John Gutierrez’s view from Miguel Gutierrez’s “This Bridge Called My Ass”
For many years I’d been told that I should meet Miguel. So often I sort of just refused. There aren’t that many other Latinos doing the strange stuff I do that I know of and I thought people were just saying we should meet because we have the same last name. I didn’t want to just be recommended to check out an artist because I was also Latino. And I knew we’d cross paths eventually. I applied to Landing, a program Miguel started and leads at Gibney, at a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of dance. I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. I almost didn’t even apply. I was a working New York actor/dancer/performer/maker/whatever/survivor but that was the problem. I was tired of feeling like life is something I had to survive. Within the first exercise at Landing, Miguel, Stephanie Acosta (dramaturg/AD) who was also participating in the program, and I were watching this group of artists/freaks meet for the first time. People were moving together. Chatting. Massaging each other. We had never gathered before these moments as a group, but somehow it felt safe. I then began to realize that for the first time ever in a creative space like this I was speaking in Spanish. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I guess I didn’t really even know that Stephanie and Miguel were Latino and could speak Spanish. But somehow this element of our identity was revealed and present.
Within this community of artists we are a part of we work hard to create a sense that there is room for all of our identities and differences. That through experimental exploration and coming together to talk about and work through complex issues we will all feel a sense of understanding and belonging. I believe in all that. I also wonder about when empathy is not enough. I wonder about the facets of identity that can not be understood unless experienced. That moment in Landing was one of these moments. And being part of This Bridge Called My Ass was a series of these moments time and time again. The power that comes from bringing together not only Latino artists, but also artists dealing with what it means to be a Latino artist/human/person within the context of being within the United States. The influence that American culture and society casts upon a select group of its citizens. Not only that, but particularly these 7 individuals. We can all trace our families to different countries, but we are all Latino/a/x. How is that? There would be days where we would all be speaking Spanish and have to translate for each other what a word meant in English because it’s a word that Dominicans or some other country didn’t use or because of the bastardization of language and culture that happens when you are not engaging with that language or culture primarily. Literally, the word I use meaning to take or get “coger” the g is a “h” sound, in another part of Latin America means to fuck. So some people every time I use it would giggle internally. I am not a perfect Latino/a/x. I always feel that I don’t know enough. Being in that room showed me that I can never know enough. And not just about being Latino. Being brown, being other, being queer, being labeled as different, that does something to people, to how they navigate the world. I was in a room of people who I didn’t have to explain that to. Who I could just talk about it with. I didn’t have to prove my latinoness or anything in this room. We could all just chill and be who and what we are. The artists we are. The people we are. And the collaboration and exploration that came out of that was genuine, honest, and inspiring. Everyone was coming from their own world of art and what’s important to them. We could gather together, share and learn and expand without having to explain some of the pain, the confusion. That stuff wasn’t at the forefront of the work. Diversity was just there. We brought it up sometimes, but mostly we didn’t have to talk about it. It just was.
And I feel fucking empowered. To know that others out there at different points in their lives feel like I do/have. That being brown in this country means you have to work extra fucking hard. That amongst our group 4 are educators as well as performers. 3 have masters. That we chase the degrees and the stage. That we bring our history to our work. That we ask the complicated questions even when it’s not easy. That we can support each other and push each other when shits hard because life just be that way sometimes. I guess what I’m saying is.. for the first time I felt that Latino/a/x didn’t have to mean what I’ve been told all my life it meant. It means something different to everyone and that’s ok, because that means it means something particular to me. That I don’t have to feel so fucking lost all the time. Caught up in a country that doesn’t want to say I am from here and then the country that I am labeled I am from also saying I can’t claim them. Being brown in America is like that. And I’m not mad about having the same last name as Miguel. I’m curious and interested in it. He’s Colombian and I’m Dominican, we are both from the east coast, but some time a long time ago within our colonization lineages some person with our last name ended up on this side of the world and stamped their last name on us. Here we are who knows how many generations later grappling with that. Experimenting and dissecting the fuck out of that. I am happy that others recognized it and that we got good coverage in the press, but I’m also happy that they spelled my name correctly in the paper this time.