Misc. Thoughts on "Writing" on "Mexican Identity" as a "Mexican" "Playwright," ajúa, etc.
On BARDO, the many -isms in Latinidad, and what I'm looking forward to in the new year.
The past month or two have been surreal. Not in the good way, the way it has been this year whenever I was bopping around the country. That was a time of reuniting with friends, making new ones, and finding myself to be a completely different person in familiar places, from Al & Bea’s in Boyle Heights to the BPL in Copley Square.
No, the past couple of months have been grueling in a different way, with the change in daylight sending my OCD and #depression into overdrive. I don’t sleep all the way through a night anymore… well, again. It takes longer to do things that I like nowadays. My Letterboxd account is in shambles. I keep falling into Internet rabbit holes. I get panic attacks before heading into Houston to hang out with people I know and like and care about. Even writing this newsletter is taking a million years because I keep getting wrapped up in my concern for the nonexistent barrier of entry for being “a real Mexican.”
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“Real Mexican.” What a fucking useless phrase, a contradiction in of itself. The way Latinidad and Mexicanidad are flattened because USAmericans are incapable of understanding the fucking nuances of what it is to be someone of Latin American descent in the U.S., and how a million and one different fragments of your being influence how you move through this country, and how it differs from when you are in Latin America. There’s a million ways of being Latine; all of them are correct and all of them are wrong. It’s a deeply ingratiating conversation to have with non-Latine white people at this point, but a necessary one nonetheless.
This year, I’ve gotten the chance to do a bunch of theatre in Houston, with the majority of my collaborators being, thankfully, non-white Latine people. I could not have imagined doing this much theatre with people who just get what I’m trying to say right off the bat, even if we’re not from the same exact background. The unspoken is spoken, the nuances become sharp lines in the sand. It’s been a relief to talk to someone I have only known for a few minutes and be reassured that yes, they see what I see: the overt casting preference for white Latines here in Houston, the discomfort of theatre’s acknowledgement of any Latines that aren’t Mexican, and the deep-seated anti-Black, anti-Indigenous and anti-Asian sentiment that is unfortunately built into the project of Latinidad, therefore non-Latine’s mainstream understanding of Latinidad—along with the inability to have nuanced conversations around this because it feels that speaking up will single you out as anti-Latine yourself.
It feels like the past year and a half has been a battle to break into the Houston theatre scene, and once I had my foot in the door, it was a battle to get (mostly white) people to treat my works and my person as whole. It’s hard to do that when you feel like any admitted honesty will be cause for the other person’s defensiveness. (I think about holding back a joke about how, yes, it’s great that I know a second language for that MFA program’s application requirements. Isn’t it great that PBS taught me English?)
There’s so much gorgeous debate not on what Latinidad is, but rather what it could be, and it feels like people are more comfortable with the simple idea of, “Just teach me how to not be racist through a DEI training and we’re good to go.”
(If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend reading Rosaura Sánchez and Beatrice Pita’s “Theses on the Latino Bloc,” as well as checking out Alan Pelaez Lopez’s incredible work. These writings and more have been instrumental in untangling my personal definition of what it means to be a mixed-race/mestize Latine person, and what the weight of the identity means for me personally.)
It’s even harder when you feel like you have become the token Latine for a group, when at best you are the token Mexican. Token Mexican American, to be exact. Token USAmerican of Mexican descent; yes, I’m brown, but I’m not Indigenous, but Indigenous descent, y’know what I mean? And no, we don’t really celebrate Día de los Muertos, that’s more of a thing further down south in México. Yeah, you can say I’m Tamaulipeco, from the state; you can trace all of my family to a small town in the mountains, where the majority of them spawned into being in the census records in the middle of the 19th century, like from thin air, right?
But no, I’m not from the mountains, although my great-grandparents were mountain folks; by the time my father was born in a city on the border, where his family had relocated post-Revolution and his parents had disavowed any indigeneity, because no, can’t you see, can’t you see that their lineage is actually from Monterrey? Can’t you see that one of their six kids actually has green eyes? Meanwhile, my mother was born a few miles northeast, on the other side of this river, a river we can’t even visit nowadays because of the guns and all, she was born to a mother whose father had beat any acknowledgement of indigeneity out of her mother, because that’s how that side of the family is. My mother doesn’t know who her father was, so, no, I don’t know “what else” there is to me.
But I’m not technically Mexican, although Spanish is my first language, and my skin is the stereotypical brown you see in the movies and the shows, but not the ones on Univision, where blond hair and blue eyes is more prevalent than a walk in any major U.S. metropolitan area, it feels like. I’m not Mexican because I was born on this side of the river, on this side of the border patrol checkpoint on 77, which used to be México, and did you know that we think that our great-great-grandparents lived in Texas before it was México, and before Texas was Texas? So, really, I’m more Mexican than USAmerican (because América is a continent, not a country), and I’m more Texan than USAmerican. And before that—I’m more from here than anywhere else.
But it doesn’t really matter because, if I were to die, I’d be buried in some cemetery in Houston and never get any visits from my extended family (even though my mother has made promise to never let her bury me, because parents should not be the ones to bury their children). And if my parents die first, which, y’know, is something to think about, because death is always around, and this last trip to México we were warned that she was making the rounds, so, be careful. And if my parents die first, I’ll have to figure out the paperwork to get their bodies back to where they call home, in that small ejido by the river, in a small cemetery where both sides of my family have been burying their dead since the early 1900s when the ejido was established.
And in this hypothetical situation that I definitely don’t stay up at night thinking about, I end up separated by a fucking river from the rest of my family either way, and I can’t even get my body turned into ashes to be spread because I may be the world’s worst Catholic, but Catholicism is so deeply engrained into my understanding of my family’s Mexicanidad that disavowing it all the way feels like cutting out a piece of myself out and spitting on it to boot. Because it doesn’t matter how many times I get called beaner or spic or what-have-you, USAmerican versus Mexican boils down to a piece of paper stating where you were born.
Last week, someone told me that I should keep writing because I have to. I’ve been learning to separate my compulsions from my needs, my intrusive thoughts from my wants, and I still don’t know where writing falls into that. Sometimes it feels like the only way out is through, and the only way to get through is to write all of this out. And I hate it!!!!!!!
Iñárritu gets it. BARDO, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths is probably the most borderline (ha) navel-gazey movie of the year. I loved every minute of it. It’s really, really unsubtle. Iñárritu has Juan Escutia yell '“¡VIVA MÉXICO, CABRONES!” before committing his famous suicide. Mejor muerto que estadounidense. “Oh, only Mexicans can turn disgraceful defeat into mythic victory.” It kinda fucking rocks! Yes, a homogeneous Mexican identity is nonexistent! Yes, being Latin/Latine/Latin American is a whole different beast when you’re in the U.S.! Yes, trying to make sense of it all is inherently self-centered, because you forget that ultimately all we have as Latines is each other! Yes, waiting to get through the TSA in airports is the worst fucking thing in the world!
“Pensábamos que somos de varios lados, pero, en realidad... no somos de ninguna parte.” Iñárritu is half-right, here. (I wonder if his self-insert read “Theses on the Latino Bloc.”) Worrying about not being enough, not being too much—it’s a waste of fucking time. All we have is each other, really. Those moments of connection, when someone pronounces a word exactly how you wrote; the laughs of dawning comprehension; even better, when someone asks “Where you from, where you really from?” but it’s not the hateful way, it’s the way of saying, “There’s more to you than the box you are checking off for our diversity quota purposes.”
Life is momentary. Senseless? Nah, even if it feels like it often. Latinidad and Mexicanidad are flattened here, and all we can do is try to burst through with more of our stories, more of our different facets and angles and paperwork and words that you will never exactly pronounce the same again after you’re harshly corrected by a native English speaker. Life is momentary, death is a constant presence; beginnings and endings captured only briefly—maybe that’s why I like theatre so much?
All I will have when my parents pass is a piece of land by a river we can’t touch down south. And when I really think about it, about how every year the visits to that place become more of a nightmare, more of an unreality that only hints to the hidden secrets that my family has stored for the past couple of centuries—when I really think about it, I don’t even have that piece of arid soil by the river in a country that is, legally, not mine to call home. And I just have to live with it.
We’re from everywhere and nowhere. We’re here one moment, and then we’re not. We’re here now, and that’s enough.
WHAT I’VE BEEN UP TO BESIDES THE USUAL MEXICAN EXISTENTIAL CRISES:
Earlier this month, I directed my short play Left Lung Punctured, Gored by Bullet for a ten-minute play festival produced by fellow Houston theatremakers Nicole Zimmerer and Christian Gill, and stage managed by Allison Viera. Julz Serrano and Karina Ithier, portrayed Andrés and Belinda respectively. I also directed Karina, Anjana R. Mason, and Lindsay Ehrhardt in Jelisa Jay Robinson’s choreopoem Morning Affirmations. They’re all very cool people and you should hire, collaborate, and learn more about all of them immediately. I’m lucky to know and work with them.
I’m the queer theatre we need now! Just kidding: my plays are only a small part of it. Deeply grateful to have been mentioned in this Howlround article by David Valdes. Please read this, learn more about, and produce the wonderful queer theatremakers mentioned in this fantastic article! Including me. :)
I went down to Matamoros this past weekend to visit family for Christmas. The setting for Left Lung Punctured, Gored by Bullet is inspired by the rest stop in Sarita, which is just a ways out from the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint on 77.
WHAT I WILL BE WORKING ON IN THE NEW YEAR:
The World Cup is over! I kinda wanted to cry when México got knocked out! Good for Argentina and France, though! So now that it’s over (until the Women’s World Cup next summer), here are some projects that I’m going to tentatively poke at until I can fall back into the rhythm of writing again.
Dan & Cynth Against the World – This has gone through a thousand title changes, but I think this one is good for now.
[REDACTED] – I can’t even type the title out; it’s too embarrassing. You’ll just have to imagine what it’s titled. Right now it’s a bunch of tiny scenes sitting in a Google Doc, but I’m envisioning this being a two-hander disguised as a solo show. It’ll also be the first piece that I write that explicitly deals with my experience with having OCD and depression since college. It’ll be fun!
(Side note: I re-read the zine/script I made for a final project a few years back in college earlier today. More proof that Latinidad is all about Feeling Bad!)
Untitled NaNoWriMo Novel – Totally blew this off last month! I got about 15k words in, though, and it’s definitely I want to keep working on, even if it’s not consistent. This one’s set in an alternate timeline where the RGV has seceded from both the U.S. and México à la Republic of the Rio Grande. There are librarians as the linchpins of society. It also asks the brave question: What if Anton Chigurh was Mexican, hot(ter), and gay(er)?
This is usually the part where I list what I’ve recently read, watched, or listened to recently, but I’m gonna switch things up for the end of the year. Here’s some stuff I’m looking forward to reading, watching, and listening to in the new year.
The three Clarice Lispector books I drunkenly bought in Jamaica Plain in October: Água Viva, The Passion According to G.H., and The Hour of the Star. Seriously, whoever thought up the idea of combining a tapas/wine place with a bookstore is either a genius or my biggest enemy.
Everything on my StoryGraph to-read list, but especially the books that people I love have recommended to me. These include: Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou, Severance by Ling Ma, We Play Ourselves by Jen Silverman (which I actually didn’t really like upon my first read but I want to try to finish it).
A bunch of articles, interviews, and essays living in my Notion reading list. I love a spreadsheet.
This isn’t actually coming out until 2024, but I am ready to take on the honorific of the world’s #1 Lee Isaac Chung’s TWISTERS fan. Sequel fatigue is OVERRRRR. I was born for this!
Crossword puzzles. It doesn’t fall into the reading, watching, or listening to categories but I don’t really care. I got the A24 99 Movie Crossword Puzzle book for Christmas. 2023 will be the year of me doing crossword puzzles. Don’t call, don’t text, I will be poring over crossword puzzles. Or do call, do text, I will bring my crossword puzzles to the Zoom/carne asada/etc. and I will make you help me with them.
I hope these last days of this arbitrarily delineated year bring you much joy, peace, and whatever else you need right now. I’ll be rewatching three-hour movies, trying and failing to finish my 2022 reading challenge, and finally filling out the journal I bought in Edinburgh three years ago. Take care, stay safe, and see you in the new year.
Ahí te veo,
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