Representing Ourselves: Latina Identity in Performance
Eugenia Albina '03
Veronica Savory '04
Being Latina, but not fitting into "typical" notions of Latinidad, Eugenia and Veronica wished to explore their identities through a combination of performance, dance, song, slide presentation and costume. They workshopped their performance piece and wrote their original scripts in a collaborative process, and which they describe in the following excerpts from their final papers.
Eugenia: By using various forms of media, including live performance, recorded voice, movement, spoken text and
PowerPoint, I hoped to draw the audience's attention to the variety within the performance world, the Latina/o culture,
the human race. I wanted to keep the audience's attention by switching things up; ideally keeping them engaged and thinking
"What is she going to do next?" Mostly, I liked the inspiration to explore new modes and methods and defy what "performance"
Veronica: Fortunately, I believe our society has changed enough so that issues like latinidad, femininity, racism and the like can be discussed openly and honestly. I further believe that it is important that art, in the form of spoken word, dance, and song, theater, and studio type art continue to be used to express ideas. They have the ability to make that real human-to-human contact, to move us all, and help us recognize the humanity that connects us all. People of color have a great duty to themselves and humanity to put their art work out there and let their voices be heard, to express their grievances and celebrations openly and honestly, and audiences have the duty to do the same. I believe humanity to be about connection, no more, no less. All other things stem from this.
Veronica: The spoken word started off with a lot of talking. We talked for hours on end, sometimes directly about our culture, other times not, and sometimes we talked the night through. Then we sat, pen, pencil, and paper in hand, and just frantically wrote out passages, blurbs, random thoughts, and words of wisdom, on any scrap of paper. Most of the writing took place in food court on a Monday night at 11 o'clock, buzzed after two hours of dancing, frozen yogurt Sunday and tea. Over the weeks that followed we tried to piece together our random acts of brilliance into a coherent presentation that originally lasted 40 minutes, reduced to 20.
Eugenia: My text changed a lot over time. I revisited, re-edited and reworked it almost every day. As class proceeded, and we discussed more issues of representation, cultural expectations and how these notions can be challenged through media, I found myself fiddling with my text. I wanted to include more things and in the end had to cut back a lot. During the creative process, I allowed myself to generate text; angry text, joyful text, confused text, and then I put my words on a diet and created my script (which I was still editing the day of the show). The creative process was one of self-exploration, building collaborative skills and seeing a term's worth of work realized through a creative outlet that I could share with a larger audience than my professor and myself.
Eugenia: We generated a fair amount of text while sitting together, not talking but rather occasionally sharing what we had come up with and inspiring one another to write more. I was freed by working collaboratively. I felt comfortable that Veronica would give me sound critiques, that she would be willing to try, be accepting of my artistic notions, and that she would provide input when I was dried out.
Veronica: Eugenia and I thought it was rather interesting that upon meeting each other I thought she was a white girl and she thought I was a black girl. Little did we know we shared the same cultural background. We were both Latinas.
I don't think this project would have evolved at all if it weren't for a strong collaborative effort between Eugenia and I. Without collaboration this project would have been a one-sided rant about what being a Latina meant to me. It needed to be juxtaposed with another honest expression of someone else's cultural experience. Consequently, this project involved a lot of sharing of ideas, writing, movement, and song because that is how Eugenia and I felt the most comfortable expressing ourselves. It was the only way to really get everything out.
Veronica: Despite the fact that I am a filmmaker, I believe things like the Internet and films dabble too far too much in fantasy, making people forget what they can feel and touch, and causing them to retreat within themselves. If racism and bigotry are ever to be eliminated, these concepts must be made real, tangible, tasted, heard, seen and smelt, acknowledged by all the five senses, and changed.
Eugenia: From working on the final project, I have relearned the fact that I love to perform. I see that within performance, there is room for entertainment, edification and activism. From the pure bliss which was the final project, I learned how to push my imagination, take creative risks, make political theatre, and trust that my message is worth communicating even if it only effects one person in the audience.
After the performance an audience member approached me to tell me that my piece had really effected her. She told me that it caused her to think about appearances, race and her own issues around identity. She kept telling me how much it had made her think, how much it meant to her. That is the significance of my final project. Through my creativity, collaboration, reflection and intellectual analysis, I was able to communicate to someone and make her think in a new way.
Eugenia:Personally, this final project reinforced the importance of performance as a vehicle for education. Most vitally, this project proved to me that there is a point to all this studying. When it can culminate in something which positively effects a wider audience than those taking or teaching the class, education becomes knowledge and knowledge is power.
In the case of a final project, students are at last told to think outside the usual academic parameters and challenge themselves to find modes of expression beyond writing. Most importantly, this final project gave us a chance to see and hear our messages being transmitted. We were true student activists that night. We were voicing new ideas through new media and seeing it effect people directly.
Veronica: Through this project I learned that my experience of my culture is okay and it is acceptable on my terms because it is my experience, my terms, and it is what has made me into who I am. It also increased my ability to learn from and appreciate the cultural experiences of others and not place judgment on the authenticity of their experience and to pass this knowledge onto others. This is why I believe it is my duty as an artist to voice these opinions and thoughts to get others to think differently, not necessarily think as I do, but expand their horizons, perspectives, and opinions.