I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performance Between Cultures
Hello people, you know me, I know you.
I am Carmelita Tropicana.
I say Loisaida is the place to be. It is multicultural, multinational, multigenerational, mucho multi.
And like myself , you've got to be multilingual.
I am very good with the tongue.
"This book makes you cry in one eye and laugh in the other."
-John Leguizamo, author of Freak
"Alina Troyano's one-woman shows, plays, and essays have astonished audiences and readers with their creativity, humor, and crackling political energy. I, Carmelita Tropicana offers the first comprehensive collection of her work, from "Memorias de la Revolución" (with Uzi Parnes) to "Your Kunst is Your Waffen" (with Ela Troyano).
"The writing in this wonderful book is like café Cubano: rich, strong, satisfying." -Steve Buscemi
"Dwellers of the Lower East Side have long known of the magic they call Carmelita Tropicana. Carmelita and her comrades-in-arms teach us that humor can have a subversive edge and that politicized performance can be hilarious. This book is a triumphantly tacky treasure trove of tropical delights." -José Esteban Muñoz, author of Disidentifications
"The inimitable Carmelita Tropicana is one of the queer world's wonders: sexy, outrageous, and insightful, her performances transform rooms full of strangers into communities of lovers, friends, and admirers."-Jill Dolan, author of Presence and Desire
"Laughter is Troyano's weapon, and she wields it expertly to send up stereotypes like the Latina spitfire and to push the limits of rigid identities. This long-awaited book will be a boon in any classroom studying performance, as well as in racially and gender-inflected queer and cultural studies." -Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano, editor of Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 1965-1985
Alina Troyano, Cuban-born writer and performance artist, is the recipient of a 1999 Obie award for Sustained Excellence of Performance, and named by el Diario as "una de las mujeres mas destacadas de 1998." She has presented her work nationally and internationally in both English and Spanish.
As a writer she has distinguished herself since 1985, when she was selected to participate in Intars musical Theatre Labs under the direction of Graciela Daniele and George Ferrencz.
She has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts for Performance Art, as well as for screenwriting and playwriting. She has received a CINTAS Foundation fellowship for her literary work, as well as a 2001 writing fellowship from The Mark Taper Forum, a 2002 writing fellowship from the Cuban Arts Foundation, and in 2003 the Plumed Warrior writing award from LLEGO, a National Latin Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Organization.
In 2000, Beacon Press published I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performing Between Cultures, a Lambda Award nominee for theatre. In the opening quote in this article, Alina is speaking as her Latin-bombshell persona, Carmelita. Troyano has sampled the 'exotic other' archetype of Carmen Miranda, and put a queer, radical aesthetic spin to her. Hardly the palatable fantasy of the easy-conquered, not-too-bright Carmen.
This is a book that made me laugh out loud. It is part “diary”, part monologue, part cultural commentary by one Carmelita Tropicana, a.k.a. Alina Troyano. Troyano is a Cuban lesbian performance artist whose work skewers racial, cultural, and sexual stereotypes. Carmelita is my new patron saint.
In the preface there is a reference to Troyano's use of 'innuendo, bilingual puns, double entendre, burlesque, parody, political farce, biographical revisionism, and an irreverent appropriation and collaging of popular culture.' She draws text from popular movies, past stereotypical icons, and popular music. While the style is irreverent, her themes are hardly light. In placing expropriated material in another context, it becomes reinvented, with layers of new meaning and ultimately a critique of the original manifestation itself.
In a piece entitled Your kunst ist your waffen, Carmelita/Alina pokes fun at performance art and sexual stereotyping. In a monologue to the audience, she explains how a “fairy” godmother told her it was her destiny to sing and dance in the tradition of Carmen Miranda. The vaguely sexual title of the piece conjures up images of lesbian sex. In reality, it translates to ”Your art is your weapon.”
She goes on, in a fictitious diary, to satirize Castro, boat people, Catholicism, traditional ideas of Latina femininity and family life. In her “diary”, Carmelita/Alina reveals that as as prison entertainer, she saw a group of nuns behind bars singing a rancher song entitled: Prisoneros de Amor/Prisoners of Love. I admired and enjoyed Troyano’s brashness, her satiric wit, and her willingness to take the starch out of some of our (Latin) sacred icons. There is also an inherent political act in lifting, deconstructing and revisioning elements of popular culture in this way.
To better illustrate her work and style, I want to close with an excerpt from her performance at New York's New Museum of Contemporary Art.
Recipe for Carmelita's Bad Girls Show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art.
1/3 Pingalito (Carmelita in male drag) recites
"Ode to the Cuban Man" from Milk of Amnesia
1/3 Carmelita delivers Performance Art Manifesto (which varies based on the audience, how Carmelita feels at any given moment, and the venue.)
1/3 The Art Quiz Show
HOW TO MAKE THE ART QUIZ SHOW
Sprinkle clues for the audience to guess the artwork
or artist recreated in live tableaux.
Add pinch of art commentary to taste and blend with 1 generous dollop of modern dancer Jennifer Monson (collaborator) whisked rapidly for Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase. Set aside.
IN A SEPARATE PAN MIX
1/2 cup Jennifer as Cupid with piercing arrow and 1/2 cup Carmelita moaning, hanging on museum fire escape.
Simmer to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde and stir until both harden into Bernini's sculpture The Agony of St. Theresa.
For skewering performance art's often ponderous images and general pomposity, and for giving queer aesthetics a decidedly Latina sabor....Que Viva Camelita!