June 27, 2014

Pedagogy of the Panza Featuring Irene Mata

Each and every time we learn of a teacher, activist, scholar, artist, professor, organizer, coordinator, or facilitator who is or has used The Panza Monologues as a teaching tool, we are extremely gratified and thankful. Our second edition of the play in publication was specifically conceived of and designed to help facilitate its use in classrooms of all kinds. We included numerous kinds of materials to accompany the script in order to inspire its use as a wide reaching teaching tool.

So, for the summer, we begin a series on our blog - "Pedagogy of the Panza" - celebrating and profiling teachers and their innovative instruction using The Panza Monologues, Second Edition. Over the next few months we will feature posts that showcase important, determined, and ingenious teachers of all kinds who are taking our work to the next level of its manifestation. Are you using The Panza Monologues, Second Edition in your classroom? We’d love to hear your story – contact us! panzapower@gmail.com

Name:  Irene Mata

Hometown:  El Paso/Juarez (currently living in Wellesley, MA)

Where do you teach? What’s your home department?
Wellesley College in the Women’s and Gender Studies Dept.

What class did you use The Panza Monologues in?
WGST 218—Stage Left: Chican@/Latin@ Theatre and Performance

Why did you choose to teach The Panza Monologues in your class?
Putting together a coherent syllabus that includes the diversity of theatre and performance in the Chican@/Latin@ community is a daunting task, and I chose to teach texts I believed encompass the complexities of this community. I decided to include The Panza Monologues because the text engages with multiple issues affecting the Chican@ community through the important lens of intersectionality. As a queer Chicana professor, the construction of identity and the intersecting role that race, gender, sexuality, class, and accessibility play in that construction is always at the center of my teaching. While the performance piece deals specifically with Chicana bodies, the stories of the panza go beyond any one group, and I knew students would be able to engage with the text regardless of their own background. Students at Wellesley are very familiar with, and quite critical of, The Vagina Monologues, and I wanted to introduce them to an example of a performance piece that more responsibly represents the voices of women. The Panza Monologues entertains but also educates an audience without appropriating the stories of the women whose lives the characters are drawn upon.

How did you teach The Panza Monologues (can you offer any fun or meaningful activities or panza teaching tools you want to share)?
I chose to teach The Panza Monologues at the end of the semester in order to help students bring together the multiple aspects of identity formation we had been discussing throughout the class. The performance piece focuses attention on the multiple structures of oppression that affect how we see and treat out bodies. The specificity of the panza as a site of analysis helped students think critically about how our bodies are constructed beyond the individual. We had an amazing discussion of body politics that intersected with a larger discussion of structural violence, including poverty and food justice.

Unlike traditional scripts, The Panza Monologues provided a rich set of texts to widen the discussion of the performance piece. Students loved reading the script and had much to say about it. Having access to secondary material included in the text, especially the narrative history of the play’s development, allowed students to understand the creative process involved in the production. We were able to discuss the script but also how the larger themes analyzed in the secondary materials were represented in the performance. The book as a whole provides a powerful example of a feminist praxis of creating activist art. Our college library also purchased the video of The Panza Monologues, which gave me yet another pedagogical tool in teaching the performance piece. Students watched the recording after reading the script and wrote responses on how watching Virginia perform the monologues added to their initial reading and understanding of the piece.

Why is it important to your field of study? What conversations/issues did the book raise?
Dr. Irene Mata (with Inigo Montoya)
reading The Panza Monologues,
Second Edition
The Panza Monologues invites its readers to think critically about how our ideas of our bodies are constructed through ideologies of worth and beauty. The performance piece roots its discussion of this construction in its analysis of multiple systems of oppression, including the medical establishment and a patriarchal structure that perpetuates violence against women. The book encourages a discussion of larger structural inequality through its emphasis on the panza and the role of the panza in the construction of womanhood.

What did you learn from teaching The Panza Monologues?
Unfortunately, teaching The Panza Monologues has made me aware of how much young people continue to struggle with their body image and the continued role that race and culture play in that struggle. I learned to use the book as a tool, as a counter-narrative to the very loud and destructive message young people receive about their panzas and marginalized communities. Brilliant students surround me, and I often forget that students, regardless of their level of intelligence, continue to battle external messages that dictate what constitutes beauty and worth. I feel, however, that teaching The Panza Monologues gives me an opportunity to intervene in their internalization of dominant ideologies of beauty and offers me the chance to talk back to ideologies that position our culture as deficient or lacking.  The performance piece has helped me teach students about our bodies, our culture, and love in our community in a way that challenges the medicalization of our bodies.  

Favorite quote from The Panza Monologues Book?
“Now someone’s panza story is a sacred story, and to share it with someone else is to tell them about the condition of your life” (42).

Finally - any new news? Or things/reflections you would like to share re: Panza? Or about your recent accomplishments?!

I loved teaching The Panza Monologues Book! It was a powerful educational experience for my students and myself, and I can’t wait to teach it next year!

Read more about Dr. Irene Mata HERE.

N.B. from Irma & Virginia: we are very, very proud to note that Dr. Mata recently received tenure at Wellesley - ajua!

Do you have a "Pedagogy of the Panza" story to share? Let us know! panzapower@gmail.com

June 24, 2014

The Panza in Perryville Women’s Prison: Part two of a two part series on The Panza Monologues in Arizona

Note: This is the second post of a two part series on Virginia Grise's trip to Arizona this past spring where she had the opportunity to present on The Panza Monologues, work with ASU's Humanities Behind the Wall program, and interact with women, students, and community members of all kinds. Read part one of the series HERE.

Goodyear, Arizona

Reflections from Virginia:
In 1998, I worked with a local arts organization in Austin, Texas to implement a series of writing workshops both at the high school where I taught and in the juvenile detention center. In this program, I met a twelve-year-old who was functionally illiterate. One of the poets and my mentor, Raul Salinas, asked me to work with him one-on-one. For two weeks, I would listen as he told me the story he wanted to tell, transcribed the words he dictated to me each day. Every night, the young man returned to his cell, paper tucked in the waistband of his pants. With the help of his cellmate, he would memorize the words on the page before returning to class the next day. At the end of the program, he performed his story with the rest of the students. The night before the reading he asked me “What about you Miss? What story are you gonna to tell tomorrow?” Without thinking I responded, "I'm not a writer." Raul calmly walked up behind me and under his breath said, "You better go home and write yourself a poem, sister." And I did. My very first public performance was in the juvenile correction system in Austin, Texas. 

I return to that memory often. It is an important moment in my genealogy. I revisit it whenever I feel a little lost - uncertain about my work and myself. When I can't figure it out alone, sometimes Raul appears to me in dreams, calmly redirecting me, "Don't be late to the discipline committee meeting, sister." And somehow I know exactly what he means. I was an activist turned artist and now I'm an artist trying to find my way back to the activism that shaped my early years of political development. As an artist, prisons (both literal and metaphorical) are a recurring trope in my work. I can't write about prisons without an analysis of the state, without imagining freedom and without fighting for liberation. 

Since 1998, I have taught numerous poetry classes in the juvenile correction system not only in Austin but in San Antonio and Los Angeles and have also taught women who are incarcerated in California but I find Humanities Behind the Walls run out of Arizona State University to be a particularly exciting model for inside/out programs.    

What is Humanities Behind the Walls?
 “Humanities Behind the Walls draws on a genealogy of situated and subjugated knowledges that have emerged from behind prison walls to provide an opportunity for faculty and students to critically engage the humanistic and humanizing potential inherent in acts of reading and discussing literature, poetry, and drama with people incarcerated at Perryville Women’s Prison, and with formerly incarcerated people at Arizona State University.”
The Panza in Perryville
Perryville Women's Prison (1 of 13 prisons in AZ) is off of I-10 in the small town of Goodyear, about 20 miles west of Phoenix. We drove there just as the sun was setting and you can not help but be seduced by the beauty of the landscape - forgetting for a moment that the desert can be a hostile place. Goodyear after all is in Maricopa County, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio.     

As we drive down the long road leading to Perryville, my body begins to tighten. The road gives way to steel gates and barbed wire, four units that make up The Perryville Complex, housing over 2,000 people behind bars. I've never been to Perryville and yet this is a familiar drive. The drive to the prison parking lot reminds me of similar drives I've taken to visit family and loved ones in state prisons and county jails across the Southwest - tucked away, off an exit that seems to lead to nowhere.  

The experience however is quite different. When you are visiting friends and family there is a way that many guards treat you as somehow guilty of a crime by association. It makes me paranoid, mentally going through the checklist of everything I can and can not do (no open toed shoes, sleeveless shirts, no paper, no keys) because I do not want my visitation denied. This time I am able to walk into the prison with a handful of books.  I brought signed copies of both The Panza Monologues and blu with me for the prison library as well as a copy of Truth and Dare: A Comic Book Curriculum for The End and The Beginning of the World

We walk in with ease after our IDs are checked by the guards but my body is still tight as I mentally go through the list (that I don't need this time) but I can't help it (no open toed shoes, sleeveless shirts, no paper, no keys), body tight, barely breathing. I don't think I actually begin to breath until we are introduced to two women on the inside (incarcerated at Perryville) that have been helping to facilitate the program. They invite us into a room and go over the agenda for the day.

Humanities Behind the Walls offered four different classes in Perryville, including a class on mothering and the concept of family, current issues, critical analysis, and theatre and performance.  The Panza Monologues was used in the theatre and performance class and I was invited to the final class of the spring semester where the women from all the classes presented their work to each other. One group of women even wrote their own Panza Monologue, read in three voices...  
I am trying to get rid of my panza and I couldn’t give a reason as to why
God created my panza beautiful and gave it to my mother and my father.
I’ve never had a flat panza, it’s always had a little hump.
I have it stuck in my head that I need to maintain a small weight. And yes, my arms are skinny and my legs appear skinny and I’m sure, to a lot of people, my panza seems non-existent.
In turn the doctor cut the umbilical cord separating mine and my mother’s panzas.
I like to think I have grown out of being ashamed of my panza not being flat! But what woman ever does?
But I don’t see it that way myself.
The feeling of loss.
Hell! The comparison started so young and so long ago. I suspect no matter how old or how wise I get – it will always be in the back of my mind.
In my image of myself, I see it as protruding out over my pants or shorts. I see my panza as growing instead of shrinking.
My panza grew and the world abused my panza with their greed and lust and want for more – not treasuring the panza.
Wait a minute – look at that bitch’s panza. We’re the same age and her shit is still flat…looking like a black Barbie.
Yes, I know I may not see things quite the way others do --- but how to get past it?
So I did not learn the power of the panza until I learned to treasure the creation of the panza.
Stop this shit “keybee” – stop complaining about it and do something about it. Hell no!! Naw – I paid for this panza. Why get rid of it?
After all, big is in this year!


After the women presented their work, I read excerpts from The Panza Monologues and blu.  My reading was open to not only the women in the classes but to the entire yard. As I performed, I was reminded of what it means to share our stories with each other, the power of storytelling and its potential danger. Some of the stories I read about queer desire and love could have been seen as “contraband” for example. I closed with a reading fom blu and asked the women - what do you dream?   

I believe in prison abolition and in the on-going work of Humanities Behind the Walls to create spaces of freedom in the most unlikely places.   


If you are interested in hosting a Panza Monologues book reading or workshop in your community contact us at panzapower@gmail.com


June 11, 2014

The Panza is Political!: A two part series on The Panza Monologues in Phoenix, Arizona

Note: This is the first post of a two part series on Virginia Grise's trip to Arizona this past spring where she had the opportunity to present on The Panza Monologues, work with ASU's Humanities Behind the Walls program, and interact with women, students, and community members of all kinds. Read part two of the series, The Panza in Perryville Prison HERE.

Phoenix, AZ

Despite recent legislation, Phoenix has always been a home for our panzas. One of our earliest performances of The Panza Monologues was in 2004 as part of the Teatro Caliente Festival. We were invited by Ramon Rivera-Servera and the Performance in the Borderlands Initiative at Arizona State University to showcase the work right before our premiere production in Austin, TX. Read Karen Jean Martinson’s review of that performance in Theatre Journal HERE

We are deeply inspired by the artistic community in Phoenix in part because of their strong political commitments.  They are fighting the good fight with conviction and extreme creativity. Since our trip in 2004, Virginia has continued to work in Phoenix with the organization Humanities Behind the Walls. Humanities Behind the Walls [HBW] is a collaborative inside/out “reading and research project that centers learning and ways of knowing grounded in experience and reflection about surviving incarceration.” Virginia recently visited Arizona for a week-long residency with HBW. While there, she gave a lecture at Arizona State University entitled "From Panzas to Prisons: Pedagogy, Social Justice and the Humanities," focusing on the relationship between cultural workers, social transformation, and social movements. She also performed at a fundraiser event for HBW, Embodied Justice, at the Herberger Theatre along with DJ Spiritchild from New York, she facilitated a writing workshop on writing [auto]geographies, and she visited the women’s prison at Perryville, AZ where she read from The Panza Monologues and her award-winning play blu

Listen to Virginia's interview with Steve Goldstein on Phoenix Public Radio station KJZZ HERE

Yovani Flores from Mujeres de Sol 
at the site of their community garden.
The panza-palooza week had a ripple effect in the Phoenix art community. After Virginia’s performance at the Herberger, the theatre will begin doing a monthly event curated by Mary Stephens. This opening up of the established, mainstream theatre is unprecedented in many ways. The director of the Herberger spoke to the importance of events like The Panza Monologues because they create a public space for civic dialogue, reminding him of the days when people would travel to hear revolutionary activists like Stokely Carmichael speak. "Isn’t that what theatre is suppose to be – a place where we can engage ideas and issues as a community?" he said. After Virginia’s workshop on [auto]geographies, the women of Mujeres de Sol planted a community garden and dedicated some of the plants to panza positivity. Virginia and DJ Spiritchild are working on a new collaboration in New York, scheming on new ways to bring their art and politics together in cultural events - stay tuned! Panza POWER is in full effect ya’ll! 

Kyla Pasha on her panza and The Panza Monologues:

The Panza Monologues Goes Beyond the Physical,

from "Political Panza" in The Panza Monologues:
Sometimes I think I was chosen not to have a panza. So that I would learn that there is a panza inside my panza. And inside those panzas you can’t see - there are little boys who will one day grow up to be men. If we raise them by what we know to be true, they will love the panzas they came from, and they will bow down to the panzas they are now destroying for golf courses and petroleum wars.
You see, this is why I am in solidarity with my panza-sisters because the panza is political. If we asked how the panza was for all the citizens of a given society, we might not have hunger for our children or our elders. If we asked how the panza was for a woman with child, we might have quality pre-natal care for all expectant mothers. If we asked, how is the panza? Is it fed, is it warm? Is it nourished?  Was this panza living next to an electrical plant? A lead site? A cancer cluster? Will it get the medicine needed for a healthy panza?
Perhaps, if our government instituted Panza Positive Policies we might have world peace because we can see our humanity by the well being of all our panzas. So don’t be afraid of what we have to do because we are the panza, and to claim the panza is to be free, free, and it’s mine and yours, and we are all panzitas in one big round panza, and she loves us very much.
The panza is political.
Read more HERE about what even Obama called an "urgent humanitarian situation," thousands of unaccompained minors that were detained crossing the US-Mexico border, then transferred to a warehouse in Arizona. Please speak out about this and demand Panza Positive Immigration Policies NOW!

Why is The Panza Monologues important in Phoenix?

"The Panza Monologues was a watershed moment for Phoenix theatre-going audiences. Virginia Grise and Irma Mayorga’s electrifying work puts a voice to the politics of the body and the importance of alternative narratives to re-imagine the borders in our lives. To see this performance in Phoenix, Arizona - a mixture of humor, poignant personal narrative, and scathing political critique of systems of oppression - gave me hope that another Arizona is possible!  The Panza Monologues carves out a personal space to have a public dialogue around the body, race, gender, politics, and borders." - Mary Stephens, Producing Director, ASU Performance in the Borderlands  

Sara Suhail on the panza and Phoenix:

"A panza movement is important for our Phoenix communities. Phoenix is wide with food deserts, fast food, GMOs, and panzas of every shape and size. Every(body) is quick to conceal it - even las flacas. It’s time to come out of the shadows, time to hear our voices and see the beauty of the panza. We adopted a public garden so we can all break out of our panza closets, and start nurturing healthy panzas." - Yovani Flores, Co-Founder, Mujeres Del Sol 


If you are interested in hosting a Panza Monologues book reading or workshop in your community contact us at panzapower@gmail.com