Illustration by Katie McBride
“The U.S.-Mexican border es una herida abierta,” declares Gloria Anzaldúa in her landmark 1987 volume Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. The text was fittingly the first reading that students encountered this spring in what’s believed to be UR’s first bilingual course.

The course, Gender, Race, and Performance Across the Americas, is focused on the theory and practice of identity performance, both in staged ways like theater roles and as we navigate our personal lives through identities like race, gender, sexuality, language, and culture.

As in real life, language choice in the course’s discussions, readings, and writings was often fluid, sometimes switching midsentence or combining elements of both languages to create new words.

“Many authors explore and manipulate language in both Spanish and English,” said Mariella Méndez, a professor of Latin American, Latino, and Iberian Studies, who co-taught with theater and dance professor Patricia Herrera. “They express the experience of being in between.”

For 10 of the students, the course was meant to be preparation for a May trip to Havana, Cuba, to attend the Latin American Theatre Festival. The COVID-19 emergency scuttled those plans.

Nonetheless, the course’s bilingual element expanded the vocabulary for talking about the issues at the core of the course, trip or no trip.

“They are trying to think about how they perform their identities in different contexts,” Herrera said before spring break. “Our conversations have been intense.”