Cultural Commentary Coco Fusco’s book “English is Broken Here” grants the reader admission into the work of Latino/a performance artists born in the U. S. She gives insight into the viewpoint of the other versus that of the privileged making her book a refreshing outlook on the difficulties of assimilation and transcendence as a Cuban-American in the U. S. Her book sheds light on themes of “otherness” and that of “culture clash” through one of her better known performance pieces Two Undiscovered Amerindians.
This performance was intended to mock Western concepts of the exotic but instead took on a different facade when most audiences did not realize it was a performance piece. Their cage became “a metaphor for [their] condition, linking the racism implicit in the ethnographic paradigms of discovery”. Reactions and commentary received throughout a span of two years allowed Coco Fusco to gage an even stronger sense of “otherness” where she was looked upon as a specimen instead of a human being. Being dehumanized in such a form cannot be easy to handle even when taking into account the fictional situation she and Gomez-Pena were in.
However, the prevalent “otherness” for Coco Fusco wasn’t exclusive to the performance piece; as a Cuban-American she had already encountered that denial of one’s actual presence within society. As a young child her family hid the reasons for and meaning of comments/looks made as a way of protecting her from the harsh realities. Even in later years when Coco Fusco returned from her study abroad trip to Paris, her family was exuberant by the thought of her speaking French. She anecdotes thinking that her “newly acquired French impressed everyone much more than [her] English ever had”.
This inadvertently established that languages of the Western world were superior to her vernacular Spanish. The implication was that if she relinquished the use of Spanish or even the hybrid Spanglish she would be more successful in life. In a reading covered by Professor Alba-Salas the author reaffirms this notion by saying that “those who achieve success have done so within social and educational systems that favor the use of English over Spanish”. Coco Fusco’s family was consumed by the same fear most immigrant families have; the fear of being marginalized as the “other” and never really reaching the viable potential one can have.
Soon after Coco Fusco comes to realize the immense “culture clash” she had been living. She realizes the implications of those stares and the thoughts brought upon by her speech. It is then when she takes in upon herself to at least attempt to dispel or even clarify the misconceptions of the population through her performances. In the Two Undiscovered Amerindians performance it is clearly seen how two conflicting cultures create animosity where the privileged, in this case the audience, attempt set the standard for the normative.
Coco Fusco notes that as she and Gomez-Pena assume their “stereotypical role of domesticated savage[s] and many audience members [feel] entitled to assume the role of the colonizer” where as to continue the already rampant cycle of discrimination. After a particular performance one young woman came back to share her discontent, claiming that Gomez-Pena was “ungrateful for all the benefits he had received thanks to multiculturalism… Gomez-Pena responded that multiculturalism was not a gift from the white but a result of decades of struggle by people of color”.
In this discourse Gomez-Pena reinforces the idea of this “culture clash” in America and how the privileged still see themselves as that standard that enables them to pass judgment. Nevertheless both “culture clash” and this sense of “otherness” within communities creates a harmful effect in society but equally harmful is the alienation that appears as an outcome of their presence. The other tends to feel this alienation most when realizing there is disengagement between them and their society, work, and even at times themselves.
Alienation is what a Hegelian theorist would call the essence, for it is what both of these ideas are factored out to. Coco Fusco’s book “English is Broken Here” does an adequate job of bringing to the forefront those themes through her compilation of essays from other Latino/a and herself. ———————–  Fusco, Coco. English is Broken Here. The New Press, 1995 (pp39)  Fusco, Coco. English is Broken Here. The New Press, 1995 (pp viii)  “Spanish, English, or… Spanglish”. (pp55)  Fusco, Coco. English is Broken Here. The New Press, 1995 (pp 47)  Fusco, Coco. English is Broken Here. The New Press, 1995 (pp55)