Multicultural Identity as Performance

Author (Bottom L) and her Family in Mexico at Christmas

I am one among millions. A child of cultural hybridity, I am unique in the specific combination of factors that determined my upbringing, yet unremarkable to the extent that racial/cultural mixing is the flavor du jour in many societies around the world. So when I try to analyze the importance of performance in my community, the first question that comes to mind is: what is my community? Together with legions of multicultural peers, I belong to a community that constantly moves between the cultures that have shaped us as people. This multicultural community is both an imagined community and a real one: most of us will never meet each other, yet we are aware that there are many others "like us". When we do meet one another, it has been my experience that there is an understanding or sorts between people who share the experience of multiculturalism, regardless of the specific cultural components of our experience.

Members of this community learn from a young age the politics of each of our communities in order to navigate them natively. The smooth navigation between communities is tricky, of course, and accurate cultural performance is essential in this process. Wrinkling and wiggling your nose in Puerto Rico has a series of possible meanings which another Puerto Rican can easily identify and respond to. I cannot wiggle my nose in Mexico and expect the same response. In essence, we learn to perform a multiplicity of identities ('selves') that fulfill the different expectations of our communities in order to be accepted as legitimate members.

The strength of our multicultural identity lies in its extreme mutability, its capacity to be exteriorized in a variety of particular 'selves' that give us access to different communities. The reinvention of 'self' becomes a daily performance. The multicultural performer reaches into his/her bag of tricks and pulls out the 'self' that is appropriate for a particular performance. This is not to say that we are not really Puerto Rican or Mexican or Peruvian. We are not acting; we are just selectively showing a side of ourselves. In doing so, we control the identity that we present to society. If performing an identity is a political act in and of itself, the importance—and political potential—of the multicultural performance of 'self' lies in giving us legitimated access to a diversity of cultural spaces and using this access to create bridges between communities that may not touch each other otherwise.


Citlali Martínez completed her BA in Visual Arts at Brown University (2002) with a focus in mixed media and installation. She is currently a graduate student of Hispanic Languages & Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. Her current studies include Indigenous media, performance and video art, and ritual processes in art and literature.

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