Function of Humor in Chicana Performance: Exploration of Chicana Voices in María Elena Gaitán’s The Adventures of Connie Chancla

The genre of Chicana humor has not been thoroughly examined and has excluded a critical perspective of literature and cultural studies. As a performance artist María Elena Gaitán has not only subverted the Eurocentric and patriarchal discourse of theater but her piece The Adventures of Connie Chancla reveals how Chicana humor studies is a comedy act of resistance written by a woman for women.

 

While a great deal of conflict humor analysis has been done by Americo Paredes and Richard Stephenson both writers leave out one particular aspect of their criticism: humor as written and portrayed by women. Tey Diana Rebolledo may not focus on the humor specifically found in performance pieces, but she provides a closer cultural analysis of Chicana humor literature. If and when women are the prominent joke tellers in this “verbal dueling, it comes out in the form of wit and irony” (92). Rebolledo states Chicana women are in even a more unique experience as they are “thrice oppressed by virtue of being a woman in the male-dominated culture, a minority on the white/Anglo culture, and because of her own ambivalence of place and state in society” (92). However, Chicana writers use their oppression, their anger, and their humor as “a tension-releasing device… [that is also used to] creatively solve overwhelming problems in the relationship of the individual to a rigid society that seeks to make women submissive and passive” (96 & 98). Rebolledo establishes that humor, specifically Chicana humor, is a way for female writers to subvert the patriarchal discourse.

In Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez’s profile, she describes how the Gaitán artist uses “laughter [as]… the ingredient to magically [change] everything.” Gaitán ’s character Connie Chancla is “grotesquely comical…a traviesa… a trickster who shocks [the audience] out of the complacency of seriousness” (99). This is an important distinguishing characterization as Gaitán uses this trickster clown to get “people to reconsider the history they are taught” and to “subvert the established master colonial histories” (Broyles-Gonzalez 99). Not only is Connie Chancla a humorous character, but one that wakes the audience up and made to question everything they were previously taught.

A clown may not be the most traditionally recognized hero of any piece of literature, but Carmen Salazar Parr and Genevieve M. Ramirez highlight why this makes Chicana female-heroes so unique. In their essay, they state that Chicana female-heroes are important because they are usually “from a social, economic, and cultural disadvantage” and they do “not manifest all of the features associated with the hero-myth” (48). Unlike conventional male heroes, Chicana female-heroes “seek… parity, and equality of stature, respect, and opportunity” (59).

Citations

Broyles-Gonzalez, Yolanda. “Performance Artist Maria Elena Gaitán .” Antonia Castaneda, Susan H. Armitage, Patricia Hart, and Karen Weathermon. Gender on the Borderlands: The Frontiers Reader. University of Nebraska Press, n.d. 87-121.

Ramirez, Carmen Salazar Parr and Genevieve M. “The Female Hero in Chicano Literature.” Herrera-Sobek, Maria. Beyond Stereotypes: The Critical Analysis of Chicana Literature. Binghamton: Bilingual Press, 1985. 47-60.

Rebolledo, Tey Diana. “Walking the Thin Line: Humor in Chicana Literature.” Herrera-Sobek, Maria. Beyond Stereotypes: the Critical Analysis of Chicana Literature. Binghamton: Bilingual Press, 1985. 91-107.

Women who rock: http://content.lib.washington.edu/wwrweb/write-to-rock/bioGaitan_MariaElena.html

Passage from podcast:

MEG: Yeah, Chola Con Cello was absolutely born right after that, and the women’s the old women’s building on Spring Street. Osco had a… Osco to night. Whoever they invited, because there was no grant, there was no publicity agent, it was just a rave you know. Everybody and their mother came. The place was so packed that you couldn’t even get in. I don’t know how people told each other. This is something about having a whole network of young people who are involved in something and tell others and they all come. It was an amazing, it was that kind of an evening, and I was already on the county school board. God forbid, I was a Molina appointee… don’t ask, I am not on the barbeque list. It happened because of Jackie Goldberg… she… because I was an activist, blablabla. So I was on the county school board in the day and at night I was wearing big giant wigs and ratted. To me, I looked like a weird sailor or something, and she had drawn stuff on my arm and I had this big hair. And that was the first time I did Chola Con Cello. My son videoed it, and what I did is; you know that Bob Dylan video where he is singing a song and holding up papers where he is saying “I love you”, “Come Back Tomorrow” whatever he is saying. So I got that and I thought I am gonna do that. So I got the sound of a helicopter, and then I was holding up big pieces of paper that had statistics on the undocumented. And then after that I played a piece of a box suite, go figure! I mean, it was a performance art night, anything goes. But somebody from the Taper was there that night, Josefina… I can’t remember her last name I am so sorry… Ramirez! And right after that she invited a number of performances to the Taper, but they wanted, the dramaturge, and directed, good lights and blabla bla. But it was really born out of that. And the reason why I made that performance was because sitting on the school board already Pete Wilson was asking questions like, how many of your students at the County are undocumented, or illegal aliens! And I am like, Oh my God!! This is what you have been working on since you were nineteen years old, so this is like, I can’t not respond to that. So I guess this is the first time I responded to it in art.

AV: Yeah.

MEG: And what an amazing feeling that is. What I just described seemed like a real disjointed evening. But it had its moment. For me it was the birth of taking my voice back as an artist, as a mature woman. And the politics in the art for the first time were like all one thing, and this is what it is. And there was a punk feeling to it, even though I wasn’t in the punk movement. This feeling of, this is what it is, the sense of truth telling in your own way. So I never experienced that that way. My whole experience in the classical music was extremely racist and repressive. I was often the only person of color where I went. Myself and Ronnie Cooper, African American cellist, we were in high school, the only people of color in the cello section. And it was brutal, there was nothing short of brutal, and I didn’t have a stage mommy who could afford the time and watch and make sure I was safe and all that. So I had to put up with a bunch of adult racist crap when I was a child. Or like I’d be in these honors orchestras. Like there were a few young people who were in the Pasadena Symphony, maybe five of us. The kid next to me, his father was a neurosurgeon who sent him to Paris to study scales in the summer… haaaa!! You know?? My mother had to take a second job to buy me the cello that I still have today. So the class question was just incredibly… in classical music what almost destroyed me or made me so happy to run to the Chicano movement and sort of give the finger to classical music big time, was like “Fuck you, I don’t need to be hearing all this crap.” Here is this whole movement that I am a part of that speaks for me. And also you idealize the movement which has a lot of its own problems, but there is a moment in which you take refuge with just incredible glee, I don’t think glee is the right word, I don’t know you just feel like it’s a transformative moment for you at a lot of different levels. Classical music to this day is elitist and it is only becoming better because of the movement in Venezuela. The Children’s Orchestra Movement.

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