This dissertation analyzes how embodied embodied cultural performances of the nation complicate the construction of Mexicanness, lo mexicano, as mestizo and heteronormative. My research takes us back to the notion of lo mexicano to show how from the beginning it had an embodied, performative element that materialized the idea of national identity. By focusing on the role that performance has played in the emergence of a national imaginary, I draw attention to the body’s capacity to represent norms but also to play with them, inscribing new, if ephemeral, meanings and archives within hegemonic identities. In my research I understand staged instances of lo mexicano as festive practices that created contested, polyphonic fields of action. Highlighting embodied knowledges and practices enables me to add a new dimension to analysis of Mexican cultural production, which has generally privileged discursive and visual modes of representation, such as muralism, golden age cinema, and the novel of the Mexican Revolution. The performance of bodies in public places reveals a much more complex picture, articulating female, indigenous, and queer embodiments of lo mexicano alongside the dominant embodiment of monumental masculinity. My work underscores how festive cultural performances create a sense of corporeal expression, impacting the ideas, practices, and institutions that have shaped Mexican citizen formation and national belonging, particularly in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. The festive performances I explore ultimately draw attention to the multiple ways Mexican citizens have embodied the nation, from the post-revolutionary period to the present.
Chapter one looks into “La Noche Mexicana,” a two-day event that took place in Chapultepec, Mexico, in 1921 during the centennial festivities of Mexican Independence, in order to analyze the significance of the embodiment of the “popular” as it was staged during this massive fiesta celebration. By looking at photographs, programs, and newspaper articles, I examine how the contrast between imaging, imagining, and embodying the nation created different publics and hence iterations of lo mexicano. I propose to think of lo mexicano as an assemblage in order to focus on the contingency of the temporal, spatial, and corporeal registers that render the nation legible and consumable. In this sense, the chapter highlights the ways bodies in motion bring to the fore the limits and the excesses of the fiction of the nation. Performing the nation through bodies calls attention to how corporeal actions reveal the contingent nature of re-presenting Mexico. If the staging of cultural performances of Mexico during the centenary aimed to form a national body, the actual embodiment of the nation complicated the coherence, legibility, and even unity of the “popular” character of the nation. Yaqui Indians, tehuanas, jaraneros, chinas, and charros were summoned to embody Mexico, yet in so doing, their own bodies conjured other Mexicos.
Chapter two focuses on the consolidation of dance, especially folklórico, as a festive mode of representation of Mexican culture and how it contributed to the formation of Mexican citizens. In particular, I consider the work of Nellie Campobello and her impact on the emergence of folklórico dance as a form of pedagogy through which the state formed its citizens and a means to understand, read, and consume Mexican imaginaries of the nation. As a dancer herself and an influential choreographer along with her sister Gloria Campobello, Campobello’s career at once contributed paradoxically to the consolidation of lo mexicano as hyper-masculinized and mestizo while creating spaces for female and queer enactments of national subjects. This chapter thus considers her collaboration with the Secretaría de Educación Pública (SEP), her work at the Escuela Nacional de Danza (END) as a founding member and director from 1937 to 1985, and the publication of Ritmos indígenas de México (1940) in order to examine how Nellie Campobello’s own rendition of lo mexicano complicated hegemonic understandings of the nation through her own body. Her corporeal and choreographic practices performatively challenged and undid what she purportedly aimed to represent, particularly in terms of race, gender, and sexuality. Campobello’s work and bodily actions therefore underscored the ambiguities and tensions that I read as queer, particularly in this period of the consolidation of a unified, masculinist, mestizo nation.
Chapter three explores the performance of discourses of the nation as lived experiences. In this chapter, I analyze the “danza de los mecos,” which is performed annually by approximately twelve young Nahua males—half dressed as women and two dressed as devils—during the fiesta-carnival in honor of Tlacatecolotl—the “owl man” deity who embodies good and evil. I argue that the dancing of the mecos functions as a way for them to mark ethnically their space while simultaneously allowing for performers to gesture towards queer imaginaries that challenge hetero-patriarchy. I explore how indigeneity produces and is produced through the festive bodies of the mecos in relationship to the folklorization of the nation, of lo mexicano. This chapter draws heavily from ethnographic performance research and the interviews I conducted in the Nahua-speaking community of Tecomate, Chicontepec, Mexico in the spring of 2014 and 2015. In this chapter, therefore, I advance an approach that queers the archive of conventional studies on indigeneity in the humanities by engaging the topic as a lived experience and an embodied problematic and not just as an ideological manifestation. I examine bodily acts as the intersection between imagination, ritualized behavior, and playfulness in order to interrogate how the fiesta-carnaval operates as a conduit for the transmission of knowledge, social memory, and norms in the construction of indigenous subjects vis-à-vis lo mexicano. I contend that the moving bodies of the mecos conjure not only normalizing regimes of ethnicity, gender, and sexuality, but also a sociality and a world-making praxis that operate as a means of indigenous knowledge production and transmission of social memory. The chapter concludes with the current process of folklorization that has recently impacted the municipality of Chicontepec, thereby influencing communal indigenous ritualistic practices. The recent and ongoing folklórico rendition of the mecos by the municipal folklórico group, Meztli, at once demonstrates the tensions and contradictions of claiming a Nahua sense of identity while simultaneously proclaiming a sense of regional and national belonging through dance.