Donning a sombrero, serape (Latino shawl) and Dia de los Muertos skeleton mask, a Cleveland artist interspersed video and audio featuring immigrant-themed statistics into his personal story. Taking off the mask, saying, “I don’t think this is my face,” he began speaking about family.
Eric M.C. Gonzalez performed “Mexicanidad in the United States of America” during Cleveland Public Theatre’s Station Hope in April.
“We’re living in an isolationist political climate where the undocumented run the risk of being deported, even though they’ve lived here most of their lives,” says Gonzalez. “This is a humanitarian issue that can tear apart families.”
This environment is inspiring him to explore his Mexican American identity.
“As an artist, I have to sound my voice in public on these things,” he says. “It’s almost like an obligation at this point, and I’m slowly transforming more into that role.”
Gonzalez’s Tejanos (Texas-born with Latino descent) grandparents experienced anti-Mexican discrimination. The artist speaks of the hypocrisy in casting his relatives as outsiders, since they were living in Texas before it was part of the United States.
“They adapted, like indigenous Mexicans have adapted to many different cultures along the way, making that a part of their culture,” Gonzalez says during ‘Mexicanidad.’ “Being uncertain of my heritage is a characteristic of my identity.”
Gonzalez described how it’s become more difficult to become a naturalized citizen today than when his grandfather moved to the United States, both legally and monetarily. “I would not exist if my grandfather wasn’t allowed to stay in the country and thrive,” Gonzalez says.
By the end of “Mexicanidad,” Gonzalez removed the sombrero and serape, leaving behind the buttoned shirt and jeans of his typical attire.
“When people find out I’m Mexican, they may say, ‘well you don’t seem Mexican,’ and I’m always confused by that because I am and this is the way I look,” he says. “It is interesting to transform from what others thought I was to what I am.”
After watching him perform “Mexicanidad,” Jeremy Paul, artistic director of Cleveland’s Theatre Ninjas who works on projects with Gonzalez, understood him on a deeper level.Art changes people. People change the world. - John Butler Click To Tweet
“There is this tension in how he self-identifies and how people put identity on him,” says Paul. “People say, ‘What are you? How are you different?’ and he’ll think, ‘I’m from Texas. What does it matter what I am?’”
After growing up in Virginia and Texas, the artist needed a change, deciding to move to Cleveland in 2007 following a visit to a friend in the area. He later received a degree in music composition from Cleveland State University.
Going forward, Gonzalez wants to continue exploring his background and themes of identity in his work. The artist is currently working on two shows he’ll perform in September: a piece for Pandemonium, CPT’s annual fundraiser, and IngenuityFest.
With a deeper understanding of cultural prejudice, Gonzalez thinks he would be quicker to speak out against injustices. “I’m not alone. A lot of people are coming to the realization that it’s time to start saying something,” Gonzalez says.
*Featured photo (in header) credit to Steve Wagner.