Queer Transnationality: Narrative, Theatre, and Performance Across Temporal, Spatial, and Social Geographies. (Excerpt II).
Dr. Alexandra G. Perkins.
University of Miami
Dominican Shower also employs visual queues to demonstrate the racialized identity of Dominicans, as well as a historically marked desire for “whiteness.” One only need look back to the Trujillo dictatorship to see the national anxiety toward blackness, and the racist policies to promote whiteness in the Dominican Republic. As Silvio Torres-Saillant and Ramona Hernández note, for example, “The dictatorship of Trujillo spent vast public resources in promoting an image of national identity that stressed the Hispanic European roots of the country’s population and omitted any mention of African heritage” while “A demographic assessment taking account of racial distinctions today  would show that blacks and mulattoes make up nearly 90% of the Dominican Republic’s close to eight million inhabitants”.
Ogando’s performances play upon this dichotomy, highlighting the national denial of blackness, and underscoring the erroneous nature of this perception. In the performance, Ogando ritualistically bathes himself, covering himself with thick, white suds that transform his body. He repeatedly washes off this “whiteness,” demonstrating that blackness is intrinsic to his identity as a Dominican, and it is something that should not be removed. The futility of “washing away” blackness is not to be read as debilitating, rather it is a celebratory act of resistance, which encourages recognition and acceptance of this part of the national make up. Staging these performances in transnational spaces brings attention to this national dynamic, but also engenders a place of identification that, while dependent upon national tropes, responds to the realities of identity in the 21st century. Ogando’s work highlights the intersections between race and class, including considerations of gender and sexuality.
In order to understand the position of the unmarked in Ogando’s performance, I turn to Peggy Phelan’s reading of the artist Adrian Piper’s performances. Phelan notes how Piper plays upon the unmarked to underscore the socially and politically constructed nature of race. She notes: More than indication that racial markings are read differently cross-culturally these variations underline the psychic, political, and philosophical impoverishment of linking the color of the physical body with the ideology of race. Race-identity involves recognizing something other than skin and physical inscription. One cannot simply ‘read’ race as skin-color. The tendency to do so leads to the corollary proposition that people with the same skin color believe the same think, and that there is, for example, such a thing as a coherent African- American community. This reading of Piper’s work provides a rich analysis for the performances of Báez and Ogando. Importantly, both performers address race as a social and cultural construct, as well as the Dominican Republic’s fraught history with racial identity and racist attitudes. However, both Báez and Ogando eschew the notion that ethnoracial makeup necessarily constitutes or creates wide reaching identity community. Regarding the specific history of the Dominican Republic, which crosses geographic boundaries and social categorizations, it is impossible to state that the visibility of blackness creates a unified understanding of national belonging, specifically because of the intersecting histories of who and what constitutes national belonging. As Phelan states, “the ‘visibility’ of black skin is not, and cannot be, an accurate barometer for identifying a community of diverse political, economic, sexual, and artistic interests”.