TDR: The Drama Review 45.4 (2001) 167-171
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José, Can You See?: Latinos On and Off Broadway
Latinas On Stage
José, Can You See?: Latinos On and Off Broadway. By Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999; 275 pp.; illustrations. $49.95 cloth, $22.95 paper.
Latinas On Stage. Edited by Alicia Arrizón and Lillian Manzor. Berkeley, CA: Third Woman Press, 2000; 444 pp.; illustrations. $24.95 paper.
Alberto Sandoval-Sánchez's critical book and Alicia Arrizón and Lillian Manzor's edited collection of play and performance scripts, interviews, and critical essays are part of a recent proliferation of publications on and about Latina/o theatre and performance in the United States. Edited anthologies such as Sandoval-Sánchez and Nancy Saporta Sternbach's Puro Teatro: A [End Page 167] Latina Anthology (2000) and Caridad Svich and María Teresa Marrero's Out of the Fringe: Contemporary Latina/Latino Theatre and Performance (2000) have circulated the works of contemporary Latina/o playwrights and performers. Arrizón's Latina Performance: Traversing the Stage (1999) offers a feminist critical and theoretical analysis of Latina performance throughout the 20th century, spanning from the 1930s work of Mexican American vaudeville and carpa performer La Chata Noloesca to the more recent work of performance artists such as Carmelita Tropicana and Nao Bustamante. José, Can You See?: Latinos On and Off Broadway and Latinas On Stage are important additions to this growing body of literature. Both books offer incisive and eloquent historical, as well as theoretical, approaches to one of the most vital currents in American theatre and performance today.
Sandoval-Sánchez grounds his methodological approach in Barthesian semiotic analysis and feminist cultural criticism. He positions the theatre as a place where American identities and stereotypes are modeled and circulated. As he explains in the introduction to his book:
Given that theatre is a privileged imaginary space, where fictitious worlds and illusory social actions and transactions are represented, I have selected Broadway and U.S. Latino theatre as discursive locations where ideas, myths, fictions, and transactions are represented, displayed, negotiated, and contested. (8)
José, Can You See? is an exploration of latinidad as it is imagined in both dominant sites of cultural production and localized Latino representational strategies. These representations are contextualized with Sandoval-Sánchez's impressive understanding of the material histories of Broadway and Latino theatre in the United States.
The book is divided into two acts, with an overture and an intermission. In the introduction/overture, Sandoval-Sánchez positions his critical approach within the context of lived experience. Following the models of feminist theatre critics, he grounds the practice of criticism in his own experiences of migration, cultural marginalization, and political awareness. As he explains, critical practice for the minority scholar entails an act of decolonization similar to that called for in Ng-g° wa Thiong'o's important publication Decolonising the Mind (1987). This is precisely Sandoval-Sánchez's greatest strength as a cultural critic: his ability to embody his work through telling personalized accounts of his relationship to the materials under study. The result is a model of scholarship that is at once theoretically rigorous, but always urgent and immediate.
In the first half of José, Can You See?, Sandoval-Sánchez charts a genealogy of Latino representations on Broadway, starting with the 1939 performances of Carmen Miranda and Desi Arnaz. According to Sandoval-Sánchez, the exuberant sexuality and spectacular racialized exoticism of Miranda and Arnaz became dominant tropes for identifying Latinos as "Latin foreign ethnic and racial others" (29). He reads these productions as "foundational images" of latinidad in the American popular imaginary, contextualizing his interpretation within a history of U.S./Latin American relations that peaked during Franklin D. Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy. As such, the representational dynamics taking place on the Broadway stage were implicated within a larger political and economic strategy that was invested in the construction of a Latin America that would provide the...