Undocumented pleasures

A version of this post was originally written for the graduate seminar “Framing Migration,” taught by Prof. Deniz Göktürk of the UC Berkeley Department of German. In this post, seminar participant Juan Manuel Aldape lays out the basics of his project in the course, drawing out connections between the theatrical piece Amarillo (a migration narrative that you can stream in its entirety here) and the decolonial feminist theory of Chicana writers Gloria Anzaldúa and Emma Pérez.

My work is focused on undocumented pleasures, (in)visibilities, and choreography: I want to consider the spaces and experiences of subjects who take pleasure in the midst of navigating treacherous geographical terrains and border choreographies. These spaces and experiences of pleasure rest alongside narratives of criminality and victimization.  I will analyze these themes through the performance Amarillo, created by Mexican theater company Línea de Sombra.

Importantly, I have not seen the performance in a theater. Instead, my analysis is concerned with the archive of the video as the performance itself deals with the issues of seeing, recording, and framing pleasures, oppression, and policing. These subjective dimensions are navigated through the narrative of an anonymous individual who leaves Mexico for Amarillo, Texas. Pleasure and desire are central themes throughout the performance. The person’s story sets off a series of personal transformations that ends up online with the documentation of the video and various participant responses collated during the performance’s various iterations in different cities.

The performance appears to have entered circulatory routes of online visibility and representation. These scenarios exist in continuous relation to the various iterations of the performance and the online viewing platform. However, the video, much like the performance, does not move at all times. It rests and is set into motion when the viewer watches the performance online.

It brings to my mind Gloria Anzaldúa’s ruminations on the borderlands and Emma Pérez’s postulations about decolonizing migrant studies. Anzaldúa’s proposals about the borderlands experience resonate since being first shared in the 1980s. From early on, her work underscores the importance of pleasures and care in spite of the persistent effects of the geopolitical demarcation that created a wound across her body, our bodies.

Where Anzaldúa highlights the complexity of life on the borderlands, thereby offering a caring understanding of subjecthood, Pérez stresses the importance of thinking about dispersions rather than linear migrant narratives. Pérez argues for an understanding of the mobility of bodies through a decolonial imaginary. A decolonial imaginary provides a model to consider the gendered/racial pleasures and desires that are privileged as a consequence of the scenarios of colonial desire.

What is more, Pérez’s model offers a frame to circumnavigate the nation-state’s administrative system, the international division of labor. More pressingly, her feminist reading of sexuality in the borderlands interrogates migration discourse. Pérez offers an alternative conceptualization of migration discourse and its emphasis on labor and commodity.

Juan Manuel Aldape is a PhD student in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at UC Berkeley. Find more of his work on his website

About Kumars Salehi

Kumars Salehi is a PhD student in German Literature and Culture. Broadly, he is interested in the relationships between media (primarily film, but also news media) and political consciousness. His research interests include Marxism; the Frankfurt School; German Idealism; and German and Scandinavian modernist/art cinema.
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