Performing Nation Diva Style: "La Tequilera"

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Mexican-American pop singer Lila Downs and Mexican cabaret artist Astrid Hadad each perform nation in their very different interpretations of Lucha Reyes’s classic 1930’s Mexican song: “La tequilera.” Downs and Hadad construct and represent national, ethnic, and gender identity in their performances within a border and/or transnational context. I explore how their choice of art form facilitates the construction of their own identities. My theoretical methodology embraces a cultural-studies approach to dramatic, visual and performative texts. All of these play an important role in redefining female Chicana/Mexican-American/Mexicana identity as a site of cultural and political contestation and struggle. The interdisciplinary character of this article corresponds to the nature of performance itself, as well as to the search for female identity formation within what Américo Paredes has termed “Greater Mexico.” I use the term Performing Nation to analyze how Downs and Hadad embody and enact specific regional and national identities through costume choice, vocal inflection, song choice and imagery. Though both Downs and Hadad reference Mexico in their performances of La tequilera, they do so by using a different context and tone. Hadad ironically performs Mexico through cabaret. Her humorous critiques of Mexican gender norms encourage her audience to envision a more egalitarian future for Mexico. Downs performs Greater Mexico through folk culture. Her oscillation between the new and the "authentic" promotes the idea that folklore is malleable and willing to change. By using the norteña and fusing it with other beats, Downs is performing a nation that is in movement, constantly changing, evolving and transmuting; her objective is to perform a transnational nation for a world market. Hadad performs nation for the nation. Her objective is to look within the nation and its capital to create an ironic commentary of it, inviting the audience to de-, re- and co-create. Downs and Hadad construct mobile identities that extend the Mexican cultural sphere across the northern border into the U.S. The porous nature of the border enables these northern identities to circulate back to Mexico. By participating in this cross-border identity building process, Hadad and Downs situate themselves as public figures, as women artists, within the Greater Mexico that they are reshaping.

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