Note: This is the first post of a two part series on "The Panza Monologues Some Like it Hot South Texas Book Tour" this past summer. Panza Monologues co-creator, Virginia Grise co-ordinated and read from The Panza Monologues, Second Edition in five South Texas cities in five days at diverse venues such as an independent bookstore, a university, an art museum, and also in people's homes. You can find part two of this series, "Thinking Outside the Black Box," HERE.
Reflections from Josh Inocéncio, Panza Monologues South Texas Book Tour Producer.
A hotel room with a window that opens to the sea. Gulls squawk their songs, the wind blows and encourages the sand to roll through the sacate. Then:
Virginia: Have you see the "Anaconda" music video?
Josh: Ahhhh, not yet!
Virginia: And you call yourself a cultural worker...
My Anaconda don't...
My Anaconda don't...
My Anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hun
These lyrics bust out in a tranquil South Padre Island hotel room as Virginia and I eagerly watch Nicki Minaj’s "Anaconda" - a partial remix of the 90’s "Baby Got Back" - in between events on our south Texas tour of The Panza Monologues. Then we witnessed the Internet's heart attack as scholars and commentators struggled to decide if Nicki is feminist enough (for whom?) or, at least, what type of feminism she’s espousing in her newest music video.
I’m a devout Nicki follower, from "Stupid Hoe" to "The Boys" feat. Cassie. What I admire most about her as a performance artist (yes, I went there) is the same thing I admire about the women whose stories are represented in The Panza Monologues: their unrelenting confidence in their bodies, whether it be Nicki’s embrace of her girls with a “big, fat ass in the club” or the Chicana celebration of the panza that centers the whole body. And Nicki even exudes this confidence as a craftswoman outside her work, as do Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga in their professional lives.
This conversation around cultural work, as well as a praxis deeply nourished by chusma origins in San Antonio and Houston, characterized the colorful aventura/jornada/peregrinaje that Virginia and I orchestrated to share with Chicana/o communities in the Rio Grande Valley.
From chasing down UPS drivers in dusty environs to busting flip-flops in hotels that were bien fancy, Virginia and I toured The Panza Monologues book for five days in South Texas. Our aim was to disseminate the play as a written text (a book) rather than as a full-scale performance to predominantly Chicana/o communities, in cities such as San Antonio, Brownsville, Edinburg, and McAllen. This relationship emerged when my thesis advisor Nia Witherspoon, placed me in contact with Virginia so that I could ask her questions about playwriting and living as a professional artist in New York. After a few introductory chats, Virginia and I discovered that we would both be in San Antonio during August, and she invited me to work with her as a producer for the tour.
Then, through an impromptu, en chingas process, we contacted museums, cultural centers, universities, bookstores (all non-traditional theatre spaces), as well as anyone we knew in the Rio Grande Valley, in order to see who might be interested in hosting readings of The Panza Monologues.
Dr. Marci McMahon invited us to do a reading at The University of Texas - Pan American. Anel Flores and Jim Navarro threw "Panza Parties" in their homes, and we organized events with the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts and Paragraphs on Padre Bookstore. And through constant exchanges with more than two people named Jovita or Sally, we discovered one thing in ALL these spaces: Chicanas/os in the Valley are hungry for these cultural performances, and they want to fill their panzas with theatre. Indeed, we nearly sold out of all our books on the first day when a legion of viejitas showed up to Virginia’s reading at the museum. With only four books left, Virginia and I emergency ordered 25 more to sustain the rest of the events, but laaaawd, the chusma chasedown of the UPS truck that involved a security guard and a frigid postal worker who couldn’t handle Virginia’s San Anto heat is another story - one you can read next week in the second part of this blog series.
Virginia and I may not be setting out to open theatres in the Valley or anywhere else in Texas, but we share a common vision of making Chicana/o theatre performances and texts more accessible in our home-state, especially in communities that do not have regular access to theatres that reflect Chicana/o cultural issues.
Boy toy named Troy used to live in Detroit
Big dope dealer money, he was getting some coins
Was in shootouts with the law, but he live in a palace
Bought me Alexander McQueen, he was keeping me stylish
Scramblin’ to find my own boy toy named Troy who can get me some coins, I’m investigating all the possible ways to live as an artist. Chistes aside, I’m a Master’s student at Florida State University finishing up my thesis before I make the big move to New York or Chicago to start networking and working professionally in the theatre. I accepted Virginia’s offer to work with her right away because I believe in her project aims. My primary responsibility for the tour was to produce the events and handle all the contacts we made. However, as the tour progressed my relationship to the panza activities transformed more into Virginia’s artistic apprentice as I observed her bold yet siempre norteada methodology (and, as Irma will tell you, that girl’s process, like my own, is always a “zig-zag”). Amid the events in each city, Virginia and I discussed making a life/living as a working artist and using personal stories as the roots for our writing.
To be sure, Virginia and Irma’s Panza Monologues has influenced my own artistic work, especially for the solo play I just wrote and will start performing in spring 2015. For my play, Purple Eyes, which explores queer passages of masculinity and Mexican cultural inheritances among the previous generations of Inocéncio men and myself, I traveled to San Antonio to gather memories and stories from my family members who live there. I interviewed mis tías, mis tíos, y mis primos throughout the Inocéncio, Ynosencio, and Mendoza clans about their relationships to identifying as Mexicans, practicing Catholicism and/or indio beliefs, or negotiating hyper-masculine spaces such as the police force, the military, or the drug trades. I collect these stories and reawaken our indigenous P’urhépecha past in order to dream up ways of dismantling the racism, sexism, and homophobia that have pervaded my family’s experiences.
As sources of inspiration, the urgency of “Political Panza” and the humor of “From Cha-Cha to Panza” remained in my mind as I wrote, yet Virginia’s [auto]geography in the The Panza Monologues book stuck with me the most, especially as she performed sections from this for our South Texas audiences. Rooted in the southern Mexican state of Michoacán and underneath the smoggy blankets of Houston, I’ve mapped an Inocéncio [auto]geography of my own in what I’m referring to as an “ancestral autobiography” where I position my own queer subjectivity in relationship to other instances where the Inocéncios have contested a machismo pero bien fuerte. Virginia told me that all of her work is, in some way, grounded in her personal experiences, and I can’t imagine another way of crafting stories for my own work.
And then there was the journey of the tour, which planted the necessary seedlings for me to imagine a long-distance, torrential love affair with Tejas. I originally planned to live in San Antonio longer, but as I worked with Virginia, my mind opened to other possibilities. As a queer playwright and performer invested in socially relevant theater, I position myself as a cultural worker. I carry my chicanismo everywhere I go (thank you, Virginia and Irma, for reminding me) but The Panza Monologues book tour helped me imagine new ways of working with la tierra natal while living states away. Certainly, the logistical process for South Texas was an enlightening one. My experience with Virginia demonstrated what I need to be mindful about as a traveling artist, and, more importantly, as an artist engaged in cultural reclamation.
Yeah, he love this fat ass
Yeah! This one is for my bitches with a fat ass in the fucking club
I said, "Where my fat ass bitches in the club?"
Lemme hear it from all my Latino jotos en el club, en el mundo, fuck y’all homophobic bitches tryna step ON OUR TRIP!
Disculpame, gente, I get carried away sometimes.
I won’t pretend to make an easy comparison with myself, Nicki, and the mujeres of The Panza Monologues. The story of my panza is my own. I’ve grappled with confidence issues, both in my work and in my body, as I’ve matured to where I am now. And my writings reflect these conflicts, whether it was being an awkward, scrawny joto who just wanted to “bang, bang, bang” or a güero with fair skin and blondish hair who sometimes wondered whether he was “Latino enough” (again, for whom?).
In The Panza Monologues, in a piece called “Historia,” the performer retells the origins of the universe which is connected to the panza, and she even elaborates on the moon’s involvement in the creation. As a Cancerian crab, my spiritual, emotional, sexual energies are centered in the panza. And since I am a water spirit, my moods wax and wane with the moon like the mujeres in my family or the Galveston waters I grew up by. Reminiscent of the speaker in “International Panza,” I am Coyolxauhqui’s son long before I’m Huitzilopochtli’s. And I may be flaco, but I have a gordito appetite and a high metabolism (or I just spill my food a lot). But more importantly, mi panza y mi corazon have even larger appetites for love and sharing stories with other people, which is why I call out to my other jotos and Latinos in this club of the world.
I referenced the South Texas tour as a peregrinaje, not just because we ended the trip at a curandero shrine, but because the cultural work we engaged in with the Rio Grande Valley has a sacred and urgent potency that I will continue as an artist. After the UT - Pan-American event, a young Chicana asked Virginia how she had gained so much confidence. "Have you always been confident?" she asked. "I ask that question because I am trying to learn how to be confident myself." And this is why we must continue this kind of practice.
As the Chicano theatre historian Jorge Huerta instructed me at ATHE (Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference) in Phoenix, Arizona this past summer, “No more humble Mexicans, no more humble African-Americans, no more humble queers!”
The time for our cuentos is NOW.
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Read about The Panza Monologues at ATHE HERE.
Read Christina R. Garza's article about the South Texas book tour in The Brownsville Herald HERE.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book a reading of The Panza Monologues in your community.
Buy your copy of The Panza Monologues, Second Edition HERE.