neomexicanismo

my first full day in mexico city and i was fully blown away by a great exhibit. i walked to mexico city's centro histórico and tucked behind el templo mayor is el antiguo colegio de san idelfonso, a colonial building of learning since the 16th c, until it was converted to a museum. there i saw two exhibits, both great, but i focus on the second, entitled pensando en ti, a retrospective of julio galán's paintings, almost two years since his untimely death. mexico city is pensando en ti's second stop, as one blogger noted, last year it opened in monterrey, where galán was partly raised.

walking through the retrospective was as if layers of fine gauze were being slowly lifted to reveal the sadomasochistically tormented soul of julio galán, whose paintings have been tagged, including by him, as excessively autobiographical. his paintings from the 1980's--part of the neo-mexicanism wave that began to gain notoriety due to ironic playfulness of mexican nationalist iconography--have been credited with the renovation of mexican art. below, "mientras me despierto" from 1985.

his extravagance, or his histrionics (both in the self-portraits or on camera) as raquel tibol labels his world, continued from the 1980s to the new millennium. the retrospective contains galán's work from 2001; beyond the painting being used for publicity, pensando en ti's last paintings reveal a galán more and more obsessed with his queer persona. el universal kinda agrees.

Friday, July 11, 2008

queering el taller mecánico, 'down argentine way'

"chica de calendario." i first heard this song by kumbia queers when somehow i stumbled on their myspace page, let's call it research. somehow these punkrockeras-turned-cumbiamberas are connected to me through those six degrees of queer separation. i donwloaded the song "chica de calendario" (oh and "la isla con chicas") to my ipod and have been listening to it (on and off) for a few months.

then i saw that the "chica de calendario" video was posted on youtube. i watched with similar delight as i had listened. fascinated by the way that this all-girl self-defined 'punk tropical' band had re-signified the hyper-masculine working class space of the mechanic shop, particularly its penchant for semi-nude calendar girls, and, oh yes, grease, lots of grease. and i laughed, of course, but always being conscious of these dykes's own level of consciousness. even their name's playing on the tejano kumbia kings group. have a look/listen:

this band of mostly former (and current) queer punk rockers is also, to my surprise, mostly made up of argentines (save one of the lead singers, whose mexican and sings in "chica de calendario"). but what throws me off is listening to the afore-mentioned "la isla con chicas," which sounds alot like "la isla bonita"...all the "yo's" become "sho's" and you hear "sheno" and "sha"...i confess, not used to argentine's digging cumbia, then i came across this podcast one day when i was cruising by the fine colectivo la tribu. which led me to this one; turns out that during the argentine 'dirty war' cumbia was used to ease the pain. so this is a post on re-thinking 'cumbia' and 'argentina.' so argentine cumbia has a bit more nuances than i was aware of...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

racial DIS-comforts

the afro-mexican historieta (or comic book, or simply, cómic) character memín pinguín runs for president and he pisses people off. in a texas walmart, no less. and the webs of signification begin to spin. [btw, the tome was actually published in mexico during the presidential elections there, remember 2006? but what's interesting is the context in which it's being "read" w/out translation or with bad translation (transnationalism, sigh!!)] in today's la jornada newspaper, the editorial director that publishes the comic, and son to Memín's creator Yolanda Vargas Dulché, said in a comuniqué:

“Es increíble que protesten contra Memín Pinguín, personaje que lucha contra la discriminación y que resalta la belleza espiritual por encima del aspecto físico, pero no dicen nada contra algunas de las películas de Eddie Murphy que se venden también en Wal-Mart y que, ésas sí, ridiculizan a los afroestadunidenses con personajes que se convierten en mujeres de más de 400 kilogramos de peso. Tenemos tres años de vender las historietas de Memín Pinguín en Estados Unidos y nunca habíamos tenido problemas. Pero, al parecer, algunos tienen sus motivos políticos y se empeñan en ver racismo donde no lo hay”.

read the full jornada story here.

p.s. the coverage in the u.s. press pretty much looks likes this guanabee post, but they have a video that's interesting.