As a current student of
New York University, Department of Performance Studies, I have participated
in an interview with Prof. Renato Rosaldo of Stanford University. I have
set up the interview into two core questions and after the initial responses
follow up remarks and questions help in a more comprehensive understanding
of Prof. Rosaldo's answers. I was interested in interviewing Prof. Rosaldo
because he is significant in understanding a connection with anthropology,
Latino Studies, and performance. I was interested in hearing his remarks
to performance and politics within identity and cultural citizenship.
Also, I think it is important to have a dialogue with him because he has
a history in theater as a director and actor, as well as a poet. This
helped in grasping a creative as well as academic translation of thoughts
about performance in correlation with the Hemispheric Institute Performance
This is an interview with Renato Rosaldo Professor of Anthropology at
Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
My first question for you is: what relevance does performance have for
you in your field of Latino Studies and Anthropology? And more specifically,
how do you relate performance to the construction of cultural identity?
I'm not even sure I know what "performance" is exactly
noticed from a question after I gave my talk the other day that somebody
seemed to be suggesting that because I thought the "Pachuco"
[character in Luis Valdes' Zoot Suit] who is flamboyant (played by Edward
James Olmos), they seemed to think that was "performance"
all of these gestures, very big gestures and bright colors and
and I thought more about the question I was asked because they
were saying, well, that it seems to get less performative.
But then I thought that the man of few words, the classic rural Mexican,
the guy who is supposed to be strong and concealing all the strong feelings
that he was strong and never showed any emotion I thought that that figure
was as performative as the flamboyant one. So, I almost wonder what, that's
human, cannot be performed because I don't think of performance as flamboyant,
arm waving, big gestures colorful, extravagant but it can be very low
key or a very low key gesture like the greeting that I did almost nothing,
and that's performance.
And when I think of Latino
Studies or identity, one of the things that I'm always trying to get across
is that it exists in the body, that it is something that is always lived,
always performed that it doesn't just exist in words.
I remember I was trying to convey to an African-American scholar the idea
that---that I could know if someone was Latino by watching their body
language and by hearing their speech for a little bit, that it wasn't
written on the skin that it had to do with some way of acting in the world
and that it wasn't necessarily anything as simple as speaking a language,
although it could be that. If someone is speaking Spanish, usually I will
know if they are Puerto-Rican or Mexican or they are from this or that
part of Mexico and somehow he [the African-American scholar] wanted to
see this written on the skin almost as if you could do a mug shot and
I am saying that's Not it, it is a lived performative kind of thing and
that I would be trying to convince him that even seeing a Chicano or Chicana
who had no Spanish, I would recognize them as such and I could tell by
body language, gestures, and other kinds of reactions things that Mexicans
will call "el trato" the way that they treat other people.
And so if I am at a party and I see somebody who as they leave going around
saying good-bye to everybody at a party, I know that they are Chicano,
right? And I know that usually Anglos would slip out, right? And so that
isn't necessarily a linguistic and it is not necessarily quit in the body,
but it is a way of dealing with other people and way of feeling that they
should be treated, and I always see that as performance and deeply connected
CC- In the United States,
how do the arts and politics reflect the changing idea of citizenship?
Do you believe in an "authenticity" of art?
Well, that is a pretty good question; I think I have done about 7 fifty-minute
lectures on that (laugh.) I'll see if I can say it in a few words
The first thing about citizenship
is that I always try to separate the formal from the informal citizenship
maybe lived citizenship from an official citizenship. An official citizenship
meaning do you have your documents, do you have your voter registration
card, do you have a passport, do you have this or that? Those things are
not trivial, especially if you don't have them. They can seem trivial
if you have them, but if you are an undocumented worker in the United
States you know very deeply what those things mean to you, the freedom
that they give you, the access that they give you, so I don't want to
trivialize them, but what I am really and most deeply concerned with citizenship
is about how a person herself or himself thinks about what it would take
to make a person feel like they belonged, what it would take to make them
feel enfranchised. And what I have thought through a lot about with talking
..research we call it (talking to people)
of our two anthropological methods one is asking questions and the other
one is hanging out. Through asking questions, talking with people, listening
very hard to what they are saying I have realized that they have a very
clear sense of what makes them feel like they belong.
What makes them feel that they're members? What makes them feel first-class
as opposed to second-class citizen and when they move from one kind of
citizenship to another, obviously they don't use the word "citizen.
Let me give you an example, a woman who dropped out of the Catholic church
because she said it gave no place/space for her said I was going to the
Catholic Church, and then I realized I was participating in rituals of
my own exclusion. And, I said, "wow, I get paid for saying stuff
" and so I was really impressed because she was so
aware of when she was being marginalized, or excluded, shut out. And she
was very articulate about that, and I found that many people are.
And so the citizenship that I am concerned with is with, well, if you
are with a group of parents in school you feel that you really should
have a voice, you feel if you are really getting heard, do you feel like
you really have a sense of belonging. How aware of those kinds of issues
are you and people are very aware and acutely aware of how it shifts from
one context to another and one social setting to another.
I have a feeling that you asked
about something else
The second part of that was, do you believe in an "authenticity"
An "authenticity" of art? Nay. I don't believe in that.
Do I believe that art gets
you to deeper places then much that is done in the social sciences? Yes,
I feel as though art is usually thinking one step ahead of research. Why
is that? It is fairly simple, but it may have a deeper reason.
The simple reason is if you are going to do a research project it's a
decade before we'll hear about it. I mean that you have to get grants,
you have to work out the methodology, you have to go do the research someplace,
it has to be systematic and take certain amount of time to have credibility,
that the person really was reliable and checked and crosschecked and did
all the work that they should do so that it has a stamp of approval from
the "union". And if you are an artist, you can be listening
to people very carefully in certain neighborhoods and you can be quite
aware of what is going to happen next because people are telling you.
For example, in Mexico people would be saying that
Vicente Fox is an idiot that he doesn't know what he's saying, right?
You hear that in jokes and so you tune into that as an artist. And, then
you don't have the same rituals of proof that you do in social science
research and research oriented fields.
Now what should we do about
that as anthropologists
and I have two answers to that, and the first
answer is that we ought to listen to what the artists are saying and we
ought to then say, 'how can we translate their perceptions, their insights,
how can we translate this into research because my experience has been
in a class that, if I have a class that is ethnically, racially, and in
other respects diverse and I say to them why don't' you bring in something
to the class that says something about what you think is your group, your
identity group, and people invariable bring songs, they bring poems
don't bring the latest, hot social science article.
Never has that happened. They always bring in some other type of material.
Then I say, class, what should we do with this? Let's figure out what
makes this song, this poem, or whatever has been brought in such a good
and insightful piece of work that people say that this piece of work really
tells me who I am. So you get something that really tells me who I am
and then you say, how do you translate it into research?
I remember, for example, Doreen Condall (sp?) a woman anthropologist
describes how she went to a play that was getting panned as an Asian-American
piece of theater and she went into the play. People had said it was awful
and that it "truly" wasn't an Asian-American
and she went into the play and was just overwhelmed and came out in tears
and she said I had never seen myself represented anywhere because she's
third-generation and she said that they all talked like "Val-gals",
a valley girl as they are called, and so that it was a very California
form of speech, but it was just inflected with a third-generation Asian-American
presence. And she said that finally somebody had captured the subtlety
of who she was because the other representations that some people saw
as more "authentic" were really not speaking to her generation
or her situation or her identity. And so she suddenly saw herself reflected
in a work of art and then said, well, then how can I translate this into
anthropology, but she also made another move. She said that she wanted
to do theater and so she is doing theater.
And I guess that my second
answer would be that I am also doing poetry because I feel that a good
poem is like a good Mexican corrido that you just jump in, right in the
middle of it, where somebody is falling desperately in love, or somebody
is dying, and then you are right in the middle of things, and you don't
have to write a review of the literature or all the other stuff. You will
right the heart of the thing that you want to get out and what you want
to communicate about.
And at least in my case, I feel through the process of writing is something
I want to understand. So I often feel a strong feeling that's puzzled
me, that I said I am overwhelmed with feeling, but I don't know quite
what I am feeling or why or where it's coming from. I want to go deeper
into the feeling and so that would be the kind of exploration and work
I want to do through the medium of poetry and so in that
. I guess
that says it
I am not sure about the authenticity
of art, I am more sure about the way in which it can explore certain feelings,
certain issues, certain social perceptions of greater depth and usually
the way it's more perspicacious then what I see happening in the more
academic work. Academics maybe take a longer time to get there and by
then it's old news
Okay, thank you. I now have a follow-up that was the first part.
You were saying a bit about how you can tell, for instance, if you were
at a party that you can tell by that if somebody says good-bye to everybody
as a Chicano, but then usually the people that slip out
and, I am
Do you feel that those sorts of notions perpetuate the stereotypes of
cultural identities in any way?
let me see if I can translate your question
be a way in which with the example that I just gave at a party means that
says that if somebody just slips out that they are not a Chicana or Chicano
that they are not doing their "Chicano" thing, and so they are
not truly a Chicana/Chicano
I think that would be a mistake.
I think that we have a big, big problem right now with the notion of culture.
Because I think that at one time when we studied culture, we were studying
clichés or conventions or stereotypes. And then what people did
was they said
"Let's go to some far away place" so that
what they'd come up with are the stereotypes, even the self-stereotype
of members of their culture. Of course, then the obvious thing is that
many people don't conform, that they feel themselves equally Chicana/Chicano
or whatever, right?
And I think that the thing that we need to do is not be producing these
Another place where they do the same things is on campuses so they say,
if you are going to be African-American here, 'you have to like this kind
of music and not that kind of music, but I really like that kind of music,
but I don't want to feel like I am being put in a straight jacket'.
I don't want somebody to be telling me how to be Black. And there are
lots of ways of doing it, and I don't want to be put in a stereotype like
that and told to conform.
Then the problem is what language
do you have for talking about culture?
And right now, I think what I think is the way to do it is to actually
look at different people in clusters of ways of doing things and the notion
of culture wouldn't be something that you would automatically generalize
to the group as w hole.
That you would generalize it to one speaker, three, or ten speakers, wherever
you thought it was justified. And probably you would almost want a notion
that is probabilistic. These sorts of people tend to do it this way
so the sense in which you would be studying cultures is that there still
would be the categories people use, how they classify the world, how they
organize it, the kinds of assumptions that they make, what's placid or
licit culture. how they categorize but you wouldn't be necessarily generalizing
to a wider group.
You'd be saying here is where I studied this, here was the range of variation
here is the
Doing something and I think that would be a beginning of how to break
the stereotypes of culture that is being produced. I think that you probably
would want to make a distinction (and I am not sure how you would do this)
between reception and production. By this I mean, what is it that people
actually perform? Do people actually perform the good-bye at a party?
Or not? Then the second question: Do you that when somebody is going around
the room saying good-bye to everybody that they are being a certain kind
of Chicano and do you recognize that? So there is a difference between
what is produced and what you understand, right? So does somebody recognize
this and what is their reaction to it? You could have any reaction, any
extreme or any point in between.
And so what you'd want to do is should distinction between and the things
that they recognize as being part of some
repertoire that's possible,
that's distinctively saying
Violation of some expectations and then you go and talk to them but then
you go and learn about it.
I think it is very important
and that there are many interesting things going on right now, I hear
that MY music, but then what you notice is that you could probably do
some ethnic identification in terms of people's music is. And I don't
know in what sense you could or couldn't do, but it would be something
I would love to explore, and, of course, a music that Chicano student
might like may not be what is seen as Chicano music, (whatever that might
being those that is produced by Chicano singers/artists), but
still I can begin to place that person and get a sense of where they grew
up, who they are and stuff like that.
I am not sure if the old fashioned
sense of culture that is 'This is 'authentic' or that is 'authentic''
would be ones that would actually hold, and I think what is going on now
is much more subtle than that. I think what is going on is not a culture
and a habitat so that the world's divided into this mosaic of a culture
here and a culture there, but that
And realize that people are all mixing together, what ever is going on
is much more subtle and probably much more important than what was going
on before. That's it's not making our lives as people trying to grapple
with this any easier or comfortable, but I do think that something is
going on that is more deeper than what was happening before.
Thank you very much!
Interview taped on July 10,