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In the annals of ancient Mexica    tradition lies a ritual involving the voluntary sacrifice of an individual. In this ceremony, the person willingly surrenders their very skin, a symbol of their identity and humanity. The removed skin is then passed on to a revered "priest" who ascends a pyramid adorned with layers of such skins. Here, amidst this tapestry, the priest embarks on a relentless prayer to the gods, a prayer that lasts for days on end. This fervent act ultimately leads to the adhering of the sacrificed skin onto the priest's own body, an excruciating process that culminates in dehydration and, inevitably, death. This chilling ritual holds the origin of the renowned Mexican saying, "Ponte en mi pellejo'' (put yourself in my skin)– a phrase not born of empathy but rather steeped in the desire for one to immerse themselves in an entirely foreign context. Drawing upon this ancient reference, I embarked on a journey of shedding my skin.

My process began in various locations, each accompanied by distinct thoughts and ideas, all of which migrated from the forefront of my mind to the deepest recesses of my body during a two-hundred-mile hike across northern Spain. In many ways, it was a metaphorical sacrifice of my identity. I spent many hours alone in the mountains where the only thing that mattered was whether or not I was physically strong enough to continue to my next destination. There was no room to wallow in my own self-pity or insecurities about what others might think of me. It was quite primal. Drinking from the mountain streams, relieving myself in the bushes, tending to swollen and blistered feet every few hours. And then there were other days spent walking and engaging in conversation with strangers from around the world, where my intellect was stimulated every second, my mind expanding and contracting as it tried to process an excess of new information.

Each step I took was another microscopic layer of self I shed. At the end of it, I was left with nothing and everything. Here is what I discovered:

  1. We create rituals as a way to compartmentalize experiences that are much too big for our bodies to contain.

  2. Most of what we inherit is not physical. Most of our inheritances aren’t even tangible. They are feelings- sensations in our bodies- that connect us with our ancestors. 

  3. The labels that we use to identify ourselves are simply verbal bridges that connect our embodied culture    to the material world. 

  4. I am a dispossessed person, living in a dispossessed place, in a dispossessed state.

The three pieces Part 1: ***, Part 2: Lejania, and Constellations, that were born from this experience were personal rituals that were transposed into a performative mask.

Part 1:*** came to me first as a poem as I sat in a feeling of place and “no-place.” While walking, I experienced several moments in which I recalled the place where I was born, Reynosa, Tamaulipas. I remembered the small lights and papel picado     that adorned the alleyways during holidays. I remembered that the front porch of my house was home to dozens of bugs on humid summer nights. I remembered the dirt road that led to my favorite food shack that was always open. And I remembered how one day, I crossed a border and never returned. For many years, I couldn’t understand why I was being asked to completely reshape myself to fit the standards of another country. But I never asked because I knew there was a deeper, more painful truth behind why my parents had relocated me and my siblings from Mexico to the United States.

It took me twenty three years to arrive in the town I was born in. And still, I’ve only just crossed into the county lines. In twenty three years I’ve only just passed the “Bienvenido a Reynosa” sign. Maybe in twenty three years more, I’ll be able to call it home again. 

All of these initial feelings culminated into the questions: Do I have a place that is mine? Are there people from the past who guide me? Is there a “God” who sees me?” that guided the creation of Part 1:***.  

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26. The Mexica, also known as the Aztecs, were an indigenous Mesoamerican civilization that established one of the most powerful and influential empires in pre-Columbian America. They were primarily centered in the Valley of Mexico, where they founded their capital city, Tenochtitlan, on an island in Lake Texcoco.

27.  I use the term embodied culture when in reality I speak of something far more transient. Buddhists call it zen or emptiness. Others might refer to it as divinity.

28. Papel picado is a Mexican folk art craft that involves intricately cutting designs into sheets of colored tissue paper. The term "papel picado" translates to "pierced paper" in English.

The second layer to my shedding was the creation of Part 2: Lejania

On April fourteenth of this year, I hit the two week mark of walking. On this particular day I found myself standing amidst a dense fog, visibility limited to a mere few feet the moment in which a song popped into my mind. The tune came from a song I heard an old Frenchman humming just the day before. The words, out of nowhere, came from my imagination:

I felt as if I were within the very heart of a cloud, crying out, singing to, I suppose, what one might call God. I carried this mantra with me the rest of my journey. A few months after my profound experience, I found myself at the Nordic Theatre Laboratory. It was there that I embarked on a collaborative project with actor Alejandro Rodriguez. We share similar but different experiences as Mexicans. His family is from the border state, Coahuila, but rather than cross the border, they stayed in Mexico. He told me about a particular musical genre found within the border regions known as cardenches.

The origins of this genre can be traced to the 19th century during the Porfiriato era in Mexico and emerged primarily among miners, cowboys, and enslaved people. As noted by Magdalena Zurita (2004) in her research on Mexican music, the term "cardenche" likely derives from the Spanish word "cardenche," denoting a thorny plant. This name aptly mirrors the rustic and unrefined nature of cardenche music, which frequently explores themes of hardship, love, loss, and the everyday struggles faced by rural communities.

Typically, these cries are performed acapella or accompanied by minimal instrumentation, often featuring a guitar, harp, and occasionally a violin. According to Pedro Páramo's ethnographic study (2011), cardenche melodies are plaintive and melancholic, mirroring the harsh realities of rural life. The lyrics, delivered with heartfelt emotion, are often improvised. What makes cardenches truly special is that they aren't focused on a fixed melody or constructed notes; instead, they encourage words and melodies to flow straight from the heart and soul. Oftentimes they sound rather disharmonious like someone wailing longingly. 

These sounds struck a deep chord within me as I realized I had unknowingly created a cardenche on April 14th. I had no prior knowledge that this tradition had its roots in the northern regions of Mexico, a place intimately tied to my family's heritage. It was a divine gift handed down to me by some ancestral or cosmic force as a revelation that this- cardenches- are  inherently a part of me. It was one of those rare moments when I felt completely aligned and no longer in pursuit; I had discovered a piece of what I had been searching for all along. This is what makes me Mexican- particularly of the northern region. The songs that I sing. 

Part 2: Lejanía is the release of a deep cry that has been bubbling inside of me since 2010. 2010 was the last time I was in Reynosa as a carefree child. That was the last time I remember my joy and excitement occupying a space in a country that welcomed it with open arms. It was the last time I remember identifying so strongly as a Mexican. This piece explores my inheritances and the stripping of my linguistic and movement inheritances through cumbia. 

The third layer of my shedding involved the creation of Constellations

This piece, a collaboration with Alejandro Rodriguez, helped place my experiences in a trans-cultural and national context. Constellations premiered at the Black Circle Stage in collaboration with the Nordic Theater Laboratory on July 30th, 2023. It emerged from the rhythmic heartbeat of cumbias with which you immersed yourself at the beginning of this journey. It began as a profound endeavor, an exploration into the intricate web of racism and the institutionalization of the elusive concept known as the "Mexican Race." 

With a touch of irony, Alejandro Rodriguez and I reveal our bodies and skin as canvases etched with the imprints of stories and history. We envision our scars, moles, and gestures as celestial constellations, each bearing the weight and energy of an ancestral legacy – our physiognomy, hue, and the complex notion of "race." From the map we create on our bodies, we unravel tales of the train conductors during the Mexican revolution, resilient grandmothers who defied the ban on dancing to cumbias, and indigenous boys with slender, crooked legs. Every movement we make carries within it stories of love, revolution, and journeys, all set against the backdrop of a historical epoch when the border separating Mexico and the United States came into sharp focus.

In the context of race, defined as a categorization of humanity based on hereditary, cultural, and physical attributes, Constellations stands as a deliberate challenge to question racial classifications and the subjective parameters of worth. It beckons us to engage in a contemporary and critical dialogue about segregation, racism, and colonization. We narrate the tales of our ancestors, individuals who navigated the intricacies of identity during a pivotal moment in history that delineated what it meant to be "Mexican." We present a societal theme to an audience, inviting them to embark on a journey into the systemic constructs that shape our vulnerability. As a Mexican and Mexican American duo, our work delves into an exploration of our own identities and the contexts within which our bodies exist, both in Berlin and the broader global landscape. Our aim in the performance is not merely to evoke empathy but to thrust the viewer into the depths of our very skin, once again, a nod to the age-old expression “ponte en mi pellejo”.

We were very aware of the fact that both of our bodies are voices and movements of the border. With this in mind, we engage in a dialogue with our generation, positioning ourselves on a level plane and tracing a path of deliberate provocation, self-recognition, and reconciliation. Our creative journey predominantly centers on movement. We've embraced the rhythms and sounds resonating within our bodies and skin, dancing in communion and engaging in discourse.

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