Transgenero Performance: Gender and Transformation in Fronteras Desviadas/Deviant Borders

Parallel to the journey of the women, Andrea Assaf wrote the character of “El Chamuco” from found text on the internet, as an examination of the male gaze, and popular US perceptions of Tijuana women. As Octavio Paz describes in El laberinto de la soledad, “Americans have not looked for a México in México; they have looked for their obsessions, enthusiasms, phobias, hopes, interests—and these are what they have found.”20 Based on research into actual English language websites promoting sexual tourism to Tijuana, Assaf created the fictional site “” and its virtual-turned-flesh tour guide, Hank Screwell III, a.k.a. “El Chamuco” (which is Mexican slang for the devil). This character is not a pimp himself, but claims to be a self-made millionaire who capitalizes on the commercial sex industry via the web, and markets his services to English-speaking tourists. In globalization’s commercial arena of intersecting webs, both geographic (such as human trafficking rings) and virtual, identities are continually reinvented in order to escape accountability, while male desire and illegal consumption are normalized. As Chandra Talpade Mohanty points out in Feminism Without Borders:

In each of these webs, racialized ideologies of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality play a role in constructing the legitimate consumer, worker, and manager. Meanwhile, the psychic and social disenfranchisement and impoverishment of women continues. Women’s bodies and labor are used to consolidate global dreams, desires, and ideologies of success and the good life in unprecedented ways.21

The objective of juxtaposing El Chamuco with the women’s voices was to establish a discourse of the double realities of the border, and to implicate US responsibility in the conditions and exploitation of women in this region.


Figure 2., Raquel Almazan performs “El Chamuco” while the two women dancers are played by Maria Vale and Dora Arreola. New WORLD Theatre’s Summer Play Lab., Amherst College, 2005. Photo by Ed Cohen.
Figure 2., Raquel Almazan performs “El Chamuco” while the two women dancers are played by Maria Vale and Dora Arreola. New WORLD Theatre’s Summer Play Lab., Amherst College, 2005. Photo by Ed Cohen.

El Chamuco was the final element to be integrated into the sequence of scenes, creating a narrative bridge, and at the same time, a rupture—a continual interruption of the women’s journey. He conducts the audience, his “clients,” on a trip through the Zona Norte, creating, apparently, a double spectacle: two different “shows” simultaneously, with two different relationships to time and space—one the passage of a life cycle, the other a passage from night to day. Dialogue does not exist in the conventional sense; there is no one defined relationship between the women characters, but many relationships that are constantly changing (as in dance). In the beginning of the play, their encounters are not by choice, only coincidences that propel them forward. One initiates, or prepares the way for the other to advance, or they pass each other. Chamuco’s actions, in moments, coincide with actions in the women’s structure, without a direct relationship to the characters. In other moments, an encounter occurs, which startles them. Alternating between these two “worlds” brought us to an aesthetic of syncretism and juxtaposition, a collision of diverse cultural elements and political realities.

In the mise-en-scene, we utilized various icons of Mexican and American cultures: a disco ball, the National Hymn of México, America the Beautiful sung by Elvis Presley, Disney’s It’s a Small World, a Mexican Quinceañera waltz, the traditional Wedding March, and signs used in Catholic ceremonies. With Chamuco, US icons emerge, through characterization and costume choices: a rock star, a corporate executive, a televangelist, a mafioso. An immobile, unchanging set of pink-sequined curtains (as one might find in a strip club or drag bar) transports us to various spaces. Objects in the performance are used in multiple ways to create different contexts—a kind of over-use or recycling that suggests a maximum economy in sharp contrast to the excess of production in maquiladora zones that renders human bodies disposable, just as the sex industry renders women’s bodies, and body parts, disposable.

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