Dressed in zebra leggings, a cheetah vest and Doc Martens, renowned performance artist Carmelita Tropicana touched upon the many feelings of the human experience as she stood in the dimly lit Dorsky Museum on Sept. 30.
As a performance artist, Tropicana’s career spans over 30 years, using humorous prose and playful wit to touch upon heavy subjects such as migration and isolation; where one could only laugh when the truth and sentimental value of her statements hit.
Alina Troyano created the character of Carmelita Tropicana in the ‘80s at New York City’s downtown scene, trying to create a space for herself at a time when a woman’s sexuality was chastised and when most Latinx actors were (and still are) typecast to stereotypes such as the persona of the “fiery” Latina that has been continuously objectified. As a Cuban-born lesbian Latina, Tropicana’s success and recognition within the art world is pivotal and certainly one worth talking about.
“I remember back to the Copacabana when I performed and was called a ‘bitch,’ ‘whore’ and all these other names,” said Troyano in her Q&A with writer and playwright Edwin Sanchez.
In her performance, Tropicana presented several poems that gave insight into her childhood, migration and Cuban identity. The first was about her migration from Cuba at the age of 7, called “Leche de Amnesia,” where she experienced culture shock and the different values of a new country.
“I had to change, acquire a taste for peanut butter and jelly,” read Tropicana. “It was hard. I liked tuna fish and jelly.”
She presented the hardships of being a transplanted child in a spirited manner through her character Carmelita, a character that places emphasis on her Hispanic accent in a tongue in cheek way and takes the fast talking, stereotypical, fiery latina to a level of lively playfulness that most artists have hard time balancing.
“She really presents different issues in a very lighthearted way, to laugh at ourselves, the challenges we face, and break the barriers we have,” said Ursula Morgan, Interim Coordinator of Exhibitions and Programs at the Dorsky Museum.
Morgan explained that Troyano’s presence at SUNY New Paltz is due to her NYSCA/NYFA fellowship, “a program that has supported over 4,000 artists in various fields in the visual arts, literature, and performing arts at critical stages throughout their careers.” She emphasized that the fellowship is not project based, but based on the merit of the artist’s artwork and offers artists the economic support to fulfill their artistic endeavours. The fellowship is celebrating its 30th year with the Dorsky, currently displaying works by artists in the exhibit Artists as Innovators: Celebrating Three Decades of New York State Council on the Arts / New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, where Tropicana’s video “Chicken Sushi” is shown.
When Tropicana’s performance came to an end, she introduced the audience to playwright Edwin Sanchez. The Puerto Rican-born writer was raised in the Bronx, and his latest work, Diary of Puerto Rican Demigod, emphasizes immigrant life in the borough.
Themes of sexual orientation, poverty, Puerto Rican culture and toxic masculinity or “machismo,” brought about a sense of self discovery and the speaker’s acknowledgement that although the cultural forces in his heritage are not accepting, the first step is accepting it himself.
“There is always at least one Latino character in my writing,” said Sanchez. “It’s what I know, what I’ve grown up in.”
As successful artists in their respective fields, their Q&A ended with some advice for future generations of Latinx artists.
Sanchez prioritized joining a group, “you want to find your community first;” to become part of Latinx communities that deal with one’s field in order to feel secure. Troyano agreed, but also pointed out the many ways one could become recognized without being part of a mainly Latinx community.
“You want to find your voice, every performer has their own way. Find your community, but also find what you can do and have faith in it.”