If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then a book about performance art is surely like a sonata about sculpture. In the case of The New World Border
, however, there is little lost in translation; the force and originality of Guillermo Gómez-Peña's ideas come across loud and clear. Billed as "chicano cyber-punk art," his work revolves around the disorienting reality of living in a multilingual, multicultural society. To express the inherent confusion of colliding cultures, he creates a fictional nation called Aztlan Liberado, where various identities, races, genders, and languages all blend to create an amalgamated society. In this world, the language is Spanglish, all borders have been removed, and whites are the minority. He writes a series of news reports on this theme that turn clichés inside out and point stereotypes the other way: "In an act of random violence, two unemployed corporate executives walked into a luxurious Taco Bell Bistro and fired upon the peaceful fajita-eating customers. Today's headline in the minority paper, the New York Times
, reads: 'Blood and guacamole all over walls; a macabre scene.'"
Another piece uses text and photographs to describe an act performed in Europe and the U.S. Here, Gómez-Peña places himself in a small gilded or bamboo cage in the middle of a busy plaza or shopping mall and presents himself as an "exotic multicultural specimen" who can be "activated" by shoppers who want to witness his "incredible ethnic talents." Such talents include modeling traditional Indian garb, doing commercials for organic products, and "posing in attitudes of martyrdom, despair, and poverty"--essentially behaving in any way that spectators expect their "primitives" to act--allowing Gómez-Peña to make a statement about how cultural identities are often presented as commodities.
This American Book Award-winning collection of essays, poems, performance texts, photographs, and "prophesies for the coming century" is by turns outlandish, illuminating, wickedly clever, and unabashedly serious. A frenetic artist, satirist, and phrasemaker, Gómez-Peña is able to convey the electricity and inventiveness of his live shows through heavy doses of humor, irony, and word play. Gómez-Peña's aim is to establish a common middle ground among North Americans; until a seamless North America becomes a reality, however, Gómez-Peña will continue to live on the border--and would like to see us all there. --Shawn Carkonen