In 2004, there were more than 8,000 registered sex workers in the Zona Norte alone (an area of about four square city blocks), and likely hundreds more who were not registered. Today, the bars and prostíbulos of the Zona Norte are owned by Mexican, American and multi-national owners, as are the maquiladoras. Empirical research was equally important to our process, which included site visits to the Zona Norte13 to observe the dynamics of gender exploitation, particularly with US tourists filling the bars and alleys. This history, along with its contemporary reality and the ways in which it implicates the United States, had to inform our work.
Our creative explorations began with a series of community-based workshops with women on both sides of the border, a process that ultimately generated text for the performance. Andrea Assaf brought a writing process to the workshops rooted in methodologies from the US community-based arts movement; I brought improvisations, movement composition, and physical vocabulary techniques that Mujeres en Ritual had developed through the years. The workshops alternated writing or storytelling exercises (depending on the literacy level of the participants), with movement and dialogue. This interweaving of approaches led us to design a means of shared facilitation and methodologies for community collaboration.
We replicated this process in three very different locations. A group of women artists in Tijuana, including Mujeres en Ritual company members and independent artists, met in studios and cafes to explore our three central prompts: Soy mujer cuando . . . /When do I experience myself as “woman”? What is deviance? and What is on “the other side”?14 Next, we worked with a community in crisis, named after activist leader Maclovio Rojas:
Maclovio Rojas is a community of maquiladora workers halfway between Tijuana & Tecate, México. As part of the NAFTA process, the Mexican constitution was modified and poor families began to be forced from their ejido lands. A few defiant communities, including Maclovio Rojas, resisted. Maclovio happens to now sit on prime industrial real estate, sandwiched between maquiladoras who very much want their land. The Mexican state has [made] many attempts to evict them.15
There, we held a Story Circle16 in La Casa de la Mujer (the women’s center) focused on the question, “Soy Mujer Cuando?” The third group was in San Ysidro, California, just across the US border. At a community development agency, Casa Familiar, we worked with a “Parenting Class” for convicted parents whose children had been taken away by the state (all Mexican or Latina mothers, except for one Mexican father who was there with his wife). With this group, we explored the notion of “deviance,” particularly from cultural and state norms in the context of the criminalization of recent immigrants.