Remembering Beyond the Self: Crossing Borders 2001

In a passionate keynote address at the third in CLAGS’s series of “Crossing Borders” conferences,
Cherríe Moraga called on conference participants to “hold the pussy in public,” to join otherwise
isolated Latina/o artists in bringing racialized queerness into public debate. Presented at the University
of Texas at Austin in February, “Crossing Borders 2001: U.S. Latina/o Queer Performance” was linked by
its coalitional politics around race and ethnicity—broadly figured as latinidad—and gender and sexuality.
This three-day gathering was sponsored by CLAGS through a generous gift from the Michael C.P. Ryan
Estate and co-sponsored by the Center for Dramatic and Performance Studies at the Department of
Theatre and Dance at UT.
As if to model Moraga’s challenge, scholars Oscar Montero, Tiffany Ana López, Larry La Fountain
Stokes, Alicia Arrizón, José Quiroga, José Muñoz, Marvette Pérez, Amelia Malagamba-Ansótegui, Licia Fiol-
Matta, and Irma Mayorga joined performers Alina Troyano, Marga Gómez, Luis Alfaro, Paul Bonin-
Rodríguez, Tony Valenzeula, Gigi Otalvaro Hormillosa, and Arthur Avilés to present their work and stage
conversations that covered the territory between queer Latina/o theory and practice.
Moraga said we need better artistic training for more people, so that truths can be told that make
survival for queer Latina/os more possible. She called for us to require more of our art, so that more
queer Latino/a artists will be equipped to take the risks that make them heroic. Luis Alfaro’s performance
at the conference perhaps exemplified the precise technique and the power of presence that
demonstrates such heroism. Alfaro performed clips from life at the intersection of Pico and Union in
downtown Los Angeles, an intersection of possibility in which there are no “orphans of Atzlan.” He
described his own experiences in ways that, as Moraga suggested, go “so deep into the ‘I’ they become
the ‘we’.” Tiffany López pointed out that Alfaro trained with feminists, working with Maria Irene Fornes
to perfect his writing technique and to hone what López calls Alfaro’s “politics of empathy.” In
performance, his body appears excessive (critics, in fact, apparently refer frequently to his weight, a
gendered reference that’s usually reserved for women, which links Alfaro to a kind of feminized, but
ultimately feminist, presence). He capitalizes on this excessiveness by staging scenes in which he
represents gestically—in a Brechtian sense—the ways in which Latino and white culture, and heterosexual
and gay culture, collide.
In one moment, while a voiceover tells the story of his Mexican mother’s rejection by his assimilated
Mexican-American father, Alfaro stuffs himself with Twinkies, popping each individually packaged treat
open and forcing it into his mouth, at first with pleasure, then with desperation, as he crams two
separate boxes of the junk food through his teeth. The audience reacted first with glee at what seemed
to be parodic, then with horror at the metaphor Alfaro performed. His performance described how
assimilation leaves no room for the self, can’t even really be consumed. All that gooey cream and vanilla
cake, and all the symbolic racial whiteness of the Twinkie snack, had to be spit into a towel at the end of
the piece, although crumbs of the cake lingered on Alfaro’s face through the rest of the performance, like
a reminder of the tenacious seductions of assimilation.
This excessiveness, and the way it marks his body as feminine, as marginal, as finally incapable of
joining the club of white assimilation or of Latino masculinity, allied Alfaro with a feminist and queer politic,
one that offered moments of community, coalition, and faith. In his number “Heroes and Saints,” he honors
Cherríe Moraga’s play by the same name. Moraga watched from the audience during the performance at
the conference as he credited her, performing a piece about gay male history, about coming out, gaining
c o m m u n i t y, finding himself on the margins of white gay life, losing friends to AIDS. In honoring Moraga,
Alfaro made palpable the queer Latino/a genealogy that his work—and the conference—is about. At the
conference, Moraga said that art “lets you believe in cultural memory; it’s a way of remembering beyond
the self.” “Crossing Borders 2001” exemplified such coalitional rememberings.

Jill Dolan, former executive director of CLAGS, was a consultant to Crossing Borders 2001. She holds the Z. T. Scott Family Chair in Drama at the University of Texas at Austin.

“Crossing Borders
2001: U.S. Latina/o
Queer Performance”
was linked by its
coalitional politics
around race and
figured as latinidad
—and gender and