Ethno-Cyborgs and Genetically Engineered Mexicans

Guillermo Gomez-Pena, “Ethno-Cyborgs and Genetically Engineered
In the mid 90’s, when the artworld went high-tech overnight, the debates about the
human body and its relation to new technologies dramatically polarized the
experimental arts community and particularly the performance art milieu.
The artists of “Apocalypse Culture” responded viscerally to these debates by adopting
a radically primitive stance, attempting to reclaim the body as a site for pleasure,
penance and pain, and to “return” to a fantastical and imaginary neo-tribal paganism,
very much in the tradition of US anarchist “drop out” culture.
My colleagues and I tried to explore other possibilities by infiltrating virtual space as
“cyber-immigrants” (Web-backs) and smuggling subversive ideas as conceptual
Our goal is to politicize the debates around digital technologies and to infect virtual
space with Chicano humor and linguas polutas (such as Spanglish).
We work under the rambunctious title of “The Ethno-Cyberpunk Trading Post &
Curio Shop on The Electronic Frontier.”
We titled our new performance project Mexterminator, referencing the superhuman,
robotic assassins of the Schwarzenneger movies.
Our goal was to incarnate the intercultural fantasies and nightmares of our audiences,
refracting fetishized constructs of identity through the spectacle of our “primitive,”
eroticized bodies on display.
The composite personae we created were stylized representations of a non-existent,
phantasmatic Mexican/ Chicano identity, projections of people’s own psychological
and cultural monsters — an army of Mexican Frankensteins ready to rebel against
their Anglo creators.
Armed with mysterious shamanic artifacts and sci-fi automatic weapons, our bodies
enhanced with prosthetic implants and their brown skin decorated with Aztec tattoos,
we hyper-sexual “ethnocyborgs,” clothed in high Tex-Mex/gangster-rap regalia, both
defied and perversely incorporated every imaginable Hollywood and MTV
stereotype, every fear and desire secretly harbored in the fragile psyches and hearts of
contemporary Americans.
My performance accomplices and I created complex personae that reflected these
constructs, refracted through our own particular “robo-baroque” aesthetics.
Sponsored by Mexican drug lords, the Zapatista comandancia, Chicano radicals, and
MTV, “we” — the indestructible cyber-mojados — had already succeeded in
occupying the US of Aztlan.
We were the flesh and blood incarnation of America’s millennial fantasies about
immigrants from the South, Latinos from the inner cities, pagan sexuality, indigenous
witchcraft, and the Spanish language.
What the audience ended up experiencing during the performance was a stylized
anthropomorphization of its own post-colonial demons and racist hallucinations, a
kind of crosscultural poltergeist.
Are you into tattoos, jalepeños, and ethno-porn? Are you into sexy Tex-Mex art that
does not question your privilege? Do you wish to experience a political peepshow?
Do you desire to smell or touch a live Mexican?
El Mexterminator premiered in Mexico City in March 1995 under the working title
of “The Museum of Frozen Identity.” When the audience arrives in the lobby or
entrance of the performance space, they encounter a written or prerecorded text
outlining the metafictional premise of the performance:
The nation-state has collapsed. The ex-US of A has fragmented into a myriad microrepublics loosely controlled by a multiracial junta, and governed by a Chicano prime
minister named Gran Vato.
The Tortilla Curtain no longer exists.
Spanglish is now the official language. Panicked by the New Borders, Anglo militias
are desperately trying to recapture the Old Order.
The performance space is filled with fog and dramatically lit to suggest a Blade
Runner-in-Tijuana type of world, inhabited by hyper-racialized replicants and ethnocyborgs.
Dead feathered chickens hang from the tall ceiling at different heights. A (fictional)
black and white documentary of “the Second US/Mexico war” is projected onto a
large screen.
Costumed as a pop mariachi diva with a fake mustache and sequin-embroidered miniskirt, Sara appears as “La Cultural Transvestite,” an androgynous figure who
gleefully acts out Anglo-America’s myriad cultural, spiritual and erotic fantasies
about “romantic Mexico,” shamelessly impersonating tragicomical Mexican bandits,
dancing Adelitas, and masked Zapatistas.
Against a backdrop of projected images that make up a condensed history of Mexican
stereotypes in American Television, movies and cartoons, I display myself as
immigrant superhero “El Mad Mex,” a transgender Tex-Mex shaman on a custommade lowrider wheelchair with chrome fenders and a seat made out of fake leopard
Other cyborgs that have been featured in different versions of the Mexterminator
performance include:
“La Supreme Chicana” (Isis Rodriguez), feminist superheroine and defender of the
rights of sex workers
“La Morra Diabolica” (Violeta Luna), a deranged teenage schoolgirl who tortures
blond dolls, pisses on stage, and obsessively injects herself with hypodermic needles
“El Paramilitary Samurai” (Yoshigiro Maeshiro), a Supernintendo mercenary who
practices crossdressing and Aztec Karate
“El True Illegal Alien” (Juan Ybarra) a naked green extraterrestrial who moves like a
Butoh dancer on speed, incarnating Anglo-Americans’ fears of invasion by beings
from an alien (cultural) planet.
Audience members are encouraged to interact with these replicants “at their own
risk.” They are instructed that they can feed us, touch us, smell us, massage us, braid
our hair, take us for walks on dog leashes, or point prop weapons at us.
Many parallel and complementary projects have developed alongside the
Mexterminator installation. Often, before or after a performance, the ethno-cyborgs
make unannounced appearances at local museums, restaurants, bars or malls. The
ethno-cyborgs have also invaded the realms of video and radio.
Unlike Anglo high technology, which is hi-function, Chicano robotics are
purposeless . . . but full of humor.
I’ve got a virtual reality bandana with which Anglos can have a direct experience of
racism without having to suffer its social and physical consequences. With my VR
bandana I also get transported into very realist 3D environments that approximate
places where I am normally not allowed as a Chicano; like Beverly Hills, or Madison
I tell you: the software is amazing. The Chicano VR is so pinche realistic that I am
usually the only non-Anglo person in the program. But if it gets too rough in
cyberspace, I touch the “delete” button and ipso facto return “home” to the barrio. It’s
great, ese.
And of course, we always enjoy confronting people’s fears of otherness. Everyday,
when we leave our UDMB techno-coffin, we instantly become public personas;
walking metaphors; living border artworks.
We are like living dioramas, posthuman artifacts. We are like human-size paper-cut
At one point the audience doesn’t know anymore if they are watching the Mexicyborgs, or watching their own projections, or watching themselves watching the . . .
The audience gets to objectify us, and then we objectify them back. The process of
exo-ti-za-tion goes both ways, like the process of borderization of the U.S. and
Yes, Mexicans are aliens; or better said, we’re just partially human, as it was proved
in the documentary, The Great Mojado Invasion; Yes, we are indestructible; and Yes,
soon we will outnumber Anglos in the Southwest. In other words, we are mere blank
screens for people to project their inner monsters.
The total anonymity of the Internet allows for the surfacing of forbidden or forgotten
zones of the psyche. Besides, there are no moral, physical, or social repercussions in
cyberspace, and this can be quite liberating. Especially for white people.
Digital technology has allowed us to create a new millennial mythology of the Latino
—the Indigenous and the Immigrant “Other.”.
The nation-state will collapse in 2000, immediately after the Second U.S./Mexico
War, which, in fact, Mexico will win. The ex-U.S.A will fragment into myriad microrepublics loosely controlled by a multiracial junta, and governed by a Chicano Prime
The White House will become the Brown House.
Our presence here is a foreshadowing of the inevitable future. The global
Mextermination Project is an example of the future official hybrid culture. Our
performances/installations present real-life posthuman specimens as well as unique
archeological artifacts, which are both residues of our dying Western civilization, and
samples of an emerging Nueva Cultura, a culture in which the margins have fully
occupied the center.
Dear cibernautas:
We are the Chilicon Valley’s tech-illa network, a rare glimpse at the webback
underground’s real agenda. We are all ethno-cyborgs. Check out 60 year-old TV
hostess & Venezuelan Extreme Beauty Queen Viviana de la Medianoche, with her
designer body rebuilt from zero in Tijuana clandestine clinics; inflatable chichis,
removable ribs and voice change activator.
We the children of El Frankenstein
W/our rrrobotic jalapeño joystick enlargement methode
W/our 1960’s melanina pills still sold in Cuernavaca and Acapulco for “instant racial
identity change.”
Our liposuctioned peyote graphics engine
Our mojado scuba technology
Our carne asada eating ebola bacteria
Our digital cockroaches and burrito powered robo-raza slowly corrupting your default
According to a spokesman from the Michoacan Institute of Technology(MIT): “Latinos are
currently interested in what (we) term ‘imaginary’ or ‘poetical’ technology. Its premise is as
follows: Since most Latinos don’t have access to new technologies, we imagine the access. All
we have is our political imagination and our humor to interject in the conversation… It’s an
imaginary act of expropriation.”
Ever heard of nacho chips? Well, that happens to be the code name for our nano-EPROM-chips–
that’s right, tortilla co-processor wafers made in TJ/Taiwana and East Japangeles.
We eat it all, de tocho! We can assimilate “low” or “high.” Our diet includes everything from
crappy calculators, “Target” ionizers, and wrist/phone watches ( refurbished Aztechnology), to
sound systems with fake fancy brands “made in Tepito” & mas y more hydraulics for our hipreco “lowrides.”
Also in the 50s, Mexican wrestler hero and alternative scientist El Santo made several movies in
which he clearly anticipated the Internet, lap-top computers, web cameras, see-you see-me
systems and Chicano performance art.
Then in the 60’s, Chicano scientists from the Michoacán Institute of Technology (MIT) working
in clandestine garages throughout the US Southwest developed amazing hydraulic robotics for
lowrider cars, which in retrospect make American robotics, from Moravec to SRL, frankly,
frankly look naïve.
In 1999, Americans were arming themselves in record numbers, preparing for the Y2K blackout
to be protected from looters, riots, anarchy, you know, brown people. At the same time,
Subcomandante Marcos was named by Wired magazine one of the top 10 techno visionaries of
our era. If you can’t escape from Latinos in the privileged final frontier of cyberspace, where can
you hide?
The following warning has been circulating throughout the net by cyber-terrorism watchdog
“Virus Alert!! Warning!! Do not open any email sent to you if the “subject” is in any language
you do not understand” Spanish, French, Spanglish, Frangle, Ingleñol…Opening these messages
may corrupt your fragile sense of personal and national identity… If you have recently pointed
your browser at any web site with Latino content: Zap Net, Virtual Barrio,, LatiNet,, –a subsidiary of Taco Bell Incorporated, Ricky
Martin’s Menudo unplugged Page, Pocho Magazine,, or any other “Latino”
web site…you may be already infected.
NSA virus researchers at the Pentagon are calling this new Silicon infection QuetZalcoat-82L or
simply ‘The Mexican Bug.’ The dreaded Michelangelo virus ‘96 and the RTM virus are harmless
compared to the Mexican Bug.
Like a cucaracha gang of microbites this “programa” loiters at seemingly non-threatening Latino
webs: Rock en español music sites, high ethnic crafts, el Carne Asada without Meat Club, vegan
burrito recipes, and sexual tourism information pages, detecting and targeting gringos with an
innocent fascination for ethno-exotica.
Soon after visiting these sites you receive a ‘friendly’ looking e-mail, announcing a nice
Mariachi Festival or advertizing a Salsa theme cruise to Baja. When you open it, a cute talking
Chihuahua in a poncho and a pink sombrero appears on the screen and delivers the following
message with a thick sabroso Spanish accent:
There is no moral, physical or social repercussions to your actions in cyberspace. Digital
technology has finally allowed us to create an inoffensive millennial mythology of the Latino,
the Indigenous and the Immigrant Other. We are part of this new mythology. We are meant to
cater to your most intimate fears and desires. ”
Dear audience:
Tonight from my multiple repertoires of hybrid personas, I have chosen to come as
the embodied psyche of an existentialist mojado.
It’s quite a challenge my dear friends for I’ve been stripped by airport security of all my robobaroque paraphernalia my ethno-technobilia ye-ye.
Which means, no more hand-made lowrider prosthetics, no mariachi robotic bodywear,
no cheesy fog machines, no hanging dead chickens, nothing not even a voice-effect processor to
help me get rid of my accent.
It’s Chicano minimalism, a contradiction in terms but hell, I am a walking contradiction
& so are you…
Welcome to my borderzone to the cities and jungles of my language. Welcome to the colonized
territory of your psyche.
My tattoos are like scars on my psyche, insects in the page, countries in my biographical map.
My tattoos are like scripted words as opposed to my scars which are like unscripted sentences
in the open book of my body My 46-year-old brown body, densely covered with Spanglish
poetry unedited still…
Dear audience, I’ve got 45 scars, half of them produced by art. This is not a metaphor.My artistic
obsession has led me to carry out some flagrantly stupid acts of transgression including:
Living inside a cage as a Mexican Frankenstein
Crucifying myself as a mariachi to protest immigration policy
Crashing the Met as El Mad Mex
Led on a leash by a Spanish dominatrix.
Drinking Mr. Clean to exorcise my colonial demon
Dear perplexed students,
Repeat with me out loud: México es California, Marruecos es Madrid, Pakistan es Londres,
Argelia es París, Cambodia es San Francisco, Turquía es Frankfurt, Puerto Rico es Nueva York,
Centroamérica es Los Angeles, Honduras es New Orleans, Nicaragua es Miami, Chiapas es
Irlanda, Ramallah is East LA
Dear orphans of the nation/state,
We now live in a fully borderized world
composed of virtual nations,
transnational pop cultures & hybrid races.
& all we share is fear & vertigo
fear of the future, of love, disease & loneliness,
of total disenfranchisement.
And vertigo?
The feeling of standing on the edge of a new millennium.
Apocalypse Mañana!

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