Synthesis of interchange – Ana Elena Puga, Edwin Corbin, Gad Guterman (facilitator)
*** A note on language: Since all of our papers are in English, we proceeded with our online conversation in that language.
We began to formulate questions that could effectively tie our different projects together. Of course, that means that we have more questions than answers at this point, something we hope will be useful for our conversation in Boston. I’ve tried here to arrange our thoughts around the two major themes proposed: territory and genre. At root, however, all three of us seem to be concerned with issues of efficacy: What does performance allow us to do? How does performance change participants, and, more specifically, how do certain types of performances structure the relationship between performer and spectator? Is there a meaningful difference between performances that are self-structured and performances that are structured for someone? In the end, then, we are endeavoring to explore how questions of territory and genre affect the potential of performance and of performers to accomplish change and how, in turn, agents and their performances can alter territories and genres.
• How does performance affect the range of territorial categories described by Giménez? Certainly, performances participate in the creation and dissemination of symbols that complicate physical deterritorialization and that blur the boundaries among the various escalas. However, the specificity of physical location is crucial to our understanding of migration, especially as the journey is not always marked simply by two poles—“home” and destination. For example, many Central American migrants are often stalled in mid-journey and are so de-territorialized. Their bodies, particularly if they are injured, as Ana Elena describes, are somewhere in between where they started from and where they wanted to get. Far from sending remittances, any communication with their home country has become tenuous. Likewise, for many who leave Mexico, neighborhoods in the US might provide a symbolic, if not also physical, substitute for home. But, as I explore, often these locations exist simultaneously as spaces of existence and of non-existence. So, the very idea of escalas becomes problematized. Performances of family, of friendship, of religion, of neighborhood—which are not subjected to legal constraints to the same degree as others—might not easily coincide with performances of employment, citizenship, politics, etc. Inevitably, deterritorialization does seem potentially to erode the neat categories which Giménez proposes.
• As Giménez reminds us, the territorial level of the nation-state is defined through law, but at all levels we can detect the force of legal thinking in shaping territories and landscapes. I am interested in legal consciousness as a phenomenon that participates in the shaping of identity often by marking a sense of belonging—or not—to a territory. So, how does legal categorization alter our participation in the various territories to which we do and do not belong? What kinds of shifts occur when the same figure (i.e. Superbarrio) travels from one legal context to another? Again, a shift from one casa-habitación or from one neighborhood to another might mitigate the effects of shifting from one nation-state to another. But, when a shift takes agents from one legal context into a new one, local performances necessarily change.
• If law operates to define and specify territorial categories, what can we make of physical spaces that trouble such categorization in the first place? For example, how do shelters fit into geography? One fact that brings issues of territory and law together is how often the shelter, particularly if it is also a church, or a church-run space, is granted a kind of temporary exemption from the law. Does that mean that performances in such a space lead to different results or allow for a different kind of agency? Do instances of relajo or of protest crack open spaces for, not illegal, but extralegal performance?
• How does genre both dictate and free available performance techniques?
• How do cultural genres affect legal thinking and the complex process of identity formation? As we become "legal" and "illegal," "documented" and "undocumented," "legitimate" and "illegitimate," are we also being squeezed into narrative categories? Here, we must contend with questions of whether legality precedes narrative. Certainly, melodrama seems to posit a world in which right and wrong—perhaps legal and illegal—exist beyond the narrative. However, we must also admit that oftentimes narrative precedes the law, that narrative forms certainly seem to influence the language of legal decisions and the structure of legal proceedings. This is the contention of law professors Anthony Amsterdam and Jerome Bruner in Minding the Law (2000). In other words, legal thinking and legal categorization function only in relationship to established cultural patterns and narrative structures. Ana Elena urges us to expand our thinking beyond a narrow cause-and-effect relationship—in either direction—and to explore a variety of intersections in which neither legal nor narrative categories are prior to one another. Amsterdam and Bruner write that law begins after narrative (283), but as I have argued elsewhere, we should consider that law comes, neither before nor after, but through narrative, just like narrative must exist through law. The categories with which we label migration thus are constantly created, re-created, and challenged through performance. Likewise, genres, and categorization more generally, can be challenged and perhaps changed through performance.
• Does it make any difference whether someone casts him/herself as a hero in a melodrama or whether someone else “stages” him/her in that role? Does self-casting necessarily lead to more agency? What is the difference between someone who declares himself an “illegal” as part of a protest (whether or not s/he actually is) and someone who is cast in the role of “illegal immigrant,” either in a play or by the federal government? Certainly, the ability to perform is not entirely contingent on legal existence, but we must consider how legal existence affords certain types of performances or how illegal existence must be circumvented in order to participate in these. Are there ethical problems when a member of a dominant group plays a member of a subordinate group? When the figure of the “illegal alien” is used—particularly in well-established generic roles—for the consumption of “legal” audiences? I offered “wetback-face” as a (still very much underdeveloped) theoretical model precisely to keep such questions in play. Ana Elena rightly asks us to reflect on genre as a tool or weapon with which we can cast ourselves but also cast others in provocative ways. What type of relationships does such casting create with an audience? This question of self-casting versus being cast by others is relevant to Edwin’s work on Superbarrio and the comparison between the Mexico performance artist/activist Superbarrio and the US Superbarrio as a character in a play. To pick up on the issue of efficacy: Is Superbarrio the character in the DC play as efficacious as Superbarrio the DF activist? This brings us to more pointed questions about genre: how do we limit efficacy and agency when we root our performances/characters in particular genres (i.e., superhero genre or lucha-libre genre in Superbarrio’s case, melodrama in Enrique’s Journey or in Ningún lugar en la frontera)?