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Texomazatl : the negotiation of identity through Aztec dance Barron, Elena


This work explores the identity politics of performance through the example of an Aztec dancer in the United States, Texomazatl (David Vargas). A central theme involves how Texomazatl's performance of Aztec dance both contests and accomodates hegemony, often simultaneously. This theme is explored through an analysis of his performances before school-age children and "outsider" audiences as well as his reflections on ceremonial Aztec dance. Aztec dance is revealed as an act of resistance whose proliferation in the San Francisco Bay Area from the 1970's onward is closely tied to a social movement in the cultural empowerment of Mexican Americans within the United States. Hegemonic narratives in the United States that have historically portrayed Aztecs as a vanquished and extinct people challenge Texomazatl's presentation of Aztec dance as a continuing tradition. Texomazatl's deliberate methods of countering these obstacles in representing his identity include highlighting the presentation of his spoken narrative (which accompanies his dance performances)in a present tense format. Another method is the enlistment of audiences as participants in performances. In these ways, Texomazatl seeks to utilize audiences as agents of sorts for the inclusion of Aztec culture into the larger American cultural tapestry. Through the course of my research, questions emerged of how de-contextualizing dance through specific types of performances may be impediments to the positive and meaningful presentation of Texomazatl's culture to "outsider" audiences. The thesis thus explores larger questions of how cultural performers who perform as their livelihood at times have to navigate entanglements of cultural commoditization with the intent to bring about culturally educational performances and assertions of agency in their performances. The thesis also touches upon the notion of authenticity as an entrapping force historically used by the dominant society in defining and dismepowering marginalized populations. Texomazatl's experience provides an example of how concepts of authenticity of physical ethnic image may be strategically appropriated by a hisorically marginalized population (in this case, Mexican Americans through Aztec dance). In sum, Texomazatl's experience allows a consideration of how in the quest for social recognition identity revitalization may emerge out of a legacy of cultural assimilation.

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