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  • Danzas Chuscas:Performing Migration in a Zapotec Community
  • Adriana Cruz-Manjarrez (bio)


Danzas chuscas are parodic dances performed in indigenous and mestizo villages throughout Mexico. In the village of Yalálag, a Zapotec indigenous village in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico,1danzas chuscas are performed during religious celebrations, a time when many Yalaltecos (people from Yalálag) who have immigrated to Los Angeles return to visit their families.2 Since the late 1980s, these immigrants have become the subject of the dances.3 Yalaltecos humorously represent those who have adopted "American" behaviors or those who have remitted negative values and behaviors from inner-city neighborhoods of Los Angeles to Yalálag. Danzas chuscas such as "Los Mojados" ("The Wetbacks"), "Los Cocineros" ("The Cooks"), and "Los Cholos" ("Los Angeles Gangsters") comically portray the roles that Yalaltec immigrants have come to play in the United States. Danzas chuscas such as "Los Norteños" ("The Northerners"), "Los Turistas" ("The Tourists"), and "El Regreso de los Mojados" ("The Return of the Wetbacks") characterize Yalaltec immigrants as outsiders and visitors. And the choreography in dances like "Los Yalaltecos" ("The Residents of Yalálag") and "Las Minifaldas" ("The Miniskirts") reflect changes in these immigrants' social status, gender behaviors, and class position. In other words, these dances embody the impact of migration on social, economic, and cultural levels. Through physical humor immigrants and nonimmigrants confront the tensions and uncertainties stemming from Zapotec migration into the United States: community social disorganization, social instability, and changes in the meaning of group identity as it relates to gender, class, ethnicity, and culture. [End Page 3]

In this essay I draw upon my field research in Yalálag and Los Angeles to examine the ways in which danzas chuscas embody the impact of international migration and social remittances in Zapotec identity, gender, class, and community. I begin by examining the dance of "Los Yalaltecos" ("The Residents of Yalálag") to explain what causes Zapotec nonimmigrants in Yalálag to make fun of the new social status and upward mobility that Zapotec immigrants attain after migration to the United States. Then I examine the dance of "Los Cholos" ("The Gangsters") to reveal the impact of social behaviors and cultural values remitted from the violent, antisocial, and drug-related gang culture of inner-city neighborhoods in Los Angeles to the Zapotec village community of Yalálag. Finally, I consider a performance of "Las Minifaldas" ("The Miniskirts") performed at a Los Angeles baile (a community event organized by Yalálag Zapotec immigrants). I examine how experiences of migration and processes of assimilation into urban lifestyles appear to influence changing gender behaviors, gender relationships, and ideas of sexuality among young Zapotec immigrant men and women. By looking at these dances in a transnational context, I argue that danzas chuscas provide a staging ground where the struggles over the meanings of group identity, gender practices and ideology, and the incorporation of new statuses and social identities are contested, reframed, and negotiated.

"Los Yalaltecos": The Promesas and the Performance of Class

During the celebration of San Antonio de Padua on June 13, 2004, in the old basketball court of the village of Yalálag, the fiesta committee members announced the following message over a P.A. system:

The fiesta committee thanks all the people who have made the fiesta for San Antonio possible and have supported the construction of the church's new social center and new basketball court. This fiesta could not have been completed without immigrants' donations and the collaborative work between locals and immigrants who live in Oaxaca City, Mexico City, Veracruz, Puebla, and the United States. We welcome all returning and visiting migrants and remind them that this is their home.

After the fiesta committee thanked the immigrants, they invited all in attendance to watch the dances of the four barrios.4 As I prepared to film the dances, hundreds of immigrants, townspeople, and Zapotec, Chinantec, and Mixe visitors from neighboring and distant towns sat around the basketball court to watch the performance of the religious and parodic dances of "Los Yalaltecos," "Las Malinches," and "Los Negritos." While the musicians tuned their instruments, fireworks exploded to announce the arrival of the...


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