Blog Salon #3 “Stuck with This” by Xandra Ibarra

on Dec 06 in Article, Blog Salon, Blogroll, Mapping by
Blog Salon #3 “Stuck with This” by Xandra Ibarra

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 Endurance is the ability to endure an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.  -Oxford Dictionary

Ten years in burlesque has provided me with an intimate knowledge of the political and emotional consequences of performing with/against the fictions structuring Mexican/Chicana female subjectivity. Burlesque is promoted as a primarily carnal art form associated with pleasure, sexual liberation and erotic agency. However I have found that the same representational power that prompts these responses (often from white audiences) is shaped and authorized by an erotic economy of white supremacy. For me, this dynamic of sexual empowerment leveraged by violent colonial constructs provokes a certain type of racial melancholia. That is, a melancholia that refuses substitution, that is stuck (Cheng, 2001). This melancholy is intensified by an incompatibility with and alienation from white audiences. I am stuck with them. I am stuck with an artificial me through their gaze. Hence the title of my current project: Fuck My Life, or FML, and the enduring theme of my life as a performer.

La Chica Boom in FML. Photo by Tony Perez

I work within spic-tacle, that is, I attempt to perform camp spectacles of Mexican/Mexican-American myths and narratives that render the colonial gaze laughable. I parody the audience’s artificial reality of me, return their gaze and exert a subversive comedy of superiority based on their Mexiphobia. My hyperracial sexual performance work or critical Mexi-minstrelsy is a practice of enduring the persistent and active call for exhibition. Whether I stand before an audience or walk down the street between white owned property, I am forever in a position to entertain with comedy, submission, racialized-sexual acts, and “hot-headed” bilingual rebuttals. I return the gaze, the expectation and exert a type of spichood that interrogates these modes of objectification. In essence, I make a spic of myself masterfully before they do. I reorganize Latina virgin/whore archetypes, fist piñatas, dance in giant Token costumes and infest stage and life with Cucaracha antics. Unfortunately, these political readings are lost or ignored by most and, as a result, my spic-tacles fail. FML.

The failures of spictatorship are varied. For white audiences, the hyperraciality of my work trumps the accompanied performance of hypersexuality/gender because, to them, the performance of race erases all signs of gender and sexuality. In fact, the performance of race exists in a vaccum to most of my audiences, separate from the state, separate from gender, sexuality, and themselves. I become something other, violently fragmented. FML. Another common failure is the inability for audience members to think more critically in their consumption of racialized sexual spectacles. While there is a particular type of public fascination with my work from white audiences, they nonetheless never accept that I am, in fact, performing, “I hate this, I hate you. I am stuck with THIS and YOU, and it’s your fault.” I can never escape being seen as Latina bombshell-clown-whore on stage (and life), so I endure by reorganizing hollow gendered Mexican iconographic symbols. I am making art about the way I am consumed, I make it a spic-tacle and then I give it back to you. I hope that the work will denaturalize, humiliate, and discipline the gaze. Unfortunately, the audiences for whom I perform digest none of this. FML.

Xandra crossing the border. Photo by Juliam Quiambao

Recognizing this, Fuck My Life calls upon the practice of endurance amidst consequences of queer failure. It illustrates an exertion that leads to failure in already fatigued state of performance, it asks that the audience to be accountable for my visceral feelings of hysteria and melancholy, it endeavors to make explicit the failure of my interracial relationship with the audience. However FML failed in many respects. FML.

After an 8-day run with a predominantly white audience in San Francisco, a well-meaning white woman asked me “Why do you keep doing this to yourself.” Another white burlesque performer commented, “I am so happy that you performed something that we all go through.” Another person said, “this show was an exaggeration, right. So it’s not real, you’re not really suffering like this.” Mexican’t audience members practiced their Spanish with me after every show and a couple of spictators even shed a white tear for my sorrow on my shoulder. But the show must go on. FML. I will go on, I have no choice. I will go on increasing my stamina so that I might endure now and invade the future.

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 Xandra Ibarra is an Oakland-based performance artist, ecdysiast and community organizer from the El Paso/Juarez border that performs under the alias of La Chica Boom. La Chica Boom is a neo-burlesque project that Xandra began in 2002 to performatively question sexual/racial representation, queer formations, and compulsory whiteness.

Current Projects:  Working through their respective performance-based trainings in burlesque and contemporary/modern dance, Xandra Ibarra and Hentyle Yapp collaborate in December’s YBCA ConVerge event.  Their collective approach questions how white womanhood structures their performance genres, and how, as racialized performers, they use parody to disarm and contend with whiteness, gender, institutions, history, and memory. Join us for an evening of racialized sexual spectacle, participatory twirling, and Isadora Duncan-inspired dance reconstruction! at YBCA Room for Big Ideas & Grand Lobby • FREE.  More info @ http://ybca.org/converge.   To learn more about Xandra visit her online at LaChicaBoom.com 

 

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3 Comments

  • Jai says:

    I want to talk more with you about parodying/subverting/tearing apart cultural symbols and signifiers. I’m wondering about your read of Gomez-Pena’s work, and if that matters. Also, yes, performing what the white gaze/audience sees, but flipping it over and shoving it in their faces, and how they continue to be oblivious. And what happens when indeed, our own audiences are predominantly white. I wonder about this because I am working on a project that is examining how the west’s/white people imagine Thailand and “Thai-ness” – so I am looking at Thailand and Thai culture through whiteness – and in effect, seeing less and less of that Thainess and more and more that whiteness. I have been writing a lot of texts and when I read them in front of white audiences, I wonder if they really understand that it’s something called “parody,” etc. And yes, the things white men come up to me and say after my readings/performances. And that yes, examining tourism and colonization in this way means that my audience really is white men. But that when I read the same pieces in front of audiences of color, and specifically Asian American audiences, there is a radically different energy, because they are understanding the absurdity of these things, and what I’m trying to do. Also, what it means to endure and continue in the face of white audiences saying fucked up things to us – and where, if ever, is there going to be a moment of transformation for them? Can we provide that as performers? When will we be satisfied, and is that the point?

  • Nina Haft says:

    This piece really stirs me up. I love how you write into and then ultimately from outside the gazes upon you. Hard to do. I also want to join the conversation here about parody and subverting cultural gestures. The experiences this calls to mind are of performing my solo “36 Jewish Gestures: for Joe with Love,” a direct lampoon of my Eastern European Jewish ancestors, my gender identity, and the ways my family has migrated into my movement. The most engaged responses I have received have been from 1) older Jewish people made uncomfortable because they think I am airing dirty laundry, or making fun of being a ‘griner’ (Yiddish for a recent immigrant) or for being anti-Semitic (because I challenge Zionism too); and 2) from a Palestinian colleague who I believe did not register the irony in my tone when talking about Israel (and the wanna-be-tough-Jew mentality that is pervasive in my culture) – and decided I was not to be trusted BECAUSE I must be Zionist. Not surprising. I have found that the rift about Zionist narratives is relevant to just about every person on the planet who has migrated. Sometimes folks just find me entertaining; like I am serving them The Sopranos and Seinfeld and In Treatment in a new form. Definitely not what I aim for, but it does usually get a conversation going about how do we know when we are communicating? Can we hope to do this when power is laced into every crevice of privilege? How does privilege blind me to the colonization of my ancestors? These are the questions that the conversation calls up for me….so far.

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