By Erin Yazgan
Breaking social boundaries, at times, requires an unabashedly sexual journey for personhood and voice.
In the Porter Dining Hall at 8 p.m. tonight, following an educational workshop on transgendered and queer people of color at 2 p.m. at Merrill’s Baobab Lounge, the fear-based lines drawn between sexuality, gender and nationality will be blurred.
Through the medium of performance art, Mangos with Chili, an annual traveling cabaret of trans and queer people of color (TQPOC), will bring their stories and struggles to UC Santa Cruz, the sixth stop on their western U.S. tour, entitled “Queer Borderlands.”
This 2008 tour of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, will not only include topics such as sexuality and gender, but also issues native to the West and Southwest, such as immigration and indigenous rights.
Inspired by other traveling roadshows such as the Tranny Roadshow and the Sex Workers Art Show, founders Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha and Cherry Gallette orchestrated Mangos with Chili’s first tour in April 2006. Despite having no core funding and mostly grassroots publicity, Mangos with Chili met with rave reviews and packed venues. Now, in 2008, it remains the nation’s only traveling cabaret of TQPOC artists.
Piepzna-Samarasinha said that audiences will be inspired by all the group members’ stories of sexuality, gender and class from a queer-of-color perspective.
“It’s really important for folks to see parts of their own story on stage that they don’t get to see and to hear stuff that’s not talked about be voiced,” Piepzna-Samarasinha said.
In her work, Piepzna-Samarasinha writes about her experience as a survivor of violence and abuse.
“A lot of my inspiration has been about wanting to record my culture because I feel like it’s the job of artists and writers to report on what we’re living through,” she said, “whether it’s writing about the war in Iraq or writing about a fight that me and my lover had.”
Piepzna-Samarasinha writes of personal experiences such as her father migrating from Sri Lanka and growing up in central Massachusetts.
Tam Welch, the program coordinator for the Lionel Cantu GLBTI Resource Center, which is organizing Mangos with Chili’s performance at UCSC, said that the cabaret’s performance will not only allow the audience to connect with the artists’ personal experience, but also educate about the controversial subjects they present.
“The topics that [Mangos with Chili] perform about are issues that we need to see and bring to UCSC,” Welch said. “We support transgender identities and these are the ways that we do it, by creating educational programs and having fun with it so that it’s not in the classroom, only one-sided. It can be artistic — it doesn’t have to be in a book. People live it — they’ll see faces, they’ll be able to ask questions.”
Jorge Arroyo, the coordinator for residential education at Porter, agreed the group brings something necessary.
“We just want to create space for queer people of color because that’s also something that is not seen very often on a predominantly white campus,” Arroyo said.
Mangos with Chili says that its goal is to create a cultural institution that will push TQPOC into the public. Along with Arroyo, Piepzna-Samarasinha said she wants to help create this space for queer people of color by forcing deaf ears to listen.
“There’s no better way to say ‘fuck you’ to a system that says ‘You’re not worth anything and your voice doesn’t matter,’” she said, “than to create a fabulous road show of really loud-mouthed, brilliant, freaky, queer people of color hitting the road, selling out every show.”