October 29, 2015

International Panza Featuring Claire M. Massey

The Panza Monologues has travelled far and wide all across the nation, not only in theaters but in college classrooms, community centers, and even in people's living rooms. Recently The Panza Monologues has even crossed international borders. This blog post focuses on the work of scholar and panza ally Claire M Massey, a doctoral candidate at Saarland University in Germany who tirelessly advocates for Chican@ literature internationally. Her dissertation is situated in the field of Cultural Studies, specifically looking at the Librotraficante Movement out of Houston, Texas. 


Name: Claire M Massey
Hometown: Poynton, Cheshire, UK
Currently lives in: Saarbrücken, Germany
Field of study: Cultural Studies

How were you introduced to Chicano literature?
When I was a third-year undergrad (Warwick University, UK) I spent my year abroad at UCLA. The classes I had chosen from the catalogue put me in the César E. Chávez Department of Chicana/o Studies. It was here that the world of Chican@ literature opened-up to me. Although I was studying Comparative American Studies (CAS) at my home university, not once was the term “Chican@” used, no literature, no history, no ‘Mexican American’, ‘no Latin@’, nothing. I knew this was wrong because I had spent two years working on a US Army base in Frankfurt, Germany, where I’d met Chicanos from Texas, Washington State, Kentucky, and California. Yet, once I got to university here was a gaping hole in the narrative of the Americas. That’s why I went to UCLA. That’s where my education really started.

Why is Chicano studies important in your country?
If you Google, “Chicano Studies UK”, you get nothing. If you Google, “Chicano Studies England”, you get nothing. So, I Google’d “Chicano Studies Warwick” (My ‘Alma Mater’) and got a link to ‘Warwick Hispanic Studies’, founded 2012. Although ‘The House on Mango Street’ is mentioned in one of the modules, the course offerings are heavily Latin American and Caribbean in focus. Chican@ literature and history doesn’t appear to be a part of their syllabus. I have no doubt that there are courses at Universities in the UK that include the works of Gloria Anzaldúa, Ana Castillo, and others, and that there are independent researchers, but Chican@ Studies as an academic field does not appear to exist. 

In the country where I now study, Germany, there has long been academic interest in Chican@ Studies. However, that is not to say that there are stand-alone Chican@ Studies programmes at the universities, but more that scholarly research is very strong. As is it is in Spain. However, for many inside and outside university here, as in the UK, the term Chican@ is simply not known. Those who have heard of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, have not heard of Dolores Huerta or César Chávez. The Civil Rights Movement was the Black community. 

I believe Chican@ Studies is vital as a lens for Western Europe to view immigration, migration, and its communities. For Europe to see how it feeds off the labour of migrant workers, and how our schools render invisible all but the stories of the Anglo majority. How our university departments, faculty, staff and students do not reflect the communities they are set in. It is very easy in Western Europe to view racism, police violence, and political extremism as inherently of the United States. Through Chican@ Studies we have to ask ourselves: “What about here?”

Why is The Panza Monologues important to your field of study?
Like Borderlands/La Frontera, The Panza Monologues is a masterpiece of “theory in the flesh.” A narrative of female oppositional consciousness and agency, it reveals the counter-stories of communities rendered invisible in a city built upon their backs. Here the city is San Antonio, sold slick, and shiny, shrink-wrapped in mariachis and margaritas, no glimpse of darker realities beyond The Riverwalk. In this age of globalisation, neoliberalism, and citizen as consumer, The Panza Monologues framework challenges the reader/audience to actively disturb notions of place, of identity, beauty, belonging, and power; to push back against majoritarian myth, against patriarchy, and to develop strategies of survival that nurture self, community, agency, and love.

The Panza Monologues, like Chican@ Studies, offers mirrors of identity for those whose communities are distorted by societal narratives. Distorted by images in the media. By being rendered both visible and invisible. It offers the students who do not see themselves in the courses offered, the reading lists, the exam questions and their assumptions, well, The Panza Monologues offers them a voice, a chance to tell their story, a relatable familiarity. It is a powerful tool for self-recognition, and for self-love.

What part of The Panza Monologues book were you most drawn to and why?
"The Prologue" made me think of my mother, who is amazing, but has always worried about her weight. And when she has never been ‘overweight’ (whatever that is, right?), but when we were younger, when we’d all sit down together to eat dinner, she would eat off a smaller plate, she’d read it somewhere that that would work. Or she’d go to Weight Watchers, or eat cabbage soup for a week. Now when I see her she tells me how much weight she’s lost, it’s still an accomplishment for her. Perhaps in a house of six people this is something she has always felt she has control over. Perhaps when we went through periods when money was tight this was a strategy to keep the home together. My brother and my dad have never worried about their weight. My two sisters have. I went through a period of bulemia when I was in my late teens. Now if I put my mind to it I can eat very little. I don’t do that so much anymore, but I can become obsessed with what I eat. I always feel more confident when I’m thinner. I was bullied at school for being ugly, so I know I cannot get fat, for me that would a double curse, fat and ugly. So I try to watch what I eat. To draw attention away from my face. Well, that is quite a thing to reveal. This I guess is my Panza Monologue.

Favorite Quote from The Panza Monologues book?
“You gots to love the panza. You gots to love yourself.” -from "Panza Girl Manifesto"


Claire Massey completed her undergraduate studies at Warwick University and received her MA from the University of Leeds. In 2014 she was a recipient of the LILIAS CMAS Benson Library Fellowship, at UT Austin. Claire is also the recipient of the Soho Theatre London’s Westminster Prize, has performed with the Old Vic’s community theatre company and in the summer of 2012 she took part in the closing ceremony of the London Olympics.


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