(in collaboration with Roberto Sifuentes and Matthew Finch)
Broadcast in New York in May 1998, this “performance interview” was originally conceived as a conceptual art piece for the WBAI radio show “Voices Against the Wall” in complicity with host Matthew Finch. With the exception of Matthew, who was “performing” himself, the performance personas—Professor Jacques Fromage du Merde, CyberVato, and El Mad Mex—were extensions of Borderscape 2000 and Mexterminator, two projects Roberto Sifuentes and I were working on at the time. The content of the interview is a metafiction that navigates the cultural space between imagined signs and social truths. According to my performance diaries, the original idea of this piece was “to present a fictional interview which had been 80% scripted . . . utilizing its outrageous ideas and performative tone as a triggering device for the radio listeners to call in and ‘confess’ their views on Latinos, and immigration.” Some of the “callers’” statements were excerpted from actual Internet confessions and staged during the interview. Others were “real,” whatever real means in radiolandia. Later on, a slightly modified version of the piece was used as a point of departure for a live Internet chat on Echonyc.com, which, unlike the radio version, generated several negative reactions from participants due to “its contrived interactive nature.” As one person said, “This is virtual space. You are supposed to be sincere, not to perform.” “Performance, dear X, is just another way to tell the truth.” I answered. An edited transcript of the piece is published here.
Finch: Today we have a very special program on Chicano science and racism. Noted French ethnographer Jacques Fromage du Merde is here with us in the studio to present, for the first time in public, two live Mexican cyborgs. These “artificial savages” were designed by a team of MIT (Michoacan Institute of Technology) engineers, biogeneticists, and ethnographers in close collaboration with Chicano experimental artists. Monsieur.
Fromage du Merde (French accent): Bonjour, Monsieur Finch. Effectivement, the physical and psychological characteristics of these half-machine/half-human replicants are the result of exhaustive research.
Finch: What kind of research?
Fromage du Merde: It all began with an Internet poll conducted by two Shic-anou performance artists, Guillermo Gßmez-PeĻa et Roberto Sifuentes. They invited thousands of Americans from multiple virtual communities to confess their intercultural sins via the Net. The confessors were granted total anonymity . . .
Fromage du Merde (laughing neurotically): . . . they went for it. People began to send back to the artists lots of written, visual, and audio material of a uniquely confessional nature. I mean, the kind of stuff you couldn’t possibly obtain through fieldwork (breathes heavily as if having an asthma attack). This material was then analyzed by radical scholars, mainly psychiatrists and anthropologists. Then it was turned over to computer designers and robotics engineers who began to anthropomorphize the information and construct the first prototypes. Biogeneticists completed the job. These two improved super-Mexican “ethnocyborgs” are the genial result.
Finch: I don’t know what to think. Are you for real?
Fromage du Merde: Your opinion does not really matter. This is science, Monsieur, not conceptual radio. El Mad Mex and CyberVato are the technological et genetic incarnation of contemporary America’s fears of immigration, Spanish language, other cultures and races (sinister laughter).
Finch: Are you suggesting that most Americans are scared of immigrants?
Fromage du Merde: Oui, oui! Scared out of their little minds! They are especially of brown people with thick accents and unfamiliar social behavior. You know, Latin American drug lords, heartless “terrorists” from Arab countries (nervous laugh), NorteĻo musicians from Sinaloa. The list is quite long.
Finch: You French people are not exactly innocent. You guys are also scared shitless of Arabs and other brown people. I mean, Pete Wilson loves Le Pen. He regards him as a mentor.
Fromage du Merde: But, but, but we are not here to discuss France’s nouvelle racism. We are here to talk about the amazing Aztechnology.
Finch (to the listeners): Professor Fromage du Merde and his two, shall we call them, techno-ethno-graphic “specimens” are here to answer questions from the listeners, and at the same time to question the listeners’ assumptions about Chicano scientific prowess. In a sense, this live broadcast is part of their research. And let me tell you people out there in radiolandia, they are certainly formidable looking creatures. They look like . . . like Japanese anim cartoon characters made in Tijuana . . . a robo-gang member . . . and the Tex Mex cousin of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But, why don’t you vatos describe yourselves for our listeners.
El Mad Mex (filtered voice/satanic lower pitch): My name is El Mad Mex, Homo Fronterizus, or replicante #187, as seen on the Super Nintendo video game, “Instinto Asesino.” Habitat: The American Borderlands. Features: Illegal border crosser; defender of immigrants’ rights; drug and jalapeĻo pusher. I practice boxing, Tex Mex rock, and narco-shamanism. I love to seduce horny gueras and to abduct innocent Anglo children. The Tijuana Cartel and the Zapatista movement sponsor me. I am wanted by the DEA, the FBI, and the Smithsonian Institution. My prostheses include a jalapeĻo phallus, a robotic bleeding heart, an identity morphing mask, and an “intelligent” tongue. And yes, I am indestructible! Ja-ja-ja (sinister laughter). I am exactly what Antonio Banderas aspires to become.
CyberVato (computerized voice): My name is CyberVato, Homo Chicanus, and/or replicante # 209, as seen on the evening news. I am considered an “endangered species.” Habitat: The U.S. inner cities. Aliases: cholo, pinto, chuco, homie, “at risk youth,” “information superhighway bandit,” and “Calvin Klein vato.” Features: Techno-savvy, neonationalist, monolingual, drug addict, survivor of innumerable cultural drive-by shootings. I experience permanent social resentment and self-involvement. My political project is to invade your city. The LAPD and the Gap are after me, ja-ja.
Finch: Can you guys describe some of your robotic prostheses for the radio listeners without imagination?
El Mad Mex: My robotic, cerbo-controlled hand looks chidisima, with polished chrome and lasers for fingertips, but to tell you the truth, it’s totally useless. It’s just for style. You know, Chicano culture is first and foremost about style. We are into artifice, not functionality.
Finch: And the mechanical bleeding heart coming out of your fully tattooed chest?
El Mad Mex: It’s merely for effect’s sake, puro aesthetics, ese. I am quite rrrromantic you know. Underneath my Aztec quilt, I have a hydraulic jalapeĻo phallus. It squirts chipotle sauce to blind the migra. Unlike Anglo high technology, which is hi-function, Chicano robotics are purposeless . . . but full of humor.
CyberVato: Not, not, not everything we have is purposeless. I’ve got a virtual reality bandana with which Anglos can have a direct experience of racism without having to suffer its social and physical consequences. With my VR bandana I also get transported into very realist 3D environments that approximate places where I am normally not allowed as a Chicano; like Beverly Hills, or Madison Avenue. I tell you: the software is amazing. The Chicano VR is so pinche realistic that I am usually the only non-Anglo person in the program. But if it gets too rough in cyberspace, I touch the “delete” button and ipso facto return “home” to the barrio. It’s great, ese.
Finch: What is your prime directive, guys? I mean, what are you programmed to do?
El Mad Mex: Lots of things: anthropological fieldwork, techno-activism, cyber-sex, experimental art, techno-performance art, comic books, conceptual radio.
CyberVato: And of course, we always enjoy confronting people’s fears of otherness.
Finch: How do you go about doing this?
El Mad Mex: Every day, when we leave our UDMB techno-coffin, we instantly become public personas; walking metaphors; living border artworks.
Finch: Mad Mex, be more concrete please.
El Mad Mex: Well, we exhibit ourselves on platforms in museums and galleries. We are like living dioramas, posthuman artifacts. People can come and watch us—and interact with us if they feel like it. They can touch us, feed us, fondle us, and alter our identity by pressing digits or changing our makeup and costumes. We are like human-size paper-cut dolls. At times, they are even allowed to point replicas of weapons at us to experience how it feels to shoot at a live Mexican, ja-ja. It’s like a real life Super Nintendo game with the added excitement that people are watching. And if they are adventurous enough, they can actually replace us. They get to display themselves in our place for a short period of time and experience how it feels to be looked at. We exchange iden tities with the audience, so to speak.
Fromage du Merde: It’s great! At one point the audience doesn’t know anymore if they are watching the Mexi-cyborgs, or watching their own projections, or watching themselves watching the . . .
CyberVato: It’s a fair deal. The audience gets to objectify us, and then we objectify them back. The process of exo-ti-za-tion goes both ways, like the process of borderization of the U.S. and Mexico.
Finch: What do they actually find at the end of this bizarre performance experiment?
El Mad Mex: A confirmation of all their fears and desires. They suddenly realize that everything they ever imagined about us is . . . true, ja-ja. a) Yes, Mexicans are aliens; or better said, we’re just partially human, as it was proved in the documentary, The Great Mojado Invasion; b) Yes, we are indestructible; and c) Yes, soon we will outnumber Anglos in the Southwest. In other words, we are mere blank screens for people to project their inner monsters.
Fromage du Merde (excited): Furthermore, audience members soon realize that the Mexi-cyborgs are in fact their sole creation (perverse laughter).
Finch: Professor, why do people confess these things?
Fromage du Merde: Americans are lonely and isolated tribesmen. So when you give them a chance to speak their minds and their hearts, they take it.
Finch: But why the Web?
Fromage du Merde: The total anonymity of the Internet allows for the surfacing of forbidden or forgotten zones of the psyche. Besides, there are no moral, physical, or social repercussions in cyberspace, and this can be quite liberating.
CyberVato: Especially for white people.
Fromage du Merde: Digital technology has allowed us to create a new millennial mythology of the Latino—the Indigenous and the Immigrant “Other.”
El Mad Mex: I am an intrinsic part of this new mythology, and let me tell you: it’s quite sinister. You won’t find any sleepy Mexicans or Chihuahuas “here”(sinister laughter).
Finch: Let’s break for a PSA. Remember, the number here in the studio is . . . Our fax number is . . .
[Prerecorded Public Service Announcement]
Finch: We are back with Professor Jacques Fromage du Merde and his two Mexi-cyborgs, dealing with racism and fear of otherness in contemporary America. Let’s take some calls.
Caller: I believe that a large part of this people’s history, the Mexicans, is contained in the Book of Mormon. They were strong tribes who chose either to accept Christ or not to. They were taught that if they lived righteously, they would keep their Promised Land. However, they continued in war and wickedness, greed and violence, and they became unable to maintain all the Lord had given them.
Next Caller: I think immigration in itself isn’t bad, but (starts to scream like crazy) if you are an illegal alien, then you must be deported!!!
Next Caller: I am so aroused by people with heavy accents. I can actually have an orgasm by listening to El Mad Mex. I’m all wet. Thanks.
Fromage du Merde: See, Mr. Finch. People are more than willing to tell us this shit.
Finch (quite nervous, clearly changing the subject matter): Mr. Fromage, both El Mad Mex and CyberVato look like characters from a Chicano science fiction movie. They don’t appear to be from our time and place. Your research must suggest an immediate future where these ethno-cyborgs are the norm. Is that the case?
Fromage du Merde: Why don’t we ask them directly? They have an uncanny ability to prophesize the future. In fact, El Mad Mex himself, among his myriad selves, is a techno-shaman.
Finch: Tell us, SeĻor, what do you see?
El Mad Mex (trance-like): The nation-state will collapse in 2000, immediately after the Second U.S./Mexico War, which, in fact, Mexico will win. The ex-U.S.A will fragment into myriad micro-republics loosely controlled by a multiracial junta, and governed by a Chicano Prime Minister. The White House will become the Brown House. Washington will become Wa-chingßn. Spanglish will be the official language. Other accepted linguas francas will include frangle, japaĻol, and computer talk. Anglo militias and rabid teens will desperately attempt to recapture the Old Order, which paradoxically they are contributing to overturn as we speak. The newly elected government will sponsor interactive ethnographic exhibits to teach the perplexed population of the United States of Aztlan how things were before and during the Second U.S./Mexico War.
CyberVato: Our presence here is a foreshadowing of the inevitable future. The global Mextermination Project is an example of the future official hybrid culture. Our performances/installations present real-life posthuman specimens as well as unique archeological artifacts, which are both residues of our dying Western civilization, and samples of an emerging Nueva Cultura, a culture in which the margins have fully occupied the center. Enough.
Finch: Spooky, but makes total sense. We remind the listeners who wish to meet the ethnocyborgs in person that they will be on display at El Museo del Barrio on the following days: June 12, 13, and 14. We are now approaching the end of our show.
Guillermo Gßmez-PeĻa is a performance artist and writer residing in San Francisco. He is a contributing editor to TDR , and a commentator on All Things Considered. His recent book Dangerous Border Crossers was published by Routledge Press in 2000.
© 2001 Pocha Nostra