José Esteban Muñoz is a professor of performance studies at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. He'll be giving the UA Institute for LGBT Studies' 2012 Miranda Joseph Endowed Lecture on the topic "The Brown Commons: The Sense of Wildness," at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 4, in the UA's Manuel Pacheco Integrated Learning Center, 1500 E. University Blvd., Room 140. He'll also give a talk, "What Is a Queer Brown Commons?" at 2 p.m. on the same day at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 101 N. Stone Ave.; both events are free. What in the heck does any of this mean? Read on to find out, or head to www.lgbt.arizona.edu for more information.
Can you explain what attendees can expect at your lecture? What does "The Brown Commons" mean?
I am interested in thinking about the Latino experience, especially of folks who are from different parts of the Spanish-speaking world, and understanding them under the idea of brownness. Brownness is a concept I take from the Brown Power movement, a sister of the Black Power movement, and the gay-power and other liberationist movements. ... It can be an inclusive category that can talk about all sorts of different people. For example, on the East Coast, it can include people with a Caribbean background, as well as people from the West and the Southwest who might be of Mexican heritage or Central-American heritage—people who might not have the same national experience, but are all viewed under the category of Latino or Hispanic.
Where does the LGBT aspect come into this?
My first book was about the convergence of LGBT politics, issues and concerns with those of people of color. ... My second book was trying to think about queer politics in relation to an early utopian impulse—about imagining alternative potential realities. My third book is a continuation of that—and looking at the concept of brownness. In the same way categories like gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual have all been talked about in relation to a term like queer, which is supposed to be inclusive, I want "brownness" to be ... a term that brings in a lot of stuff.
How do Arizona's politics fit in to all of this?
Arizona is like ground zero for the national struggle over ethnic studies and its right to exist and the important knowledge it creates. ... I am honored to speak at the university at this particular moment when ethnic studies is under siege in Arizona more than anywhere else. ... The kind of knowledge (ethnic studies) has produced, and the kind of thinking that comes out of it, are invaluable. People who want to stamp out diversity and multiple forms of expression are trying to stamp out ethnic studies, because valuable knowledge is being produced there. The stakes are high.
"The stakes are high." Elaborate on that.
What is happening in relation to ethnic studies in Arizona can set a national tone. It shows the fear and the political stakes around this knowledge. People who want to invalidate ethnic studies and shut it down are people who are interested in a homogenous society. ... They are closed off, and they don't want to take in the fullness and vitality of our actual world. They want to keep certain hierarchies in place around race, class, gender, sexuality and a bunch of other terms, too, like ability.
The film Wildness—referred to in the title of your talk—is being screened after you speak at the UA.
The film is by a young transgender filmmaker, Wu Tsang. ... It's a documentary that looks at an establishment called the Silver Platter, a bar in the MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles, a section that is currently starting to be gentrified, but has seen better days. The bar is largely populated by people of Latino or Latin-American heritage, many of whom are transgender women. The women who patronize the Silver Platter also perform there. ... Tsang is mixed-race—Chinese and white mix, basically—who is a transgender man, whereas the regulars there were born as men and are now women. The documentary is a story of how this group of younger people, who are kind of punks or artists, but also queer, of many different genders, came in on the slowest night of the week, Tuesday, and started a performance/club night called "Wildness." The desire is for the communities to mix across generational, ethnic and a few other different divides. ... I want to think about all of the folks who converge in this bar under a politically inclusive idea of brownness.