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Feeling Brown: Ethnicity and Affect in Ricardo Bracho's The Sweetest Hangover (and Other STDs)

From: Theatre Journal
Volume 52, Number 1, March 2000
pp. 67-79 | 10.1353/tj.2000.0020

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Theatre Journal 52.1 (2000) 67-79

Ethnicity, Affect, and Performance

The theoretical incoherence of the identity demarcation "Latino" is linked to the term's failure to actualize embodied politics which contest the various antagonisms within the social that challenge Latino/a citizen-subjects. While important political spectacles have been staged under group identity titles such as Chicano and Nuyorican, Latino, a term meant to enable much-needed coalitions between different national groups, has not developed as an umbrella term that unites cultural and political activists across different national, racial, class, and gender divides. This problem has to do with its incoherence, by which I mean the term's inability to index, with any regularity, the central identity tropes that lead to our understandings of group identities in the United States. "Latino" does not subscribe to a common racial, class, gender, religious, or national category, and if a Latino can be from any country in Latin America, a member of any race, religion, class, or gender/sex orientation, who then is she? What, if any, nodes of commonality do Latinas/os share? How is it possible to know latinidad?

Latino/a can be understood as a new social movement. In this sense I want to differentiate between citizen-subjects who subscribe to the category Latino/a and those the US census terms "Hispanic." Rejecting "Hispanic" in and of itself does not constitute a social movement, nor am I suggesting any such thing. But I do want to posit that such a linguistic maneuver is the germ of a self-imaging of Latino as, following the important and path-breaking work of Chicana feminist Norma Alarcón, an "identity-in-difference." In this schematic an identity-in-difference is one that understands the structuring role of difference as the underlying concept in a group's mapping of collective identity. For Alarcón an identity-in-difference is an optic better suited to consider contemporary mappings of diversity than the now standardized homogenizing logic of multiculturalism. To be cognizant of one's status as an identity-in-difference is to know that one falls off majoritarian maps of the public sphere, that one is exiled from paradigms of communicative reason and a larger culture of consent. This exile is more like a displacement, the origin of which is a historically specific and culturally situated bias that blocks the Latina/o citizen-subject's trajectory to "official" citizenship-subject political ontology.

This blockage is one that keeps the Latina/o citizen-subject from being able to access normativity, playing out as an inability to perform racialized normativity. A key component of my thesis is the contention that normativity is accessed in the majoritarian public sphere through the affective performance of ethnic and racial normativity. This performance of whiteness primarily transpires on an affective register. Acting white has everything to do with the performance of a particular affect, the specific performance of which grounds the subject performing white affect in a normative life world. Latinas and Latinos, and other people of color, are unable to achieve this affective performativity on a regular basis.

In his study Marxism and Literature, Raymond Williams coined the term "structure of feeling" to discuss the connections and points of solidarity between working-class groups and a social experience that can be described as "in process" yet nonetheless historically situated. Williams's formulation echoes Alarcón's explication of "identity-in-difference" as "identity-in-process." I will suggest that Williams's approach and a general turn to affect might be a better way to talk about the affiliations and identifications between radicalized and ethnic groups than those available in standard stories of identity politics. What unites and consolidates oppositional groups is not simply the fact of identity but the way in which they perform affect, especially in relation to an official "national affect" that is aligned with a hegemonic class. Latina/o (and other minoritarian) theatre and performance set out to specify and describe ethnic difference and resistance not in terms of simple being, but through the more nuanced route of feeling. More specifically, I am interested in plotting the way in which Latina/o performance theatricalizes a certain...



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