Why I am NOT going to the “1st Annual Sequin de Mayo Chola Pageant” in Austin, Texas
by: Raquel Rodriguez & Community Allies
“We can take things that are ugly, politically incorrect, and difficult to think about and bring them forward in a way that gets people thinking.” – Poo Poo Platter
I will not be going to Poo Poo Platter’s “1st Annual Sequin de Mayo Chola Pageant,” and this is why:
*************** Racist programming like this is actually a big deal***************
We, as members of Austin’s queer community and allies, want to support artistic expression and the right of every individual to tell their own story. We appreciate using drag to transgress society’s norms, and our community’s role in showing that there are other ways of being in the world that deserve to be honored and respected.
It is in that spirit that we want to draw attention to a disturbing trend in our community: that is the widespread racism, and apologies for racism, we see on a regular basis. This week, Poo Poo Platter, a “monthly sh*t show of drag variety” is holding their: “1st Annual Sequin de Mayo Chola Pageant.” This is just one expression of an even more widespread acceptance and normalization of bigoted attitudes.
Many people have tried to reach out to the organizers about re-theming and reprogramming the problematic elements about the show; and although they have changed some of the elements, the offensive essence remains intact.
For example, originally the image associated with the Facebook event was a “Chola” behind bars, but it was later changed after it was brought to the programmer’s attention. This original problematic image reinforces ideas that Latinos/as are prone to crime, which is a way anti-immigrant racism is justified, and emphasizes the legitimacy of the prison system. Poo Poo Platter’s current Facebook event image of a “Chola-fied” “Honey Boo Boo” is an equally offensive image that does nothing to transgress the current mainstream imagery and representation of cholas but rather emphasizes a template and chola-meme on Tumblr..
In defense of the show’s elements and presentation, Poo Poo Platter’s organizers and performers have said:
“The show intends to challenge the mainstream social norms”… “be campy”… “that it is harmless”… “not a big deal” or …“it’s to be funny.”
Programming like this may seem “fun” and “harmless” but it relies on racist, exoticizing, and objectifying tropes for content that legitimizes racism and reinforces and serves as an agent to normalize harmful mainstream stereotypes and norms. A “Chola Pageant” requires participants to essentially “perform” racial caricatures that are based on stereotypes rooted in fear. Such racialized imagery has been used as a means of control and have played a significant role in reinforcing racist and sexist gazes, thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions leading to various form of violence and oppression including: lynchings, deep-rooted prejudices, low self-esteem, and depression.
Poo Poo Platter says: “We as a troupe consist of 7 people, 4 of which are of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity and background” and “4 out 5 contestants that have agreed to perform are also of Hispanic/Latino ethnicity.”
With this aforementioned reasoning, Poo Poo Platter programmers imply that because, “Hispanics” and “Latinos” are involved in the programming in all aspects, the pageant event can not be “racist” or be considered “Brownface.” The event is therefore, according to Poo Poo Platter, appropriate and unquestionable, because a few people who identify as “Latino” or “Hispanic,” do not feel offended. However, the feelings of these few do not represent all “Latinos/as” and “Hispanics,” or the rest of the Austin community for that matter.
Identifying the “Latino” or “Hispanic” members of the Poo Poo troupe is not evidence of work being done to safeguard against the objectification and exoticization of Latino communities, such selected emphasis is actually a “tokenizing” tactic.
I presented my concerns to “Poo Poo Platter” about Black/Brown/Red/Yellow-face, and that it relies on the marketability of exoticization of people of color and the commodification of their cultures; contributes to a capitalistic-hegemonic straight white standard of beauty; and that it depends on an audience that would find pleasure in entertainment that makes fun of, objectifies and dehumanizes a group of people that have complex-beautiful cultures and histories.
In response Poo Poo Platter said, “You have stated that our intention for our next show makes fun of, objectifies, and dehumanizes a group of complex-beautiful culture and histories. We are not by any means ‘normalizing’ stereotypes but providing a show that is based off Latino culture and comedic representations. We are not saying ‘all Mexicans are poor people that wash dishes and build houses.’ We are taking actual common interests of Latin people (cholas, low riders, and various forms of dress) and combining them into an event that is simply meant to be fun and engage our audience.”
Poo Poo Platter says, they have the intention to be “fun” and “engage their audience,” but whom is having the fun and at what expense? They say they intend to challenge social norms, but what norms are being challenged and which norms are being reinforced? They say they are providing an opportunity for people to empower themselves, but who is actually being empowered and at what cost? Poo Poo Platter says, their shows intends to bring forward things that are “ugly,” “politically incorrect” and “difficult to think about,” but what about the programming has been presented that is challenging to what is already present about “Chola” or “Pageant” Culture?
This type of programming is symptomatic of the racism that has been tolerated and allowed to permeate through the Austin community; where racist and problematic parties, events, and performances masquerade as “shock drag,” “challenging,” “creative entertainment,” or as “adoration.”.
Today I say Ya Basta! Enough!
Guest writer, Raquel Rodriguez is an out, proud, and loud about it Razquache Queer Chicana Tejana, Y Que?