Transcending Machismo in the 'Gayborhood'

Transcending Machismo in the 'Gayborhood'

Juan Zuniga-Mejia

ASST. FEATURES EDITOR

Alessandra Roggero

CAMPUS LIFE EDITOR

Whittier College’s Professor of Anthropology Teresa Delfín introduced her new film to students that explored the diversity within Mexico’s LBGT culture. Last Tuesday night, on March 6 the student body to watch and experienced through dialogue her new documentary film Daughter, Sister, Mother. The film’s subtitle, “a moving story of love, family, and gender in Mexico,” summarizes Delfín’s film perfectly, as the audience eventually finds out through the perspective of a Mexican woman living in Nayarit named Shaky. Shaky Estrada, who named herself after the Colombian singer Shakira, is funny, fierce, and above all—honest. We see this through the ways in which Shaky navigates herself as a trans woman in her community and in her workplace. Around the time Delfín became aware of Shaky, she had been conducting research on gay communities along Mexico’s west coast, and especially in a neighborhood—or what Delfín refers to as a “gay-borhood”—called La Zona Romántica. 

After spending four years in Mexico collecting enough data for a book of hers (that is now on hold because of her documentary), Delfín realized that she wanted to return to filmmaking, something that she had done before but had also placed on hold. She began connecting with local filmmakers in Mexico to talk about her ideas and eventually started recording interviews on film. In this process, Delfín found that she had four different stories. “My initial plan was to record and tell an ‘L’, a ‘G’, ‘B’, ‘T’ story of the region,” Delfín explained, “Part of my life’s work right now, the soap box I stand on right now, is really trying to get people to understand Mexico’s multiculturalism ... More specifically when it comes to matters of gender and sexuality.” 

During this initial research, Delfín was consistently spoken to about Shaky, who lived an hour away. Shaky was connected and well known in the neighborhood;  the only problem was that Shaky was not a resident. This conflicted against the structure of her research because she had originally sought to write about this specific “gay-borhood” and those inside of it. “Even if people, like, hang out there, or have connections, are LGBT Mexican, et cetera; if they’re outside of the neighborhood they are outside of the scope of the book, which is sad,” said Delfín.

How Delfín decided to remedy this situation was by basically scrapping all other narratives she had collected for the film. This occurred only after she had presented an initial cut of her documentary in Bahía de Bandera, a beach region across Jalisco and Nayarit. Delfín realized that Shaky’s story had risen above all the rest in comparison to the reception her other participant’s stories received. After apologizing to the rest of her participants, she decided to continue with only Shaky’s story. 

Through her work, Delfín also aimed to challenge the “machismo” stigma that Mexico is perceived to accept. She wants to remind people that Mexico is a country with over 60 official languages, and that the situation might be more complicated than most might realize. “If you have that many different ways of communicating, you probably have that many different ways of perceiving and making sense of gender and sexuality,” said Delfín. This makes gender and sexuality strongly diverse across the different parts of Mexico, according to her. 

As a research topic, Delfín’s interests as an anthropologist have always centered on gender and sexuality. She recognized that it had been an underlying theme in much of her previous research, and so she decided she wanted to do a project close to home in Mexico. “I’m definitely trained in gender and sexuality studies. It’s a natural language and intellectually [responsive] for me; it was sort of the perfect pairing for me. This neighborhood was quite understudied and happy to be studied,” said Delfín.  It is the study of culture that inspires Delfín to conduct her research under the discipline of anthropology. Those under the discipline, according to Delfín, “interrogate their own practices ... and tend to put [themselves] second to the people they help give voice to.” 

Though the creation of Daughter, Sister, Mother faced its fair share of technical difficulties that came close to threatening its production, Delfín stayed motivated and inspired by Shaky’s story. “She’s one of the most articulate narrators of her own life. I’ve never met anyone who can articulate their own story so fluently and with such self-awareness,” said Delfín. Because the filmmaking alone had its own challenges, Delfín reached out to editor and Whittier College alum Alex Hackworth to help her make the film aesthetically pleasing. Using the best of their abilities, both Delfín and Hackworth were able to transform imperfect cuts of the film into seamless and visually pleasing transitions. On the editing process itself, Delfín said that “editing is really delightful…it’s really nice to be able to take a bunch of data and turn it into a story.” 

Delfín made the decision to keep the film only fifteen minutes long, knowing that designing the film this way would leave the audience with more questions than answers. “What I’d like for the audience to leave with is a sense of deep engagement,” Delfín explained, “In every screening so far, people have had really good questions, and they feel really invested in this story. I think because they know they’re only one degree away in separation from the main subject of the story.” Delfín felt similarly about her audience last Tuesday in Hoover 100. “It was a great turnout with a sharp and engaged audience,” Delfín wrote on her Facebook page after the event. 

Delfín spent such a great amount of time with Shaky, and thus feels confident that she will have the answers to questions that may arise about her documentary. Delfín continues to hope that as more and more people see her film, future audiences will feel a connection to the material presented in Daughter, Sister, Mother. “If [the audience] goes on to correct the misconception that Mexico is just one way —a closed-minded way—about gender and sexuality, that will make me feel like I’ve accomplished my mission,” Delfín said. 

This past term has been Professor Teresa Delfín’s eighth and final year teaching Anthropology at Whittier College. The Faculty Personnel Committee (FPC) had given Delfín letter that her position would not be renewed in March 2017.  For more insight on Delfín’s non-renewal story, check the stories at www.thequakercampus.org. 

Though the FPC had decided not to renew her contract, Delfín is looking forward to continuing her exploration in the art of filmmaking. Delfín also plans to move forward with her ethnographic research with Shaky, publish her book, and continue spreading cultural awareness around Mexican diversity, especially in regards to the trans community and gender and sexuality as a whole.