La Melancolia de la Jaula (The Melancholy of the Cage)
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La Melancolía de la Jaula (The Melancholy of the Cage)

1. The Sky Below

In re-viewing contemporary perspectives on art and performance, I notice the particular influence that Latin American and Latino/Chicano cultural productions have had on my work and my thinking. Mostly through personal contact, and the transcultural contexts in which I perform, I am learning to explore a dialogue across borders and in more than one language. The learning process is slow, and I cannot claim the competence with which Coco Fusco, Gerardo Mosquera, Diana Taylor, Juan Villegas and others have begun to redefine the terms of the postcolonial debates on cultures here and there, both “outside” and “inside” North America, and within the shared space of the cities in which we live. 1 But there is no question that we are living on these borders, thriving on the dynamics of diversity and the processes of our inevitable transformations.

The vitality and complexity of the relations among the performative cultures in América Latina, and between these cultures and their migrations to and presences in the North will be considered here in the context of local developments in Chicago and Havana which are symptomatic for their transnational and intercultural significance. First, I will describe Chicago’s Mexican Performing Arts Festival (April-May 1994), the first of its kind dedicated to a broad exploration of Mexican music, theatre, dance, and performance art from both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. I will add a few comments on the Chicago Latino Film Festival and its extraordinary growth and visibility within the Latino and multicultural landscape of the city.

In the second part, I will contextualize the workshops held at the CONJUNTO 94 in Havana’s Casa de las Américas—a traditional meeting ground for gatherings of theatre artists and critics from all over Central and South America. CONJUNTO 94 took place during the last week of May and overlapped with the fifth Havana Bienal which, even more so than the Sao Paulo Bienal, is an exhibition self-consciously committed to the global exchange and communication among the contemporary visual arts of the tercer mundo. Some very interesting parallels emerged between the energies and concerns of many of the younger visual artists in the Bienal and the Cuban performances shown during the CONJUNTO 94. These [End Page 103] parallels and confluences illuminate the contemporary conceptualization of cultural and political expression. Interwoven with these observations are my personal reflections on the new Cuban film, Fresa y chocolate (Strawberry and Chocolate), and my memories of the new queer expressions on the island.

2. Del Corazón

The Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, founded in 1982 and located in the Pilsen barrio southwest of downtown Chicago, has gained a reputation for its innovative exhibition programs. Now considered one of the most important museums in the U.S. dedicated to Mexican culture, it plays the role of agent provocateur in Chicago not only by taking an explicit stand in serving its community but also in interpreting the culture of a bilingual community and its relations to the multiethnic urban population. Over the past few years, the Museum has also co-sponsored exhibitions and live performances at other locales, both mainstream and alternative, and it was a logical step to involve other venues in the presentation of over two dozen performances, workshops, and lectures during del Corazón. The title for the first Mexican Performing Arts Festival means “from the heart”—an obvious iconographic reference to a powerful symbol in Mexican culture (the festival’s publicity design displayed the blood-red heart with a knife stuck inside), but also to Aztlán, the imagined community of Mexicans in the heartland of the U.S. If the mythic concept of Aztlán served as a symbol for the defiant ethnic self-assertions of la raza in the early Chicano movement, today’s economic and social reality has supplanted the myth. Without its more than 500,000 Mexican/Mexican-American citizens, Chicago would clearly be dysfunctional. The Latino cultural presence in the city makes itself felt in so many diverse and dynamic ways that it would be a melancholy mistake...