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  • A Genealogy of Rasquache and Camp:Luis Alfaro and the Royal Chicano Air Force
Figure 1. The photograph appears in Carlos Almaraz’s essay “The Artist As a Revolutionary,” Chismearte 1, no. 1 (1976), 53. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library.
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Figure 1.

The photograph appears in Carlos Almaraz’s essay “The Artist As a Revolutionary,” Chismearte 1, no. 1 (1976), 53. Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library.

In the fall of 1976, a photograph appeared in Chismearte, a Chicano/a art magazine published for several years through the Concilio de Arte Popular. The magazine, like the council, was a forum for a regionally diverse community of artists that emerged during the 1960s and made art in service to the Chicano Movement.1 The photograph is featured in Carlos Almaraz’s essay “The Artist as a Revolutionary,” in which he [End Page 105] recalls his artistic production on behalf of the United Farm Workers union (UFW). Framed within Almaraz’s meditations on the rise of a creative class that mixed a New Left political platform with the culturally nationalist tenets of the Chicano Movement, the picture shows Air Force personnel, in military attire, organized in three rows. They stand in front of a plane with the acronym “RcAf” superimposed on its front. One can tell that the letters have been added to the picture and that mustaches have been drawn on the men. The acronym stands for the Royal Chicano Air Force, a Chicano/a art collective founded in Sacramento, California, between 1969 and 1972. Initially named the Rebel Chicano Art Front, the group changed the name when audiences confused the abbreviation with that of the Royal Canadian Air Force.2

If Chismearte readers found the photograph suspicious, then the handwritten caption assuring them of its authenticity was no less dubious. Addressed to “Carlos,” it informs viewers that the picture depicts “RCAF members while on a secreat [sic] mission.”3 The photograph’s humor lies in the sincerity of its artifice. It simultaneously calls attention to the fact that it is not really a photograph of the RCAF while nonetheless insisting on the existence—however fantastic—of a Chicano Air Force. The rudimentary flourishes added to the picture exemplify Tomás Ybarra-Frausto’s description of “rasquache” in Chicano/a art as “making do with what is at hand” in the fashioning of one’s self, one’s home, and other spaces for presentation.4 From the spliced letters and hand-drawn mustaches to its misspelled caption, the photograph’s construction enhances the illusion of historical sincerity, if not the certainty, of a Chicano Air Force. Emerging as a “visceral response to lived reality,” rasquache reflects a resilience and resourcefulness in crafting presentations of selfhood unencumbered by hegemonic notions of taste and propriety.5 But whereas the ingenuity of rasquache may derive from necessity, it reflects a “sort of good taste of bad taste,” Ybarra-Frausto writes, adding that rasquache favors “the elaborate over the simple, the flamboyant over the severe.”6 Ybarra-Frausto’s description of rasquache resonates with notions of camp in European and Anglo-American cultures as well as in queer performance traditions: as a style and manner, camp is likewise funky, improvised, and overstated and often used to produce a non-normative aesthetic sensibility with (or without) political intentions.7 [End Page 106]

Ybarra-Frausto, however, notably resists the connection between camp and rasquache in his catalog essay for Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 (CARA), the first nationally touring Chicano/a art show held at several universities and institutions in the 1990s.8 Instead, he turns to the playful and elemental impulses (the acts of fulfilling a basic need) performed in popular Mexican and Mexican American theater during the 1930s and 1940s and their continuation in performances by El Teatro Campesino in the 1960s. El Teatro Campesino drew upon the “rapid corporeal movements interlaced with slapstick actions and pratfalls” of the carpa tradition (tent shows) and the “verbal virtuosity” of Mexican film actor Mario Moreno, better known as Cantínflas.9 Seeking a genealogy of rasquache that draws from a “campesino” rather than camp tradition, Ybarra-Frausto avoids the queer association, as well as the European and Anglo-American influences it likewise connotes. Almaraz’s “funny-looking” photograph meets Ybarra-Frausto’s parameters because it operates within the racial, class, and heteronormative structures of the Chicano Movement as he seeks to define it.10

Despite its heteronormative structure, Almaraz’s photograph of the RCAF casts an ironic light on the political reality of the Chicano Movement in 1976. Created a year after the Vietnam War had ended and the political fervor of the U.S. civil rights movement had subsided, the photograph recalls the political urgency and revolutionary idealism of the early years of the Chicano Movement as a playful but pointed critique of the unresolved social and political issues facing Chicanos/ as a decade later. As a documentary memory of the Royal Chicano Air Force, the photograph’s content and form resonates in performances by Luis Alfaro in the 1990s in which the artist combined his spoken descriptions of kitsch and lowbrow humor with his bodily movements to gesture to “a way of being in the world” that “assumes a vantage point from the bottom up.”11 Coming of age as a gay Chicano12 in a Mexican American family living amidst the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and 1990s, Alfaro mixed rasquache and camp to render his queer life visible in the collective memory of Chicano/a history. While the RCAF confronted dominant culture’s stereotypes and expectations of Mexican Americans, Alfaro confronted “Chicano culture from within,” destabilizing the heteronormative archetype of Chicano masculinity that solidified during the Chicano Movement and that eroded the movement’s egalitarian ideals.13

Readings of Alfaro’s and the RCAF’s performances as related strategies that aesthetically resist and politically critique historical contexts like war and [End Page 107] plague have, however, been dismissed by scholars and artists of camp and rasquache alike. Ramón García, for instance, dismisses rasquache as a one-dimensional practice and criticizes Ybarra-Frausto for misappropriating it as framework for historicizing Chicano/a art.14 Rasquache, according to García, is artless and culturally affirms heteropatriarchy in Chicano/a cultural nationalism, whereas camp is more critically generative because it “ironizes, parodies and satirizes the very cultural forms that marginalize and exclude.”15 From this perspective, Alfaro’s memories of family trinkets, lowbrow fashion, and junk food designate something more complex than rasquache, whereas the RCAF’s Air Force persona simply reproduces the fraternal order of the U.S. armed forces, fitting securely within the implicit “carnalismo,” or brotherhood, of the Chicano Movement.16 But the RCAF’s air force persona was already, I propose, an ambivalent mimicry of colonial power and patriarchy—recognizable yet disruptive to dominant cultural norms of masculinity in the performance of a hyper-masculine Chicano Air Force.17

This essay explores the relationship between rasquache and camp in the RCAF’s and Luis Alfaro’s performances in opposition to a scholarly discourse that tends to keep the two terms apart. The scholarly debate on rasquache and camp tends to reduce the aesthetic mobility of either form, I argue, insofar as it essentializes what is queer, poor, gendered, or working-class in Chicano/a art, thereby reifying the aesthetic and ideological distance, rather than the genealogical continuities, between a culturally nationalist Chicano/a art collective and a gay Chicano performance artist.18 Drawing on records of those who witnessed the RCAF’s and Alfaro’s performances firsthand, I instead explore the complexities of an unreal Chicano Air Force that used parody and farce to respond to state forces that harm, trap, and determine Chicano/a lives.19 Such complexities extend genealogically to camp, no less than to other popular modes of theatrical performance. The RCAF’s and Luis Alfaro’s performances disclose an important history of reversing the high and the low, and the reverent and irreverent, through performative choices in Chicano/a art. Thinking with rasquache and camp—and not against them—moves beyond the exclusionary logic of Chicano/a cultural nationalism (and any nationalist framework) because it does not treat artistic methods as essentialist markers of identity. It also allows us to reconsider the RCAF’s Air Force persona as a performative act and a social practice, concepts that are more easily discerned in Luis Alfaro’s fusions of rasquache and camp at the end of the twentieth century.20 [End Page 108]


There are political and aesthetic connections between a vanguard Chicano/a art collective that parodied historical entities and a gay Chicano performance artist who used lowbrow humor, gesture, and improvisation to arouse feelings “of a different time and place that enables a critique of the present.”21 For one, the RCAF and Alfaro’s 1990s performances are each grounded in representations of the Chicano/a family, a central trope of Chicano/a cultural production, which they engaged politically to extend notions of kinship through aesthetic forms.22 But while there are respectful nods to the rasquache techniques in early Chicano/a art, particularly in reference to El Teatro Campesino, nobody has dared to read the Royal Chicano Air Force as camp, despite widespread examples of the camp possibilities of military machismo.23 Carlos Almaraz’s photograph of “muy macho” Air Force men, featured in a pioneering art magazine, may not bend heterosexual norms, but it nevertheless deploys them to nonconformist ends. Almaraz’s photograph lampoons machismo through the iconic, oversized mustaches added to the faces of the airmen (think of Emiliano Zapata-meets-Groucho Marx). Moreover, machismo was hardly the sole register of the RCAF’s aesthetic self-presentation; rather, the group’s depiction as a kind of extended family served as no less significant a medium for figuring its aesthetic and political work. Alongside Alvarez’s funny but fictitious photo in Chismearte, RCAF members posed for pictures published in the mainstream press, many of which feature female members performing the Air Force [End Page 109] persona, thereby challenging the historical assumption of an all-male art collective that is often asserted in Chicano/a art scholarship.

Figure 2. “‘Generals’—From left, Esteban Villa, Elias Alias, Lala Polendo (holding child), Ricardo Favela, Jose Montoya, Malaquias Montoya, Juanita Ontiveros.” Copyright © 1979. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with Permission.
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Figure 2.

‘Generals’—From left, Esteban Villa, Elias Alias, Lala Polendo (holding child), Ricardo Favela, Jose Montoya, Malaquias Montoya, Juanita Ontiveros.” Copyright © 1979. Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with Permission.

In 1979, for example, the Los Angeles Times featured a photograph of the RCAF that includes two female members.24 They are surrounded by their male counterparts dressed in Air Force uniforms. While it is easy to gloss over Lala Polendo’s smile and direct gaze and read her counterpart, Juanita Ontiveros—wearing an ammunition belt as a necklace, a captain’s hat, and flight goggles—within the heteronormative archetype of the Chicano/a family, the binary of Chicana representation they perform is already significant as a mode of rasquache in its own right, and a performative strategy that Amalia Mesa-Bains refers to as la domesticana, a Chicana rasquache. In an essay also written for the CARA catalog, Mesa-Bains introduces an alternative set of lenses through which to interpret Chicana art, claiming la domesticana as “the product of resistance to the majority culture and affirmation of other cultural values.”25 These “other cultural values” are not necessarily the heteronormative gender expectations of Chicano/a cultural nationalism, for Mesa-Bains adds that “female rasquachismo defies the cultural identity imposed by Anglo Americans, and defies the restrictive gender identity imposed by the Chicano culture.”26 La domesticana (rasquache) is an attitude that is aware of but uninhibited by the cultural norms it redeploys, operating in the space between dominant and dominating paradigms. Allowing the Chicana “artist/writer/intellectual to affirm and resist”27 cultural stereotypes and expectations that are, ironically, often the same, la domesticana destabilizes hegemonic meanings. The smiles and gazes that Lala Polendo and Juanita Ontiveros enact are purposely ambivalent towards viewers but known amongst Chicanas/os as “presenting face.”

In its entirety, the picture in the Los Angeles Times reads as an inside joke between RCAF members. It gestures to the amusing interplay between the reality that there is not a Royal Chicano Air Force and the visual evidence of one: that is, here we see them, as depicted in the Los Angeles Times photograph. In the foreground of the picture, for example, Esteban Villa and Juanita Ontiveros hold ends of a plaque bearing the RCAF insignia as they smile at each other, turning their gazes away from the camera. In the background, three male members conceal their gazes by wearing sunglasses or goggles while José Montoya, seated in the center, looks adoringly at an Air Force prop that he holds in his hands. The prop appears to be a homemade projectile. Their mismatched uniforms [End Page 110] and array of props visually represent an Air Force unit, but a Chicano/a one that defines “collective” in a familial rather than a military sense. Their ranks are configured according to a visual language of kinship rather than military discipline. There are no neat rows of a squadron standing at attention. Instead, the “Air Force” presented in the photograph is one of disordered camaraderie, or the chaos of a family photo.

“La familia” was an important trope in the Chicano Movement; it was expressed textually in political doctrines, visually in posters and murals, and orally in theatrical productions. The family paradigm was likewise significant to the RCAF’s ideas about collectivism and futurity, and their 1979 photograph indicates the extent to which such family logics were political and not merely normative in their performances. The visual nuance the RCAF performs in this representation of la familia suggests the extent to which its members reconfigured military service as a creative act, using the right to Chicano/a social reproduction—a political claim of the Chicano Movement—as a basis for art-making.28 For Chicano/a activist, artist, and veteran viewers, the photo implicitly recalls the disproportionate death toll of Chicano G.I.s during the Vietnam War that led to massive demonstrations known as the Chicano Moratorium.29 In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Chicano/a cultural production—from theater and performance to visual art—rethought the Mexican American tradition of military service as a means to citizenship and as a cultural rite of passage for Mexican American men, a custom that often ended in literal and social death.30 The RCAF’s photograph engages both perspectives, elevating Chicano masculinity within the heteronormative family but in service to the Chicano/a community rather than the colonizing force of the nation-state.

Although the picture was taken four years after the Vietnam War ended for the U.S., and amid the decline of the Chicano Movement, the RCAF burlesqued military service to recognize the recent past while demonstrating a vision of the Chicano/a future. Lala Polendo and the child she holds signal that future, but a future that is oddly disrupted by José Montoya and his prop that visually reads as a child surrogate. Certainly, the pairing of mother and child and father and weapon maintains the heteronormative representation of la familia; one wonders, for example, what would happen visually if Polendo held the missile and Montoya held the baby. But more than a nostalgic escape into a heteronormative past, or a longing for the macho militancy of political action during [End Page 111] the Chicano Movement, the RCAF’s photograph reanimated the trope of the Chicano/a family to establish kinship through aesthetic form (even a burlesque, “surrogate” form) of reproductive Chicano/a futurity.

Like the RCAF, Luis Alfaro employs the trope of the Chicano/a family to remember the past differently, or to reimagine it as a productive space for a gay Chicano. In “Virgin Mary,” a monologue from his shows Cuerpo Politzado and Downtown (circa 1990s), Alfaro invokes a Virgen de Guadalupe doll that anchors his story about first love within a family photo of sorts. Walking on stage and into a “circle of light,” Alfaro tells the audience that his family “used to have this Virgin Mary doll. Every time you connected her to an outlet she would turn and bless all sides of the room.”31 The doll materializes through Alfaro’s articulation of a memory involving “one of his father’s surprise drunken trips to Tijuana” when “he would come home from the racetrack … and load the entire family into the station wagon.”32 The point of Alfaro’s familial memory is its intersection with another memory from “years later,” when he “meets a man who will become his first love” and “owns a rotating Virgin Mary doll that he bought in Mexico.”33 As a gay Chicano son, Alfaro “falls out of the narrow confines prescribed by the state, the law, and other normative grids” for the heteronormative Chicano/a family.34 His first transgression is his nostalgia for first love between two men; his second is that it is an interracial love. Nevertheless, he positions his desire within a family paradigm expressed through the Virgen de Guadalupe doll that he speaks into being. The memory of a Guadalupe doll purchased on a family trip to Mexico becomes the object of Alfaro’s queer desire; its ironic critique of the Chicano/a family is more easily discerned in his monologue, perhaps, than in the homemade projectile with which José Montoya poses in the RCAF’s photograph, and which offsets the mother and child. Both figurations, however, improvise and use what is at hand to represent the familial structure as a structure of futurity—although Alfaro’s performance beckons proleptically to a queer future rather than the normative-but-nonconformist future imagined in the RCAF photograph.

Spanning different moments in his life to perform the memories that comprise who he is in the present, Alfaro’s articulation of first love performs what José Muñoz terms a “double gesture”: that of Alfaro’s “emergence into politics, the social, and the real” as a “minority subject” in a manner that contests the “affective normativity of dominant culture” through its very structures of desire.35 [End Page 112] Likewise, in 1979, wearing a mishmash of Air Force gear, holding props, gazing at each other or concealing their eyes, the RCAF doubly gestured to the Air Force persona as a sustained resistance to the demands of the nation-state and as a continuum for creating and re-creating Chicano/a identity amidst dominant and dominating paradigms.36 By using low-tech approaches to reframe military service as an organizing principle for Chicano/a collectivity (the family), the RCAF satisfied “Chicano structures of thinking, feeling, and aesthetic choice” in a photograph that captured a political and creative longing for Chicano Movement goals.37


Luis Alfaro’s monologue, like the RCAF photograph, deploys rasquache and camp alike in “performances of memory” that rely on “ways of being from the past, in the service of questioning the future, a future without annihilating epidemics, either viral or ideological.”38 In the contexts of the Vietnam War and the AIDS crisis, the RCAF’s and Alfaro’s performances of memory resisted political and historical erasure, moving their viewers “to the position of ‘one who witnesses rather than simply watches.’”39 The connection between their performances derives from an aesthetic genealogy rather than cultural memory alone. Contemporary scholarship has nonetheless resisted this genealogy because the terms used to describe it are understood as identity-based markers of difference rather than as politically-charged aesthetic forms, with rasquache understood as the “mark of the working-class MexChicano” and camp perceived as queer—by which I mean any identity that transgresses the hetero-patriarchal order of Chicano/a cultural nationalism.40

In 1991 Tomás Ybarra-Frausto published his foundational essay on rasquache in the catalog for Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985 (CARA) and disregarded camp as an influence on Chicano/a artistic practices in spite of its own genealogical recourse to their connection. Although he roots rasquache in an explicitly Mexican American theater tradition—noting its literary antecedents and musing over its imbrication in the self-fashioning of generations of working-class Mexican Americans—Ybarra-Frausto nonetheless stylizes his essay after Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” (1966), an anomaly in Chicano/a art scholarship during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Adopting Sontag’s elusive [End Page 113] tone, Ybarra-Frausto moves back and forth between what rasquache is and what it is not. Whereas Sontag “belatedly associates camp with homosexuals” in the fiftieth of her fifty-eight footnotes, Ybarra-Frausto’s essay completely turns “away from the queerness at the center of its articulation,” as Diana Taylor observes.41 Indeed, Taylor has argued in turn that, as the “initial theoretical articulations” of camp and rasquache, Sontag’s and Ybarra-Frausto’s essays ignore key intersections of identity in their analyses of artistic strategies that decenter dominant cultural values and tastes. Sontag’s thoughts on camp neglect race and class,42 while Ybarra-Frausto excludes the queer sensibility that influences rasquache—including the style and tone of his essay.43 The result is that “neither camp or rasquache are strangers to closeting,” Taylor remarks, adding that they “often try to ignore each other’s existence.”44

Sontag’s delayed acknowledgment of the relationship between camp and homosexuality—and Ybarra-Frausto’s avoidance of that relation—reflects a shared desire not to betray the aesthetic forms they conceptualize. Their preoccupation thus also reveals the limits of criticism, or the overdetermination of artistic strategies through scholarly interpretation, in giving conceptual form to aesthetic practices that are necessarily slippery and overdetermined in their own right. Used in marginalized communities to self-fashion and to create spaces in a manner aware of, but unconcerned with, dominant cultural values, camp and rasquache resist essentialist logic. But Ybarra-Frausto, in particular, ignores queer iterations of rasquache—as well as its genealogical connection to camp—in order to privilege the embedded politics of the Chicano Movement that “countered racism in part through a machismo that would not tolerate interrogation.”45 The codification of “la familia as a sacred institution” in Chicano/a art fixed heteronormative gender roles “in the name of tradition.”46 One of the reasons for this is that the development of a Chicano/a art tradition was part of a culturally nationalist intellectual project that associated the betrayal of la raza (the Chicano/a people) with femininity; this resulted “in the valorization of machismo as the defining feature of Chicano culture in general and of brown power movements in particular.”47

From this historical investment in rasquache as a working-class cultural form coded as male and heteronormative, Ybarra-Frausto “echoes Sontag’s fear of ‘betraying’ the sensibility by publicly defining the private code” and opening it to alternative queer genealogies and deployments. Ironically, his essay takes on [End Page 114] a nonserious or rasquache approach of its own, as Taylor maintains.48 A participant in the planning process for CARA, Ybarra-Frausto was mindful of the concerns of “veterano” Chicano/a artists in presenting Chicano/a art history to an audience outside the community from which it came.49 The appropriation of Sontag’s style in his essay was an intentional act of rasquache for Ybarra-Frausto, who performed a Chicano self unfettered by academic propriety in the space of a university exhibition catalog. Turning “ruling paradigms upside down,” Ybarra-Frausto repurposed Sontag’s notes on camp, giving her little credit other than a brief endnote.50 For this very reason, his essay belongs on the list he offers readers of things that are “Muy rasquache (high),” and we can witness in turn its own suppressed ties to camp through its stylistic and methodological recourse to Sontag’s essay.51

More than a decade later, Ramon García made a sharp critique of Ybarra-Frausto’s essay by arguing that calling someone rasquache is an insult, a “demeaning designation” that is not assigned by the “subcultural groups themselves.”52 García’s problem with Ybarra-Frausto’s definition of rasquache is that it becomes a “style that has been defined and institutionalized by middle-class Chicano art critics” who are “removed from the material reality of rasquachismo,” meaning the poverty and disenfranchisement of its producers.53 “For nobody wants to be rasquache in a material way,” García asserts, but, nevertheless, scholars “appropriate it and make it positive and unthreatening” in their analyses.54 Nobody wants to be rasquache, I argue, because nobody actually is rasquache. Rasquache is an act, a tone, a look, and a gesture from the self that is fashioned through an attitude made discernable by the content (props, movements, and materials) used in or against a context.

Ybarra-Frausto did not intend his rasquache essay to become a definitive structure for Chicano/a art or, for that matter, Chicano/a artists. Locating his essay, as well as Amalia Mesa-Bains’s notion of la domesticana, on a trajectory of Chicano/a art scholarship, Holly Barnet-Sanchez asserts that they offered formal analyses at a time in Chicano/a art history when direct approaches to formalism were overshadowed by content and context. As the “first analytical mechanisms by which to interrogate” rasquache, Ybarra-Frausto’s and Mesa-Bains’s positions introduced “pathways for understanding conceptual and visual elements of certain art forms and their connection to the communities from which they came.”55 Key to Barnet-Sanchez’s point is the “pathway,” or the [End Page 115] mobility of aesthetic tools for making, arranging, and displaying Chicano/a art alongside the “particularities of the Chicano/a lived experience.”56 Barnet-Sanchez does not mean to suggest that the latter restricts the former. Emerging “as a strategy of survival among working-class Mexicans and Mexican Americans,” rasquache “was later transformed into an overarching attitude expressed in much Chicano/a activist art-making.”57 Far from a primordial or “pregiven category,” rasquache is used by Chicano/a artists in an art field “of negotiated representations.”58

I agree with García that hegemonic culture and mainstream audiences accept the non-normative and destabilizing artistic strategies of disenfranchised peoples long before they accept the people who make them.59 But dismissing rasquache as a “false realism” immobilizes rasquache by essentializing it.60 Chicano/a art is a fusion genre that through syncretic processes builds on bicultural origins and a multicultural reality. Rasquache is one such process that—like camp—moves, absorbs, and adapts like the “jaitón (high-toned) Anglo aesthetic,” which is a rasquache wordplay that Curtis Márez claims “valorizes simplicity, subtlety, and elegance”—the opposite of rasquache and camp.61 Before college training in the jaitón aesthetic, several RCAF members served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, earning benefits from the G.I. Bill that made college training in the arts possible. Familiar with the unifying elements of military training, they constructed an Air Force persona not far removed from the material realities and cultural histories of RCAF members, each of whom came from farmworker, railroad, or cannery families. The RCAF creatively reconfigured the compulsory compliance of military service and the cultural assumptions of manhood to produce new meaning within their lived contexts and political convictions as Chicano/a artists.62


To agree with García on the inferiority of rasquache as an artistic strategy with political potential, one must also agree that kitsch is inherently devoid of meaning beyond its market value, to the extent that kitsch designates inanimate objects mass produced for uncritical consumption. Reproaching [End Page 116] Ybarra-Frausto’s essay on rasquache as a misappropriation of working-class practices by a middle-class interloper, García’s critique centers on Ybarra-Frausto’s exclusion of camp, which he deems a more politically driven and critically generative aesthetic mode. While rasquache is “similar to camp in that it exemplifies cultural production that cannot be categorized as ‘High Art,’” García seeks to disqualify it as “a sort of Chicano kitsch that has been promoted as Chicano art.”63 From the Aztec imagery of Mexican restaurant calendars and Virgen de Guadalupe murals to velvet paintings of mustachioed men, Chicano/a kitsch idealizes the pre-Columbian past, the 1910 Mexican Revolution, and cultural allegories of Catholicism—all of which are implicitly patriarchal. But kitsch is hardly a static aesthetic form: key to the function of kitsch is its user, rather than its mass-produced origins. It must be mobilized by actors: the aesthetic value of kitsch derives from the wearer, the maker, the performer, or the orator who visualizes, performs, and speaks kitsch into being, much as Alfaro does through his descriptions of a Virgen de Guadalupe doll that signifies the spatiotemporal shifts in his desire for love and recognition.

Alfaro uses kitsch as a double gesture in his other monologues about the Chicano/a family. Though lacking the captain’s hats or flight goggles sported by RCAF members in their photographs, the family portraits of Alfaro’s camp performances are similarly framed by kitsch. Alfaro introduces audiences to his mother, whom he calls the “Moo-Moo,” spelled like the sound a cow makes but aurally registered as mumu, a colorful housedress. He begins Pocho Nightmare—A Moo-Moo Approaches with a taped monologue about his “Moo-Moo” and the painful transition immigrant parents and their first generation children make between two dominant cultures. A vivacious and protective force, the brightly adorned “Moo-Moo of Mexico” was “always there,” running down robbers in slippers and hair curlers on public streets.64 She transforms through Alfaro’s monologue into a sight/site of excess; she is “too big, too wide, too fat, too much,” for her husband, Alfaro’s father, and their “new American sensibility.”65

Alfaro accompanies the taped monologue on the Moo-Moo by eating Hostess food products. “Using his own large feminized body to illustrate” his mother’s plight, as Tiffany López writes, Alfaro’s consumption of snack food simultaneously represents “nostalgia and the transgression of junk food.”66 Watching [End Page 117] the monologue as part of Alfaro’s show Downtown, López notes that, at first, the audience laughs, until Alfaro’s excessive consumption becomes so extreme that viewers realize the “story isn’t about nostalgia and sweets at all.”67 By the time the Moo-Moo transforms into a memory of Mexico, “Alfaro has eaten at least thirty Twinkies [continuing] to stuff them down his throat in a violent fashion.”68 Moving from the flamboyant to the severe, Alfaro’s binge is, I maintain, simultaneously camp and rasquache. He moves from the lowbrow humor of eating cheap, mass produced junk food to a grotesque rate of consumption that fills an emotional need. Alfaro’s strategies recall the “elemental impulses” figured in performances by El Teatro Campesino, which adapted character types from the earlier carpa tradition in turn, such as the peladito/a or “penniless urban roustabouts” who used “eating, laughing, and fornicating as primordial sources of vitality and power.”69 Such activities are, for Ybarra-Frausto, characteristic of rasquache performance. Indeed, Ybarra-Frausto notes that “when asked to define rasquachismo,” an El Teatro Campesino actor “responded that ‘rasquachismo is when you use a loaf of bread as a prop, and somebody eats it!’”70

Trading bread for Twinkies, Alfaro draws upon this genealogy of rasquache to transform the elemental impulse (the act of fulfilling a basic need) into a way to make his political desires known. His excessive eating begins as a recognizable act of vaudevillian performance but ends in a binge he cannot manage. Subsequently, the audience’s amusement reaches an uncomfortable pause as they witness a socially transgressive act that conveys dejection over his father’s rejection of his mother, who represents “the feminized body of Mexico.”71 Alfaro’s campy deployment of rasquache moves viewers from the role of audience to that of critical witnesses, shifting their consciousness—a political process through which, as Tiffany López argues, viewers “understand themselves to be distinctively implicated in the fate of the person or persons they are watching.”72 Alfaro’s monologue shows and tells the ugly stuff of memory, and the discomfort it causes the audience exposes his lack of visibility—of legibility—in [End Page 118] the heteronormative family. This memory extends, moreover, to the historical backdrop of Alfaro’s performance: the poverty, racism, and homophobia heightened by the AIDS crisis in the late twentieth century to which his intimate figurations beckon in turn.73

Figure 3. Postcard for Pilots of Aztlán: The Flights of the Royal Chicano Air Force (1994), a documentary film produced by Steve LaRosa. The photograph is of José Montoya dressed as general. Author’s collection.
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Figure 3.

Postcard for Pilots of Aztlán: The Flights of the Royal Chicano Air Force (1994), a documentary film produced by Steve LaRosa. The photograph is of José Montoya dressed as general. Author’s collection.

Although it offers an inadequate paradigm for queer Chicanos/as, the representation of heteronormative Chicano/a families during the Chicano Movement likewise fused rasquache tactics and camp to critique the exploitation (that is, the mass consumption) of Chicano/a bodies within the colonialist agendas of the nation-state. The RCAF deployed the Air Force persona to respond to the existential crisis of the Vietnam War and the mainstream media’s portrayal of the Chicano Movement as militant madness.74 In 1971, the RCAF orchestrated a performance that pushed the audience from comfort to discomfort using a routine of socially transgressive behavior that showcased their fraternal disorder. The RCAF “flew” into one of the meetings that led to the founding of the Concilio de Arte Popular and Chismearte, the magazine in which Carlos Almaraz published his funny-looking photograph five years later. They besieged the audience with a spontaneous Air Force landing, disrupting the event and leading El Teatro Campesino founder Luis Valdez to conclude [End Page 119] that the “entire RCAF pose was performance art.”75 Elaborating on their arrival, Valdez described the RCAF as

a bunch of vatos dressed up as World War II pilots, flying into San Juan Bautista one night in ‘71 in a noisy squadron of Volkswagen buses and parking in an empty lot, one by one, as José Montoya, wearing goggles and one of those dog-eared pilot’s caps, flagged them in, vigorously, like a flagger on some aircraft carrier at sea. It was brilliant vacilada, a little sardonic and more than satirical, but a hellavu a lotta laughs.76

Spilling out of the buses, RCAF artist Rudy Cuellar urinated on the fire around which the artists were gathered. According to the documentary film Pilots of Aztlán (1994), the fire was part of a ceremony and lecture by Andres Segura, a captain of Aztec dancing from Mexico who helped catalyze the Chicano/a tradition of danzante azteca in the U.S. Southwest.77 Simulating runway noise and using dramatic squadron gestures, the RCAF disrupted the solemn moment with an absurdist bodily theater that spoofed military service, transforming it into a Chicano/a political intervention on the status quo.

The RCAF’s Air Force persona made sense in the context of a nonsensical reality. While Alfaro’s use of “elemental impulses” punctuated his performances of growing up gay and Chicano amid dominant intra-cultural homophobia, the RCAF used physical comedy and bodily functions to respond to the absurdities of the Vietnam War and the conscription of Chicano soldiers to fight against colonized peoples. Many Chicanos/as were intimately familiar with the contradiction between service in the Vietnam War and the conditions under which the majority of their families lived and worked.78 Alongside the events that sparked the Chicano Movement (including the Chicano/a Blowouts and the rise of the UFW), Chicano/a artists witnessed firsthand or through popular media the Tlatelolco massacre (1968), the My Lai Massacre (1968), the Kent State Massacre (1970), the Chicano Moratorium murders (1970), and the assassinations of U.S. civil rights leaders. The mainstream message was clear: [End Page 120] governments, militaries, and wars were crazy, with their “annihilating epidemics,” both viral (think napalm, police, and M-16s), and ideological (capitalist imperialism camouflaged as patriotism).79

The elemental impulses performed by the RCAF in San Juan Bautista resonate in the content and form of Carlos Almaraz’s photograph, which appropriated the RCAF’s parody of state power to make Chicano/a artists laugh. Such laughter was not a total affirmation or comfortable acceptance of how manhood was being defined in relation to god, flag, and country. Rather, it was a collective catharsis for Chicano/a artists, nostalgically conjuring the political critique made by the RCAF in performances of machismo in disservice to the nation. Like Alfaro, who binges on junk food, an act that begins humorously and then demands uncomfortable witnessing, the laughter the RCAF provoked was a double gesture. In 1971, their fraternal lampoon conveyed the dysfunction of Chicano/a bodies acting as arms of the state. Five years later, in Almaraz’s fake photograph featured in Chismearte, the RCAF was redeployed in the Chicano/a present as a recourse to the past, thereby gesturing to what the Chicano Movement had not achieved by 1976.

In other historical contexts, camp performances of hyper-masculinity are interpreted as important interventions in essentialist representations of Chicano identity. Ramón García writes that “Chicano camp as a style of resistance answers the question of how to create identities in terms of style after the charro, the pachuco and the lowrider.”80 In 1996, in fact, Luis Alfaro dressed and walked as a cholo in “Orphans of Aztlán,” a monologue that formed part of his earlier Downtown and Cuerpo Politizado in the 1990s, as well as the “American Dream” episode from The United States of Poetry (1996).81 Performing the cholo, Alfaro is aware of, but unencumbered by, hegemonic notions of taste and propriety. He is also cognizant of his place in the sequence of the charro, pachuco, lowrider, and, perhaps, the Royal Chicano Air Force, as he announces that “I am fast-forwarding passed the re-runs, esé, riding the big wave called ‘future!’” Walking down a Los Angeles street with the top button of his flannel shirt fastened and his long hair slicked back, Alfaro moves with force, almost attacking the sidewalk on which he walks and the camera to which he speaks.82 His hyper-masculine movements are interspersed with non-heteronormative gestures, especially when he proclaims that he is “making myself fabulous as I disentangle from the wreck of this cultural collision.” His primary backdrop is a [End Page 121] kitschy Chicano/a mural with a crucifixion scene, a Virgen de Guadalupe, and inscriptions in old English. Opening his flannel shirt to expose the message on his T-Shirt that proclaims “SILENCE = DEATH,” Alfaro asserts, “I’m a queer Chicano, a native in no land, an orphan of Aztlán, a pocho son of farmworker parents.” Alfaro does not cast off one part of his identity for another but recognizes his intersections, which are obscured by representational binaries of Chicano masculinity.

Figure 4. Luis Alfaro performing Downtown circa 1996. Reprinted with Permission.
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Figure 4.

Luis Alfaro performing Downtown circa 1996. Reprinted with Permission.

As Alfaro gestures in front of the mural’s crucifixion scene, the shot cuts to another image of him dressed in theater makeup and a headpiece.83 Next, he strips off his clothes, revealing that he wears a black slip dress. His gesture and costume visually echo Chon Noriega’s claim, in reference to 1940s pachuco fashion, that “clothes do and do not make the man.”84 Noriega argues that the aesthetic and utilitarian mixture of popular culture and Mexican American cultural traditions in pachuco style “foregrounds the external phenomena of social type through costume, a strategy that thereby keeps any ‘essential’ claims about identity on the surface.”85 In turn, Alfaro mixes cholo style and drag to destabilize Chicano masculinity, a strategy that both distances him from and protects him against a nation that polices him, as well as from the patriarchal cultures that threaten to erase him. Performances of hyper-masculine Chicano identity at the height of the Chicano Movement were, I maintain, no less destabilizing to the status quo, and worked in ways similar to Alfaro’s filmed version of “Orphans of Aztlán.” The RCAF’s Air Force persona was a screen-identity that reminded audiences that identity did not “reside entirely on the surface.”86 Burlesquing compliance with gender norms according to the militarized nation-state, the Air Force persona was an art performance continuous with—though not reducible to—the dis-identicative gestures of camp. Because its context was historically [End Page 122] and culturally specific, it allowed members to transgress patriotic mythos and Mexican American cultural values. But key to the RCAF’s ironic critique of the expansionist values of the nation-state were the rasquache techniques with which they repurposed materials at hand—from their own bodies to homemade props and costumes. Reconfiguring military service as a family affair, the RCAF used the trope of the Chicano/a family as a creatively and collectively generative political force. While their version of the Chicano/a family did not include a gay Chicano son, they queered dominant paradigms of Chicano/a identity using rasquache tactics adapted from El Teatro Campesino and from which Luis Alfaro developed his own hybrid camp-rasquache aesthetic.

Ella Maria Diaz

ELLA MARIA DIAZ is assistant professor of English and Latino/a Studies at Cornell University. She is the author of Flying Under the Radar with the Royal Chicano Air Force: Mapping a Chicano/a Art History, forthcoming in 2017 from the University of Texas Press. She has published in Aztlán: The Journal of Chicano Studies, Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of Mujeres Activas en Letrasy Cambio Social, and U.C. Santa Barbara’s Imaginarte e-publications.


1. Chon Noriega and Pilar Tompkins Rivas, “Chicano Art in the City of Dreams: A History in Nine Movements,” in L.A. Xicano, ed. Chon A. Noriega, Terezita Romo, and Pilar Tompkins Rivas (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011), 100.

2. The Rebel Chicano Art Front’s name aligned with the Mexican American Liberation Art Front (MALA-F), an earlier art collective in which founding RCAF members were involved. Asked numerous times if they were the Royal Canadian Air Force, members responded that they were the Royal Chicano Air Force and the collective’s persona took shape. In the documentary film Pilots of Aztlán (1994), the RCAF is chronicled as “the graphic arts arm of the union in the Sacramento Valley,” producing political posters and other UFW materials (LaRosa 1994). Most writings on the RCAF focus on the collective’s contributions to Chicano/a visual art, but the Air Force persona also resonated with earlier performances by El Teatro Campesino on the frontlines of the farmworkers’ strike.

3. Sic, Carlos Almaraz, “The Artist As A Revolutionary,” Chismearte 1, no.1 (1976): 53.

4. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” in Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985, ed. Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano (Los Angeles: Wight Art Gallery and University of California, 1991), 156.

5. Ibid., 156.

6. Ibid., 155, 157.

7. Eliza Rodriguezy Gibson and Tanya González, Humor and Latina/o Camp in Ugly Betty: Funny Looking (New York: Lexington Books, 2015), 15.

8. Ybarra-Frausto’s essay “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility” was published earlier in a 1989 exhibition catalog, Chicano Aesthetics: Rasquachismo (Phoenix AZ: MARS, Movimiento Artistico del Rio Solado), [End Page 123]

9. Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo,” 159.

10. Rodriguezy Gibson and Tanya González, Humor and Latina/o Camp in Ugly Betty, 7.

11. Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo,” 160.

12. In “Downtown,” published in o solo homo: the new queer performance, ed. Holly Hughes and David Román (New York: Grove Press, 1998), Luis Alfaro writes, “I call myself a gay Chicano. I create work that asks questions about identity and social power and addresses the intersections of nationality and sexuality” (316).

13. Ramón García, “Against Rasquache: Chicano Camp and the Politics of Identity in Los Angeles,” in The Chicano Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Angie Chabram-Dernersesian (New York and London: Routledge, 2006), 214.

14. García, “Against Rasquache,” contends that there is no single definition of rasquache, but cites Yolanda Broyles-González’s explanation as one that he “would not argue against” (endnote 13, 222). In El Teatro Campesino: Theater in the Chicano Movement (Austin: University of Texas, 1994), Broyles-González contextualizes El Teatro Campesino “within the comedic performance tradition of the Mexican carpa (itinerant tent shows) and … the Rasquachi Aesthetic common to both [that] encompasses a shared memory system of performance elements grounded in a working class, underdog perspective” (xvii).

15. García, 211.

16. Alicia Arrizón, “Mythical Performativity: Relocating Aztlán in Chicana Feminist Cultural Productions,” Theatre Journal 52, no. 1 (2000): 45.

17. Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 85-92.

18. Ybarra-Frausto uses rasquache as a lens for Chicano/a visual art, but addresses Chicano/a theater and, in historicizing the rasquache tradition, he references literature. Meanwhile, García briefly considers performance art by Asco and performance artists, including Luis Alfaro, before turning to writers like Sandra Cisneros.

19. Diane Taylor, The Archive And the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 126.

20. In his introduction to the 2014 catalog Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art by E. Carmen Ramos (London: D. Giles Ltd., 2014), Tomás Ybarra-Frausto asserts that identity in twenty-first century Latino/a art “is now seen as a performative act, a social practice, rather than a representation” (30).

21. José Esteban Muñoz, “Memory Performance: Luis Alfaro’s ‘Cuerpo Politzado,’” in Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas, ed. Coco Fusco (New York: Routledge, 2000), 100.

22. Richard T. Rodríguez, in Next of Kin: The Family in Chicano/a Cultural Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), proposes “genealogical enterprise” in his reconsideration of the Chicano/a family as a central trope of Chicano/a cultural production in order to engage a kinship network through aesthetic forms and political function. The Chicano/a family paradigm that Rodríguez seeks relinquishes “dependency [End Page 124] on exclusionary kinship relations” and, instead, registers “the political import it may serve for potentially inclusive orchestrations” (6-7).

23. With the exception of Karen Roybal in her 2013 article “Pushing the Boundaries of Border Subjectivity, Autobiography, and Camp-Rasquachismo,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 38 (2013), few scholars apply rasquache as a contemporary framework for humor and irony in Chicano/a and Latino/a art. Deemphasizing the line between camp and rasquache, Roybal discerns a hybrid camp-rasquache aesthetic as a third category for examining autobiographical representation in performances by Guillermo Gómez-Peña and documentary filmmaker Lourdes Portillo, challenging the way in which the art tactics “have been defined as binaries” (“Pushing the Boundaries,” 72). Resonating with Roybal’s focus on a camp-rasquache category for autobiographical artworks, Sandra Cisneros refers to rasquache consistently in her 2015 anthology A House of My Own to characterize the relationship between rasquache, her working-class childhood, and her resistance to Eurocentric standards of decorum. In “Tapicero’s Daughter,” a talk Cisneros gave at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, she explores the desire for beauty across race, ethnicity, gender, and class to tie her biography to the museum’s collection. Mentioning her father’s adolescence in Mexico and as a “fanfarrón,” or dandy, she turns to her mother’s statuette of the “three plaster Graces above” her kitchen sink, which was “not a precise reproduction of Antonio Canova’s original. If you turn them around you’ll notice the forger took liberties.” Referencing scantily-clad portraits of women hung on the walls of a relative’s home that remind her of the fine art in the Stewart Gardner Museum, Cisneros mentions her artist friend Franco Mondini-Ruiz “who sees elegance in the rascuache, the gaudy, kitsch, funky.” See Sandra Cisneros, A House of My Own: Stories from My Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015), 144-45; 148; 150-51.

24. The photograph appeared with Charles Hillinger, “Humor Plus Pride: ‘Chicano Air Force’ Flies High,” Los Angeles Times, July 22, 1979.

25. Amalia Mesa-Bains, “El Mundo Femenino: Chicana Artists of the Movement—A Commentary on Development and Production,” ed. Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano (Los Angeles: Wight Art Gallery and University of California, 1991), 132.

26. Ibid., 132.

27. Roybal, “Pushing the Boundaries,” 75. Roybal draws on Mesa-Bains, who expanded her framework in the essay “‘Domesticana’: The Sensibility of Chicana Rasquache,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 24, no. 2 (1999): 157–68. Emphasis in original.

28. In “Orphans of Modernism: The Performance Art of Asco,” published in Corpus Delecti: Performance Art of the Americas, ed. Coco Fusco (London: Routledge, 2000), C. Ondine Chavoya refers to Chicanos as the literal vanguard of the Vietnam War and writes that “Chicanos accounted for less than 1 percent of the University of California’s total [End Page 125] student population [and] suffered the highest death rate of all US military personnel” (241).

29. See George Mariscal, “Chicano and Chicana Experiences of the War,” in What’s Going On? California And The Vietnam Era, ed. Marcia A. Eymann and Charles Wollenberg (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2004). Mariscal writes that the “darkest areas on military casualty maps from the Vietnam War era reveal a dense concentration of fatalities in California’s Central, San Joaquin, and Imperial Valleys”—all homes to large Chicano/a communities (113).

30. Ibid., 114. El Teatro Campesino performed Soldado Razo in 1971, exploring the pressure a Chicano soldier feels to comply with the state’s orders and his family’s expectations of him. Engaged to be married, the Chicano soldier’s literal death in Vietnam symbolizes the social death of the Chicano/a family.

31. Muñoz, “Memory Performance: Luis Alfaro’s ‘Cuerpo Politzado,’” 101.

32. Ibid.

33. Ibid.

34. Ibid., 100.

35. Ibid., 102-103.

36. Holly Barnet-Sanchez, “Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and Amalia Mesa-Bains: A Critical Discourse from Within,” Art Journal 64, no. 4 (2005): 93.

37. Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” 155.

38. Muñoz, “Memory Performance: Luis Alfaro’s ‘Cuerpo Politzado,’” 100.

39. Tiffany López, “Emotional Contraband: Prison as Metaphor and Meaning in US Latina Drama,” in Captive Audience: Prison and Captivity in Contemporary Theater, ed. Thomas Fahy and Kimball King (New York: Routledge, 2003), 33. López quotes Elizabeth Alexander’s “‘Can You Be BLACK and Look at This?’ Reading the Rodney King Video(s),” in the exhibition catalog Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art, ed. Thelma Golden (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994).

40. Taylor, The Archive And the Repertoire, 127.

41. Ibid., 126-27.

42. Taylor claims that Sontag “raises the issue of class and race only to dismiss them; camp belongs not to the underclass but to those who experience the ‘psychopathology of affluence’ (note 49)” (The Archive And the Repertoire, 127). In note 53 of “Notes on ‘Camp,’” in Against Interpretation And Other Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1966), Sontag’s discursive annotations on the relationship between camp and homosexuality conclude by destabilizing the very relationship she posits: “Camp taste is much more than homosexual taste” (290).

43. Taylor, The Archive And the Repertoire, 126.

44. Ibid.

45. Ibid., 127. [End Page 126]

46. Rodríguez, Next of Kin, 31.

47. Curtis Márez, “Brown: The Politics of Working-Class Chicano Style,” Social Text 14, no. 3 (1996): 116. Emphasis in original.

48. Taylor, The Archive And the Repertoire, 127.

49. Ybarra-Frausto writes that as “the dimensions of rasquachismo expand to include public art, the private aspect of the sensibility alters, while remaining essentially the same” (“Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” 156). He responds to the debates that took place between artist members of the CARA advisory committee and the curatorial team at UCLA, which were characterized as “the veterano view and the view of the ‘new kids on the block.’” In her analysis of CARA in Chicano Art: Inside/Outside the Master’s House (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998), Alicia Gaspar de Alba conducted extensive archival research of the “veteran” and “new kids on the block” debates and paraphrases that the former held fast to a Chicano/a identity of difference from the “‘national American identity,” while the latter “advocated an “Americanized level of representation in which Chicano/a identity extends outside of its essentialist demarcations and finds affinity with … issues of gender, sexuality, and artistic license that actually oppose the ‘essential’ Chicano/a identity” (101).

50. Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” 155.

51. Ibid.

52. García, “Against Rasquache,” 214.

53. Ibid. Emphasis in original.

54. Ibid.

55. Barnet-Sanchez, “Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and Amalia Mesa-Bains,” 92-93.

56. Ibid., 92.

57. Ibid. This is a point Karen Roybal makes when she argues that rasquache “not only calls our attention to the complexities of embodying bicultural subjectivity as border subjects do, but also introduces the category of the political in relation to the queer space of the border” (“Pushing the Boundaries,” 75). Roybal claims a new subjectivity, defined by a hybrid camp-rasquache aesthetic that operates in the queer space of embodied border-subjectivities and is decentered and oppositional to geopolitical nationalisms and cultural systems. I agree with her use of the queer to meld modes of art, but I argue that rasquache and camp are not new but, rather, related tactics with a shared cultural history.

58. Márez, “Brown,” 129. Focusing on the class background of Chicano/a artists, but neglecting queer Chicanos/as as one of “the disenfranchised subgroups within the Chicano community who best exemplify a rasquache sensibility,” Ybarra-Frausto assumes that rasquache is used, fashioned, and performed across all intersections of Chicano/a culture, but does not specify the intersections (“Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” 160). Roybal draws this parallel for rasquache by turning to scholarly notions of camp, an aesthetic practice that “‘raises the issues of any minority culture’ (Bergman 1993, 10), suggesting that camp aesthetic is not restricted to discussions of sexuality” (“Pushing the [End Page 127] Boundaries,” 76). Roybal quotes David Bergman, Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1993).

59. I am referring to cultural appropriations of the art, styles, and languages of disenfranchised peoples by the dominant population in the U.S. through mainstream culture, which becomes economically and politically unjust when it is perceived as exemplary of racial, gender, and sexual equality.

60. García, “Against Rasquache,” 214.

61. Márez, “Brown,” 123.

62. During the Korean War, RCAF members José Montoya served in the US Navy, Esteban Villa served in the US Army, and Sam Rios Jr. served in the US Air Force. During the Vietnam War, Armando Cid, Hector González, and Juanishi Orosco served in the US Army.

63. García, “Against Rasquache,” 214. Holly Barnet-Sanchez directly counters that “the virtually untranslatable term rasquache is not perceived by Ybarra-Frausto and Mesa-Bains as kitsch, but it is often incorrectly defined by others as its equivalent” (“Tomás Ybarra-Frausto and Amalia Mesa-Bains,” 92).

64. Alfaro, Downtown, 325.

65. Ibid., 326.

66. López, “Emotional Contraband,” 31.

67. Ibid., 31-32.

68. Muñoz, “Memory Performance: Luis Alfaro’s ‘Cuerpo Politzado,’” 103.

69. Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” 158-59.

70. Ibid., 160.

71. López, “Emotional Contraband,” 31.

72. Ibid., 33.

73. A longer analysis of Luis Alfaro’s 1990s performances would allow a close reading of the fusions of rasquache, camp, and la domesticana in “Abuela,” a monologue in which he recalls a memory of his grandmother sucking his injured finger that he pricked on a thorn of a rose. He refers to his grandmother’s medical attention as “Primitive Latino First Aid.” This memory is within another memory of working for an AIDS awareness group and getting a paper cut.

74. Randy Ontiveros, “No Golden Age: Television News and the Chicano Civil Rights Movement,” American Quarterly 62, no. 4 (2010): 897–923.

75. Luis Valdez, “Twelve O’Clock High on a Wing and Acrylic,” in Ricardo Favela’s MFA Exhibition, In Search of Mr. Con Safos: RCAF Retrospective Poster Art Exhibition, ed. Max Garcia (Rancho Cordova, CA: Lankford & Cook Gallery, 1989).

76. Ibid.

77. Steve LaRosa, Pilots of Aztlán: The Flights of the RCAF (Sacramento: KVIE, 1994).

78. One example of Chicano/a antiwar discourse is La Batalla Está Aquí (1970), a pamphlet created by Chicana activists Lea Ybarra and Nina Genera that informed [End Page 128] Chicanos on ways to avoid the draft. But it was also “an antiwar manifesto,” declaring the “injustice and suffering rendered by the ‘same imperialist system, inextricably linked the Chicano—and indigenous—past to the same Vietnamese present.” Lorena Oropeza, “Antiwar Aztlán: The Chicano Movement Opposes U.S. Intervention in Vietnam,” in Window on Freedom: Race, Civil Rights, and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1988, ed. Brenda Gayle Plummer (Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 211-12.

79. Muñoz, “Memory Performance: Luis Alfaro’s ‘Cuerpo Politzado,’” 100.

80. García, “Against Rasquache,” 216. Emphasis in original.

81. “Orphans of Aztlán” from the United States of Poetry (1995), accessed July 20, 2016,

82. Secondary sources discussing the RCAF and Alfaro document performances that were not necessarily intended to be permanent works of art: here, rasquache and camp are inscribed in ephemeral performances. Fortunately, some of the RCAF’s Air Force rasquache performances were photographed or recorded by audiences. The brief sequence of shots of Luis Alfaro standing in a black dress in “Orphans of Aztlán” from The United States of Poetry is reproduced as a photograph in José Muñoz’s 2000 essay on Cuerpo Politizado. The photograph of Alfaro is a stage shot and also appears in the only publication of Downtown (1998) in which Alfaro introduces his monologues that are ordered differently than Muñoz’s account of Cuerpo Politzado. “Cuerpo Politizado” also appears as a single monologue or long poem with “Abuela” in Uncontrollable Bodies (1994), an anthology of testimonies on identity and culture. In this publication, Alfaro includes a series of self-portraits photographed by performance artist Laura Aguilar titled Clothed / Unclothed series, no. 20 (1992), further revealing his intentional use of drag as a screenidentity. See Luis Alfaro, “Cuerpo Politizado” in Uncontrollable Bodies: Testimonies of Identity and Culture, ed. Rodney Sappington and Tyler Stallings (Seattle: Bay Press, 1994), 217-29. My interest in the publication history of his monologues and the minimal photographic record of his performances pertains to their ephemeral nature, which unites rasquache and camp as a strategy for making do with what is at hand while maintaining an attitude of ambivalence, or in these cases, a lack of concern over the permanence of the work. As Ybarra-Frausto notes, “things that are rasquache possess an ephemeral quality … here today gone tomorrow” (“Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” 156).

83. Alfaro’s headpiece and makeup also gesture to Asco’s mural performances in the 1970s and on the streets of Los Angeles, further supporting a genealogical enterprise and formal succession between rasquache and camp in Chicano/a art.

84. Chon Noriega, “Fashion Crimes,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 26, no. 1 (2001): 7. Emphasis in original.

85. Ibid., 2.

86. Ibid., 7. [End Page 129]

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