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El derecho de re-hacer: Signifyin(g) Blackness in Contemporary Mexican Political Cabaret

From: Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies
Volume 16, 2012
pp. 163-176 | 10.1353/hcs.2012.0031

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This essay takes as its object of analysis contemporary political cabaret from the Mexican context, which has been thriving, more or less, thirty years now. Political cabaret can be described as a mélange of performance practices, from teatro de carpa and teatro de revista (two forms of popular theater in Mexico in the early part of the 20th C) to German style cabaret, and from Mexican classic films (or films from the so-called Golden Age period) to German expressionism. Although each artist, theater company, and collaborative team has its own particular style, contemporary Mexican political cabaret can be described as a multifarious strategy that deploys humor for political and social criticism; it usually mixes song and dance numbers with satirical sketches and is most performed in a theater-bar space (or cabaret). Whereas in the late 1980s there were a select number of performance artists associated with political cabaret—I am specifically referring to Jesusa Rodríguez, Liliana Felipe, Astrid Hadad, and Tito Vasconcelos, whom I would situate as the pioneering political cabaret performers, but equally important are Regina Orozco and Darío T. Pie—, by the beginning of the new millennium, political cabaret was flourishing in Mexico. A new generation of political cabaret artists was exploring the different possibilities that this ephemeral and stage strategy could offer, and the theater company Las Reinas Chulas is a prime example.

However, this essay does not necessarily provide a historical trajectory for Mexico City-based political cabaret in the last thirty years.1 Instead, in this essay, I examine the ways in which contemporary political cabaret uses black popular culture produced in Mexico, mostly via its national cultural industries: film, music, comics (or, in Spanish, historietas). If the Mexican cultural industries of the middle of the 20th c. were participating in the creation of stereotypes of black figures—the negrito (or jubilant dancing black man, which I discuss ahead) or the mulata, to name just two—this essay argues that those stereotypes can be accessed for different purposes and with varying degrees of interpretation. That is, here I open up the discussion regarding political cabaret’s use of Mexican black popular culture in the contemporary context, and the ways in which different publics make meaning of these re-appropriations, particularly if these publics occupy a transnational space of meaning-making. In the end, what this essay argues is that contemporary political cabaret’s use of Mexican-produced black popular culture can both be limiting—in its recycling of stereotypes—and productive, as it opens up a space for transnational dialogue among differently-situated scholars. In order to think through this tension created by contemporary political cabaret, often conceived and perceived as a progressive cultural practice, I use the annual meeting of the Tepoztlán Institute for the Transnational History of the Americas, in particular a performance that took place during the summer of 2006, to open up the discussion about the possibilities and limitations of not just political cabaret as a transnational practice but of critically engaged scholarship regarding racialized representations and appropriations.

Blackness, Meaning and Transnational Movement in Mexican Culture

The first part of my title—El derecho de re-hacer—is a play on words of the classic melodrama El derecho de nacer by Cuban writer Félix B. Caignet that has been told and re-told in different mediated forms since it was first broadcasted through the radio airwaves in 1948.2 In the first scene of the 1952 version, the film by Zacarías Gómez Urquiza, a mix-raced Doctor Alberto Limonta (Jorge Mistral) or Albertico—as his adopted mother, Mamá Dolores (Lupe Suárez) affectionately calls him—tells María Teresa (Bárbara Gil), a woman who has come seeking an abortion, that he cannot carry out the task that she is asking him to perform. In a moment of melodramatic over-identification with the fetus, Albertico tells María Teresa that he himself was once unwanted and would not be alive had Mamá Dolores carried out the grandfather’s wishes instead of raising him as hers:

Yo también, Teresa . . . no querían que yo naciera . . . me negaban el más...



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