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

I believed it was important for us not to engage in “missionary art” or anthropological study, but rather to create a means of genuine collaboration with other women of color. “Missionary art” enters with the idea of wanting to “save” communities, a fundamentally paternalistic approach; while “anthropological” art positions the artist as a falsely objective observer or “expert,” and usually creates a situation of appropriation. As facilitators, instead, we were full participants in the creative process, opening spaces by sharing our own experiences and stories of violence. We were collaborating with other women in order to journey back into our own histories and reveal the complexity of multiple oppressions together. For example, I was born in a marginalized community, and grew up in poverty. My family migrated to the border region when I was very young, and lived for many years in a precarious position. When I was only thirteen years old, I tried to get a job in a maquiladora, because it was the only way I knew to get money, but I was not able to sustain the work. I then worked in a restaurant in the Zona Norte, as a waitress and dishwasher, until I was fifteen. Assaf came from a history of domestic violence, and was exploring her voice as an Arab American artist in the post-9/11 climate, in which mobility and border crossing had dramatically changed. We were not there to speak for others, but to work together to tell a collective story.

Mohanty discusses the ways in which scholars such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Norma Alarcon, Honor Ford-Smith, and Doris Sommer have challenged liberal humanist notions of subjectivity:

In different ways, their analyses foreground questions of memory, experience, knowledge, history, consciousness, and agency in the creation of narratives of the (collective) self. They suggest a conceptualization of agency that is multiple and often contradictory but always anchored in the history of specific struggles. It is a notion of agency that works not through the logic of identification, but through the logic of opposition.32

This notion of the logic of opposition emerged as an implicit organizing principle in the aesthetic of our work, and in the collaboration process for creating Fronteras Desviadas. This meant we had to confront the complex power dynamics in our own relationships—our own internalized racism, Euro/US-centrism, classism, and fears about sexual violence. We had to be willing to implicate each other and ourselves in the expression of what we found. While the writers Mohanty mentions may emphasize the multiple subject (and an ethic of multiplicity is certainly present in our aesthetic), our experience of the environments we were investigating, and of ourselves as women in those environments, was perhaps more aligned with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s conception of the fractured subject. The journey of creating the play was, for us, a journey of acknowledging, re-membering, and perhaps healing those fractures, within ourselves and within the group. Working from a post-colonial and feminist perspective, the creative process strengthens our capacity for connection, for building relationships across the perceived borders of class, race, national, and sexual identity. “We should not think,” as Butler cautions, “that this transit is smooth, since it takes place via a rupture in representation itself . . . what emerges from this translation, however, is a political vision that maintains . . . the possibilities of long-term global survival.”33

Audiences & Impact: Deviant Becomings
After premiering with a tour to four cities in Baja California, the first English-dominant version of Fronteras Desviadas/Deviant Borders was presented in Amherst, Massachusetts by New WORLD Theater (Summer Play Lab 2005). Comparative literature scholar Kanchuka Dharmasiri wrote a review that highlighted the question of cultural translation. Noting that the concept of “the other side” is relative to where one stands, she wrote:

Some of [the women’s] culturally specific gestures remained incomprehensible to audience members who were not familiar with Mexican rituals . . . [H]ow can a director make the audience comprehend culturally specific signs in live theatre? How does a play based on a particular socio-cultural milieu translate to a different context? . . . Or, does this space (which is not immediately decipherable) become a necessity in a process that is intent on creating awareness of a different cultural and socio-political condition?34

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message