July 5, 2016

Pedagogy of the Panza Featuring Marci R. McMahon

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. In the second edition, we specifically 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! panzapower@gmail.com

* * *

Dr. Marci R. McMahon
Name: Marci R. McMahon

Hometown: San Antonio, Texas (currently living in The Rio Grande Valley in South Tejas)
Where do you teach? 
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in the Literatures and Cultural Studies Department.

In what class/type of class did you use The Panza Monologues
ENGL 4300/MASC 4329 – Latin@ Theater for Social Action (advanced topics English course cross-listed with special topics Mexican American Studies course). Most of the students are upper–division English majors or minors, with some Mexican American Studies majors.
Why did you choose to teach The Panza Monologues in your class?
This was a new course I had created and taught at the undergraduate level. The course, Latin@ Theater for Social Action, focuses on the work of Latina/o theater artists, primarily Mexican American or Chicana/o playwrights, who use plays and performances as vehicles for enacting social change. The course stresses the variety of Chicana/o theater while centering on the themes of home, familia, gender, sexuality, body politics, borders, and immigration. I began the course with what I framed for the students as the foundational playwrights in Chicana/o teatro. These included Luis Valdez, founder of El Teatro Campesino and author of Zoot Suit; the performance-troupe Culture Clash; and prolific Chicana feminist playwright and essayist Cherríe Moraga. By including Moraga as a foundational playwright of Chicana/o teatro I immediately established gender, sexuality, and the body as sites and vehicles of social change. We read her play Heroes & Saints, which focuses on environmental racism and activism through the racialized and gendered body. For the next class period, we shift to The Panza Monologues, which launches the next section of the course “Performing the Body/Space/Home.” This section also includes Laura Esparza’s I DisRemember the Alamo: A Long Poem for Performance. I purposefully included two texts about body politics, gender, and sexuality that are contextualized within the historical and geographical space of San Antonio, Tejas so students can make important connections between space, geography, the body, and history as specific to San Antonio, as well as to immediately shift from the space of California to Texas for my South Texas students who rarely see their South Tejas stories (south of San Antonio) represented in curriculum, including in Chicana/o studies curriculum.

Lilly Delgado performs from The Panza Monologues
in ENGL 4300/MASC 4329 – Latin@ Theater for
Social Action
The rest of the course covers theater and performance from the last twenty years or so and includes the sections “Staging Masculinity,” which includes Josefina López’s play Trio Los Machos; “Staging Tejas History & Stories,” including Amparo García Crow’s Under a Western Sky paired with blog posts in the “State of Latina/o Theater in Texas” Series from Café Onda; and “Staging Contemporary Issues of Immigration, Race, and the Drug War,” which includes Josefina Lopez’s Detained in the Desert and Tanya Saracho’s El Nogalar.

I concluded the course with student’s launching their own research and performance projects in order to fill in the gaps in the history of Chicana/o theater for social change in South Tejas, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley. My goal for my students by the end of the course is to be inspired and charged as advocates for Latina/o stories on the stages in the Rio Grande Valley. Courses and curriculum in Latina/o theater are infrequent and rare in the Rio Grande Valley, a region situated along the US-Mexico border in South Texas between the Brownsville-Matamoros and McAllen-Reynosa borderlands. Similar to other avenues of representation, the theatre taught or produced in the secondary and post-secondary educational systems has not historically reflected RGV communities, particularly the cultural, social, economic, and linguistic diversity of the region’s Latina/o population.

How did you teach The Panza Monologues (any fun or meaningful activities or panza teaching tools you want to share)?
I cover The Panza Monologues over two class periods. I guide the students to think critically about the cultural power of the panza as a vehicle for social change. For the first class period, I show them some of the footage from the 2008 Plaza de la Raza in East Los Angeles performance from The Panza Monologues DVD so they can visualize and hear this pivotal performance. I then guide them through several critical and close reading discussion questions that probe the importance of the site and history of San Antonio (through immigration, politics, economic and racial segregation, poverty, and other structural inequalities confronted by Latina/os) as central to the panza politics staged by the text. We also focus on the importance of the text as collaborative.

For the second-class period, students begin with a theater scene presentation, which is a requirement of the course. In groups comprised of 4-5 students, they are asked to perform a short scene from one of our texts. For The Panza Monologues, five Latina/o students, three of which identify as female and two as male, perform excerpts from the PM. It is immediately evident that these students, as do the majority of the class I find out by the end of the class, powerfully connect to the monologues about culture, the body, gender, and sexuality. In fact, some of the students in the group prior to this moment had rarely spoken in class; as they performed the PM, I witnessed them become confident and more engaged in the course. The group also constructed an altar as a centerpiece of their performance, with Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera featured prominently. One of my students I recall very much connected with one of the Virginia Grise’s interviews I had assigned that week to supplement the text. The student remarked in one of her online discussion posts: “Virginia Grise talks about her knowledge in her political training in Marxism, her knowledge in women of color feminism, and her knowledge in Texas Mexican anarchism that taught her to examine the intersections of the material, economic, political, social and cultural forces impacting a community… and all this knowledge, which is a product of years of in-depth education, is given and broken down through the plays that she produces. Constructive theater, like the ones that we have focused on and analyzed, are methods of transferring ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to the public which they can utilize to break through the barriers that have been imposed on them for so long. They provide insights and knowledge of escaping the prisons in which they have been held captive.”

Covering the PM over two days was not enough, however. The students became very much connected to the themes of body image, culture, gender, and sexuality generated by the text to the extent that they wanted to perform these scenes on their own. So after I had mentioned the possibility and reminded my students of the Panza Party concept referenced in the text, they chose to host their own Panza Monologues Party (including purchasing the DVD with their own funds). One of my students, Stefan Pena emailed Irma with questions on how fast the DVD would arrive as they were eager to host the party. He explains that Irma immediately replied,* which made the class more excited that the author of the performance had replied and connected with them. For several weeks, I witnessed my students’ excitement before and at the beginning of the class as they passed around sign up sheets for the party, had discussions of the best location, with some students who had not originally signed up now concerned that they weren’t included, asking to now be included on the email discussion about the party. After the party, which took place toward the end of the semester on campus during the noon hour, Stefan summarized the impact: “the event gave us a space to tell our own stories and that many students felt more comfortable sharing things outside of an academic setting [in class with their white professor probably] that would have otherwise been off topic or too personal.”

*Irma corresponded with Stefan for the rush DVD request and is very pleased to learn by way of this post what the rush was for!

Nuts and Bolts of how I lead my students in a discussion and close reading of the PM in class:

First Class Period:
  • Assigned Reading from the book: "Foreword," "Muchas Many Thank-Yous…,"  "Introducción," "Organization of the Book," and then the first half of the script. I also assign the “Que Onda? Interview with Virginia Grise” from Café Onda: The Journal ofthe Latina/o Theater Commons.
  • I begin the class discussion by asking students to choose lines from the "Forward" and "Introducción" that capture the message of the performances and role of body as a site of politics. 
  • I then work through the following questions in our group discussion: 
    • How and why is the site of San Antonio important to the performance? 
    • How was The Panza Monologues created? 
    • What kind of theater acts were involved? 
    • Why was it important for them to have their play in print? 
    • How does Chicana feminism inform their work? 
    • What do you learn about Irma Mayorga’s and Virginias Grise’s backgrounds as artists? 
    • What did you learn about the politics of food? 
    • What are the politics of food, especially in relationship to Latina/o consumers? 
    • How does The Panza Monologues build upon and intervene in Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues? 
    • Since the work is a collaborative effort, how did Mayorga and Grise go about collecting the panza stories? 
    • Why is this collaborative process important and how is it central to the text as a whole?

Second Class Period:
  • Assigned Reading: The second half of the script and Meropi Peponides, “My Own Panza Girl Manifesto” from Café Onda: The Journal of the Latina/o Theater Commons.
  • I focus this class period mostly on the concept of the “panza is political,” specifically within the space of Tejas. I ask: 
    • What meaning do you derive or is added to the play by reading the "Tejana Topogrophies" section on San Antonio? 
    • How is the history of San Antonio (immigration, politics, economic and racial segregation, poverty, and other structural inequalities confronted by Mexican Americans) related to the panza? and panza politics? 
    • How do the "Autogeographies" by Grise and Mayorga help you to have a further/deeper understanding of their work? 
    • How does all the contextual material provided by the authors help us to see/understand the play as a site of “theater for social change?”

Altar made by Panza Monologues student performance group
in ENGL 4300/MASC 4329 – Latin@ Theater for Social Action
Why is The Panza Monologues important to your field of study? What conversations/issues did the book raise?
The Panza Monologues embodies the Chicana feminist praxis of the “personal is political” in all aspects – from the creation of the monologues as collaborative, to the themes and stagings of the performance itself, to the production of the published text.

For my students, as much as I wanted them to think critically about the concept of the body as a vehicle for social change and to theorize this as a theatrical tool, they were much more interested in the conversations generated by the PM around the media, body image, beauty, gender, and sexuality, as well as how the monologues generate crucial conversations around food and economics. We spent a significant amount of time during the second class-period on food choices and structural inequalities that shape those choices: students shared stories of their own families eating and consuming habits, as well as their own food “choices.” As a result of this discussion, students became much more critically aware of the socio-economic factors and racism that generates the prevalence of fast food restaurants in their neighborhoods and lack of affordable healthy restaurants and grocery stories with healthy food. When some of the Latina/o students began to make blatant statements about “Mexican food being unhealthy” (which is not the point of the PM!), other students got very defensive of “Mexican food,” claiming it as healthy in comparison to McDonald's, etc. In the future, on a syllabus outside of a theater context or even as a suggested text, I would pair the PM with Luz Calvo’s text Decolonize Your Diet.

Students in ENGL 4300/MASC 4329 – Latin@ Theater for 
Social Action throw a Panza Party
What did you learn about your teaching or about your students from teaching The Panza Monologues?
While I am aware that men are affected powerfully by body image and media representations of male beauty, I was still surprised by how many of my male students’ openly spoke and offered their own stories of body image, shame, and lack of confidence as a result during the class. In fact, some of the male students were the most vocal in the class when we talked about gender and body image in relationship to the text. In fact, one male student wrote on our online discussion board, “I think it is also important for people to embrace who they are and not be ashamed of themselves only because they do not meet a certain social standard. The Panza Monologues, to me, did a great job in relaying that message. This is important for men to even know. With the media playing an important role in the development of the youth, it is important for all kids to know that just because they do not look a certain way they doesn’t mean they are not good enough.” Another wrote, “I’ve heard from other people in the Hispanic culture that men like thicker women because they can cook and feed them and their children. Now Hispanic women face the struggle of not only being accepted by society, but also being accepted by the people of their own culture. This book is not necessarily all about plus size Hispanic women, it’s about acceptance and equality among gender, race, and appearance, and it brings to light other issues that we have that don’t just pertain to the Hispanic culture.” For me, I read these responses as referencing any one who feels outcast based on gender, race, but also sexuality.

Favorite quote from The Panza Monologues book?
“I must say/ I love her panza / It’s full and round / Perfect in all is roundness / I love kissing her panza / It’s so perfect in all her fullness” (from "Panza to Panza," page 70). I love this monologue and these particular opening lines because the panza is most radical and political when we start to talk about sexuality, and also the opening lines, for me at least, convey vulnerability in a relationship. I always have my students read this particular monologue out loud because I think it can help to challenge some of the students who might want to evade the topic of sexuality when talking about this text and only focus on the text as a celebration of the body. Also, I remember when Virginia Grise performed this monologue when she came to visit the then University of Texas Pan American in August 2014 and the auditorium was enraptured; I can hear her read it when my students read it. 

Note from the authors: "Panza to Panza" was one of the original works collected in our initial call in San Antonio for women's writing for the performance. It was penned by panza power activist lawyer and bad ass writer Maria Salazar. We have always been grateful for the contribution and for the opportunity to stage and publish Maria's powerful writing.  

More about Dr. Marci R. McMahon:
Marci R. McMahon is an associate professor in the Literatures and Cultural Studies Department at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California and is the author of Domestic Negotiations: Gender, Nation, and Self-Fashioning in US Mexicana and Chicana Literature and Art (Rutgers University Press’s series Latinidad: Transnational Cultures in the United States, 2013). Her publications in Chicana/o cultural studies appear in Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies; Chicana/Latina Studies: The Journal of MALCS; Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies; and the Journal of Equity & Excellence in Education.


Enjoy reading The Panza Monologues, Second Edition?

Share the love and help us out by writing reviews about The Panza Monologues, Second Edition on GoodReads.com, or by inviting us for an interview (print, web, radio, podcast or the like), or by writing a book review for a popular press, literary blog, or academic journal, or by encouraging others to purchase The Panza Monologues, Second Edition for your local library, your institution's library, or your local independent bookstore.

And, if you teach The Panza Monologues - feel free to contact us about a the possibility of a "Pedagogy of the Panza" feature.

You can also send us a note, take a picture on social media, or tag us with #panzamonologues if you see signs of the book anywhere near you! We love to see the #panzamonologues on social media!

Don't forget, like Stefan, you can also buy a DVD of The Panza Monologues in performance.

Enjoyed this story? Check out other "Pedagogy of the Panza" posts in this series: