December 4, 2015

Pedagogy of The Panza Featuring Angie Chabram

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.

Our blog series "Pedagogy of the Panza" celebrates and profiles teachers and their innovative instruction using The Panza Monologues, Second Edition. These posts 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!


Name: Angie Chabram, Professor
Hometown: La Puente, California

Where do you teach? 
Chicana/o Studies UC Davis, Davis, CA;

In what class/type of class did you use The Panza Monologues? 
Chicana/o Studies 155, Theater.

Why did you choose to teach The Panza Monologues in your class? 
I choose to teach The Panza because of its relevance to my theater class. This class is geared primarily toward the study of El Teatro Campesino and Chicana feminist theater. Students are exposed to a multimedia study of plays, scripts, and performance artists. They learn about the different kinds of theatrical techniques and traditions deployed by alternative grassroots artists and playwrights.

This instruction is not based on a literary criticism or theater criticism model. Here the objective is to reflect critically on the use of theater as a means of popular social expression and transformation. Students in the class absorb the lessons of the past in order to craft their own meaningful expressions of the present. They work in collaborative groups, write scripts, and assemble performances based on the most important social issues facing them today. It is my intent to act as a facilitator in this regard, providing them with an assortment of tools which they can use in their student productions. They then combine these with their own sources of communal knowledge and speech. 

When we looked at The Panza Monologues we did so in relation to previous Chicana/o movement theatrical works. We had already read Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez’s account of El Teatro Campesino and students had launched their own critiques about the limited roles for women in many of the skits. They were more than ready for a female-centered work where the protagonist breaks out of inherited stereotypical configurations. I was interested in providing other kinds of meaningful social ideologies that could accommodate the contemporary issues of women. I was very aware of the fact that in some early works the battery of women had gone unchecked (El Corrido de Jesús Pelado for instance), and that Malinchismo was alive and strong. For instance, in the play “Los Vendidos” there is a character named Miss-JIM-enez. She acts as the go-between. She comes to Honest Sancho’s Shoppe where she seeks to “buy” a brown face for the governor’s office. She translates the governor’s vision and in doing so she activates racial stereotypes and the political interests of the dominant group. Finally, she completes the selection process of the governor’s office and leaves with a character that fits the bill of the token brown face. Just before leaving she says, just call me “Jimmy.” The transaction is completed and so is her conversion to dominant masculinity. Of course we realize that the  actors from El Teatro Campesino in Honest Sancho’s only acted like puppets. They put on the sell-out show to be able to
Miss JIM-en-ez from Los Vendidos
enter places of representation that are forbidden to them. The used car salesman, Honest Sancho was the biggest puppet of all. The members of the troupe used him to gather funds for their political purpose. Although Miss JIM-enez is also a sell-out, she is the only real sell-out. At the beginning of the play she is identified as a Chicana, thus the model of malinchismo continues to thrive. 

What was important in CHI Studies 155 was to produce another model where you see the self-determination and leadership of la Chicana. Here in The Panza the protagonist takes hold of discourse and she speaks and speaks, hurling disparate monologues into time and space. Her body is also the locus of enunciation and a major performative tool. 

This provided me with an excellent opportunity. As I was teaching this class I was very interested in also giving the students more exposure to the different ways the body figured into performance. The students were well aware of Broyles-Gonzalez’s work and suggestion that the body has memory and a form of intuition based on the oral tradition. Unlike the early examples of Chicanas malinchistas here in this play the Chicana performer owns every part of her body. She is not a being for another dressed in blonde wig and the political consumes of the mainstream. Her body occupies theatrical space, it is the stage for a number of  performances involving identity, politics, health, migration, family, and nation. These performances are articulated around a series of disparate narratives that shed light on obesity, domestic violence, migration, bodily image, and the panza as the center. I would like to suggest that Panza Monologues enact a kind of epistemological shift that cannot be
seen in texts such as The Vagina Monologues. 

Prof. Angie Chabram
This shift allows a  contextualization of the performance in the historical condition of the impoverished and working poor for whom the issue of sustenance is very real. The pangs of hunger that are heard throughout this play of course remind the readers of the Chicana/o Mexicana/o Latina/o populations who wage a struggle for subsistence on a daily basis. Of course the whole issue of body image is itself a major theme in the play that needs to be pried open in the context of underrepresented social groups who do not control the dominant media images. As the speaking subject emerges on the scene we see that she performs a necessary but humorous counter discourse to bodily ideologies that would shame those who have panzas and cannot hide them—or refuse to hide. In a nutshell, she celebrates the panza as a representation of the larger social body and as a relational aspect of social existence that includes a mind-body as well as emotional connection. 

I also believe that the issue of social, ideological and narrative consumption is at the heart of these monologues. The play asks: What kinds of social ideologies of the body, the community, the state of Chicana/o Latina/o health are we consuming? Which of these ideologies need to be rejected or modified by a population which is still (as Anzaldúa would say) “carved and tattooed by the sharp needles of experience?” This is a population which aside from waging a struggle for survival must also wage a struggle for educational and political access, social and political equity, and a struggle for control over the mechanisms of representation in order that dangerous stereotypes and dangerous initiatives be displaced. 

As a professor who cares deeply about the formation of alternative health narratives, I view The Panza Monologues from this angle. I think that these monologues break open the medicalized languages ascribed to the Chicana body which are apparent in its generic descriptions within medicalese. Often these descriptions separate the body from life histories, they also wrestle them away from larger social communities and cultural expressions. By making the panza speak we see how the connections have been reconfigured through a kind of personification on stage. In addition we see how Chicana bodies “talk back” to mainstream health solutions that don’t take into account such important aspects of life and culture such as the Mexican palate. There is also a rejection of the kind of self-hatred and othering that takes place in society in relation to obese people and Mexican people at large. There is a sense that the panza (and obese body) is a body which is alive and should not be dehumanized or disciplined to conform to a mainstream model in order for it to be healed of all of its ailments. 

How did you teach The Panza Monologues (any fun or meaningful activities or panza teaching tools you want to share)?
An issue that we brought up in the viewing of the DVD was the issue of how the play dealt with the issue of the rampant obesity and diabetes in community. It was clear that the mainstream medical approaches assigned to the little sister did not suffice, that starvation isn’t a goal. But  we remarked that we were not fully sure about what the healing path could be, other than self-healing, spirituality, and community understanding. It was clear that there could be another Monologue added that dealt with these issues.

Why is The Panza Monologues important to your field of study? What conversations/issues did the book raise? 
Aside from the themes I have developed above I think that there were a number of interesting strategies deployed in the performance such as the [zapateado] scene which relied on the dance to dramatize the serious issues facing Latina/o communities. I had a math student in the class who wanted to downplay this a bit by stating that as far as statistics presented in this scene the Mexican population didn’t fare far worse that other groups. I don’t know how often these statistics are changed. We talked about how a comparative dimension could be worked into these monologues especially with the high incidence of diabetes in Native American, African American, and many global populations throughout the world, including India. 

What did you learn about your teaching or about your students from teaching The Panza Monologues? 
The main thing I appreciated were the bodily movements that accompanied the play that hit the ball out of the park and were vastly more developed than what we saw in the early use of pantomime. I also enjoyed the kind of gestures toward audience population that were evident throughout the play and the way the audience became part of the performance. I also thought that there were a number of welcoming gestures enacted by the lead actress which invited the audience to engage in a kind of co-creation of the panza. This is productive work in the field of representation that needs attention at this moment in time in relation to this and other aspects of the feminine body of color from working class background. Finally I would like to see a kind of intertextual dialogue between works on Latina/o diabetes and the play that could furnish an interesting conversation on the play. I am aware of the huge challenges posed by obesity and diabetes, and I believe that The Panza Monologues could be expanded to accommodate these issues, maybe even have a bit of communal health literacy (back and forth) go on in the play. 

Favorite Quote from The Panza Monologues Book?  
"I throw Chingazos for my Raza."  - from "Cha-Cha to Panza"
Because it reminded me of "I throw Punches," I never thought this would make it into a play. Self-serving, maybe, but true!

N.B. Here, Dr. Chabram refers to her classic, must read essay “I Throw Punches for My Race, but I Don’t Want to Be a Man: Writing Us—Chica-nos (Girl, Us)/Chicanas—into the Movement Script." A landmark moment in Chicana/o studies, and as we note in our book's glossary, The Panza Monologues does, indeed, riff on the essay's memorable and important title. AND, the fact that audiences across the country have often recognized the reference in the course of The Panza Monologues in performance is a testament to the force of Dr. Chabram's work. It thrills us to know that she appreciates the props we wanted to pay her!

You can find Dr. Chabram's essay in the book The Chicana/o Cultural Studies Reader, edited by Angie Chabram, published by Routledge in 2006.

You can also order The Panza Monologues DVD here.

More About Angie Chabram: 
I have taught for 30 plus years at UC Davis in Chicana/o Studies. I am the fourth child of a single parent from the San Gabriel Valley. I work hard to provide educational access to students about Chicana/o Latina/o culture. I support the need to develop archives that bridge the arts, the academy, and the community. I want very much to help produce cultural narratives that can empower and assist people suffering from social, political, and health ailments.