Dancing Around White Fragility: El Vez 4 Prez in the Time of Trump

Karen Jean Martinson


This article initially analyzes the 2016 political landscape to pinpoint the forces that fueled Donald J. Trump’s campaign and election. Turning to artist Robert Lopez’s performance as El Vez at San Diego’s Taco Fest, I discuss how his performance conjoins Chicanidad with popular entertainment, using humour, spectacle, and music to forestall the defensive moves of white fragility, allowing him to speak across divisive lines. Lopez-as-El-Vez deftly sidesteps defensive reactions as he asserts uncomfortable racial truths. By grounding this show in the shared culture of popular entertainment, he uses performance to make a pointed political, cultural, and racialized intervention. In performance, El Vez not only outmaneuvers white fragility, but also constructs a contact-zone audiotopia that allows for the practice of a fun, messy, raucous collectivity. His performances lay bare the structures of racism as they simultaneously envision a more equitable future, accessible through El Vez himself. Karen Jean Martinson is an Assistant Professor in the Communications, Media Arts and Theatre programme. She also works professionally as a dramaturg and director.

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Popular Entertainment Studies ISSN 1837-9303