Identity Is Entirely Bullshit and Undeniably Real
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Identity Is Entirely Bullshit and Undeniably Real

Brianna Figueroa, PhD, is a dance historian, performance scholar, dramaturg, and choreographer whose research illuminates the vibrant but critically under-explored legacy of Latinx dancemaking in the US. Her current body of research focuses on the cultural labor of independent and experimental Latinx dancemakers. Figueroa’s line of inquiry is a direct response and supplement to her creative practice, which uses contemporary dance to explore issues of identity, community, and inheritancer. Read more.

I’ve circled through several layers of angst to finally feel at peace with the notion that for me, identity is all at once stable and fluid, grounding and brittle, entirely bullshit and undeniably real. As a kid, I identified as mixed-race. I lived in an extremely bifurcated world, bouncing between the Anglo and Latinx homes of my separated parents. Racial and cultural differences were an unnamed but constant source of tension for all involved. As an adult, I identify as Latinx. This label feels like the best way to account for my multiplicity while reflecting my developed understanding of the larger sociopolitical landscape in which my experience exists. The label “Latinx” is meaningful to me, politically expedient, and concise when such things are needed, but in truth, it can feel terribly awkward, too. There are days when this label helps to fuel my fire, allows me to make sense of the world and direct my focus into my community in organized ways. Other days, I feel less enthused by it—it doesn’t make sense and I feel let down by the way in which it fails to express the chaos and dynamism of my personal identity, and that of my family and my community, too. Ultimately, I am interested in this tension—especially in the way that it lives in the body—an intangible concept pulsing through our tangible selves.

In my role as an artist and scholar, I spend my time researching and theorizing specifically about Latinx identity in dance. I am engaged near-daily in the process of “identifying identity” in performance and trying to make sense of it all. I’ve come to understand my work as a social endeavor rather than an attempt to distill some essential definition of Latinx expression. Following performance scholar Alicia Arrizón’s proposal (in her 1999 book Latina Performance: Traversing the Stage) that the term Latinidad is most useful as a tool for political coalition, I view research as an opportunity to build relationships and conversation with and among Latinx artists who are grappling with identity: Who are we alone and together? What do we share among ourselves and with others? What to relearn? What to unlearn? How? I organize my efforts around witnessing and conversing with other artists as they process these questions without anticipating absolute solutions. My project is a kind of infrastructure that orchestrates shared time and space where Latinx dancemakers can build discourse, methodologies, and systems of support that hold space for unruliness. Work like Miguel Gutierrez’s This Bridge Called My Ass, exemplifies the potentiality of physical performance as a site to explore the kinetic variations of Latinidad. Bridge is sardonically self-reflexive; it offers wonky—if endearing—Latinx referents and draws compelling lineages (to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Gloria Anzaldúa’s 1981 feminist anthology). But, importantly, it demonstrates the mess of identity, the endless unproductive/productivity of searching—making us laugh while doing it, and leaving us with so many freaking questions.

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