General Introduction
Tracing the Traditions of Borderlands Shakespeare

Katherine Gillen; Adrianna M. Santos; and Kathryn Vomero Santos

[print edition page number: xv]
For several decades, Chicanx and Indigenous theatermakers have been repurposing Shakespeare’s plays to reflect the histories and lived realities of the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands, creating space to tell stories of and for La Frontera. The Bard in the Borderlands: An Anthology of Shakespeare Appropriations en La Frontera seeks to call attention to this wide-ranging artistic practice, which we term Borderlands Shakespeare, and to make the playtexts available to broad audiences. By bringing these previously unpublished plays together in an open-access scholarly edition, this anthology celebrates dynamic, multilingual reworkings of canon and place, and it offers a critical framework for understanding the techniques and traditions that inform creative engagements with Shakespeare in this complex region. An expansive area encompassing Northern Mexico and parts of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, the Borderlands have produced vibrant hybrid cultures, languages, and art forms. The Borderlands are also a site of ongoing humanitarian crises caused by the interplay of colonization, labor exploitation, anti-immigrant policies, militarization, environmental injustice, and socioeconomic inequity. The plays collected here dramatize the linguistic, cultural, and political complexities that have shaped this region and Shakespeare’s reception in it.

The Shakespeare appropriations in this anthology draw on Borderlands performance traditions to center historical and contemporary forms of resistance and resilience in the region. Shakespeare proves to be a site of contestation in this context, functioning as a representative of the English literary canon but also as a malleable set of texts, ideas, and characters that can be reimagined to serve community needs and interests. While the plays gathered here use Shakespeare to expose the material violence of ongoing colonization, they also emphasize the value, beauty, and restorative power of Indigenous and Mexican languages, [xvi] mythologies, and rituals. Readers will recognize common Shakespearean themes in these multilingual plays, but the romantic relationships, family dynamics, and political conflicts they depict are decidedly shaped by the realities of La Frontera. The playwrights featured here draw on Borderlands arts and ideas, incorporating, for example, the Mexican ballad form known as the corrido, the folktale of La Llorona, the celebration of Día de los Muertos, and the political construct of Aztlán. Borderlands Shakespeare plays, therefore, do not simply reproduce Shakespeare in new contexts but rather use his work in innovative ways to negotiate colonial power, to reframe Borderlands histories, and to envision socially just futures.

In what follows, we situate Borderlands Shakespeare within the history of the region and its artistic, spiritual, and political lineages, and we contextualize these plays within conversations about Shakespeare appropriation in global, postcolonial, and decolonial contexts. As we outline our editorial approach to these texts, we also point to potential pedagogical and community-based collaborations that The Bard in the Borderlands may generate. Our aim is to make these texts accessible and begin building a robust archive of Shakespeare en La Frontera.

Resistance and Resilience in Borderlands Shakespeare

First colonized by the Spanish and then incorporated into the United States following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the U.S. war against Mexico, the Borderlands have been shaped by centuries of conquest, enslavement, and exploitation. Throughout successive waves of colonization, the lands of Indigenous Peoples and their descendants have been expropriated, and their sovereignty has been eroded. As Gloria E. Anzaldúa writes of the Texas–Mexico border in particular, “This land has survived possession and ill-use by five countries: Spain, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the U.S., the Confederacy, and the U.S. again.”[1] Because of this violence, which persists in many forms today, Anzaldúa describes the border as “una herida abierta, where the third world grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture.”[2] The resulting hybridity — often termed mestizaje — reflects colonial violence as well as the persistence of Indigenous practices, languages, and artforms. Border [xvii] culture, furthermore, reflects the influences of the African diaspora as well as the often obscured histories of Black communities in the region, including those of enslaved people brought to Texas following the abolition of slavery in Mexico, those who sought freedom south of the U.S. border, and the many subsequent waves of migration to and through the region.

Borderlands Shakespeare is firmly rooted within the vibrant cultures and complex histories of La Frontera. By resituating Shakespeare’s sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century plays in varied contexts and temporalities, Borderlands playwrights critique the colonial legacies of the early modern period and tell stories from Borderlands perspectives in ways that disrupt dominant and often whitewashed narratives. With his play Kino and Teresa, for example, Taos Pueblo playwright James Lujan asks readers and audiences to consider events contemporaneous with the publication and performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet by transporting the play to Santa Fe, a colonial province established by Juan de Oñate in 1598, just one year after Romeo and Juliet first appeared in print. Set in the aftermath of the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and the 1692 Spanish Reconquista, the feud that animates the action of Kino and Teresa is no longer an unexplained “ancient grudge” between two families. Lujan’s version of Romeo and Juliet depicts a conflict that is clearly created by Spanish exploitation, and his play centers Indigenous resistance.

Other Borderlands Shakespeare plays engage with later histories of oppression and activism. The Chicano civil rights movement of the 1960s and 70s, often called El Movimiento, figures prominently in this body of work. El Movimiento encompassed the labor struggles of the United Farm Workers Union led by César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in addition to voting rights initiatives, antiwar protests, and walkouts in schools across the nation that called attention to educational inequity and discrimination. Set in the agricultural fields of the Rio Grande Valley, Seres Jaime Magaña’s The Tragic Corrido of Romeo and Lupe reflects the continued legacies of El Movimiento. In this appropriation of Romeo and Juliet, the lovers meet when a protest against unjust labor and environmental practices interrupts a party intended to celebrate the profitability of the “Magic Valley” for white agribusinesses. Many of the plays collected in this anthology, moreover, critique the imperialist policies that have criminalized immigration while also creating the conditions in Mexico and Central America that have forced people to seek asylum in the U.S.[3] Edit Villarreal’s The Language of Flowers, Herbert Siguenza’s El Henry, and Stephen Richter and Mónica Andrade’s [xviii] Marqués: A Narco Macbeth draw particular attention to the U.S. economic and military policies that have made migration necessary for many and that have given rise to illicit economies.

As they transpose Shakespeare into Borderlands settings, many of the plays in this anthology inhabit several temporalities at once, reflecting the palimpsestic histories of the region and exploring what Ruben Espinosa describes as the “temporal borderlands of Shakespeare.”[4] In Invierno, for instance, José Cruz González embraces The Winter’s Tale’s famous “gap of time” as an opportunity to blur the boundary between present-day and pre-statehood California. The Tragic Corrido similarly activates the multilayered history of the Rio Grande Valley by allowing multiple periods in Texas history to co-exist. Reimagining a history play as a future play, Siguenza’s El Henry transposes the political tensions and intergenerational conflicts in Henry IV, Part 1 to the streets of a post-apocalyptic and post-revolutionary Aztlán, the mythical home of the Mexica people that became a symbol of liberation during the Chicano Movement. As it moves across histories and futures, Borderlands Shakespeare disrupts colonial timelines and reminds audiences of the enduring presence of Indigenous Peoples in the region. In this way, these plays contribute to the political work of Borderlands cultural production, which often crafts what historian and theorist Emma Pérez calls the “decolonial imaginary,” a “rupturing space, the alternative to that which is written in history.”[5] By rupturing both colonial histories and canonical works, Borderlands Shakespeare facilitates healing and amplifies Borderlands stories.

Borderlands Shakespeare and the Teatro Tradition

The tradition of Borderlands Shakespeare has given rise to collaborations among diverse artists with personal connections to the region. Many, but not all, of the playwrights collected in this anthology are border residents or have Chicanx or Indigenous heritage themselves. While they often have classical theater training, these playwrights are also rooted in Latinx and Indigenous performance traditions and practices.[6] In particular, Borderlands Shakespeare is influenced by El Teatro Campesino. Founded by Luis Valdez in 1965 on the picket lines of [xix] the Delano Grape Strike in Delano, CA, this theatrical wing of the United Farm Workers Union made specific use of “actos,” short scenes performed on flatbed trucks and in union halls. The actos were often performed by farmworkers, and they caricatured foremen, landowners, and corrupt politicians in an effort to bring attention to injustices in the fields. As David Román argues, El Teatro Campesino became central to the political work of El Movimiento, as Chicanxs “reformulated their sense of identity from one of oppression and victimization to one of resistance and survival.”[7] As other teatros have developed in the spirit of El Teatro Campesino, Borderlands Shakespeare appropriations have become part of this radical activist tradition.

Many of the playwrights in this anthology ground their work in the teatro tradition and some even gesture to it in their plays. The protesters in Magaña’s The Tragic Corrido, for instance, put on a disruptive performance that is reminiscent of an acto in which models dressed as fruit expose the harm caused by exploitative agricultural practices in the Rio Grande Valley. Siguenza’s El Henry provides another salient example of Borderlands Shakespeare’s indebtedness to teatro, as it was influenced by the vision of Culture Clash, a theater troupe that Siguenza co-founded to adapt teatro to urban settings. As Matthieu Chapman observes, moreover, El Henry explicitly reflects the lineage of teatro in its casting of Luis Valdez’s sons Kinan and Lakin in the key roles of El Henry of Barrio Eastcheap and El Bravo of Barrio Hotspur.[8] Part of La Jolla Playhouse’s Without Walls series and performed in San Diego’s gentrified but still largely Mexican American East Village, El Henry embraces the spirit of teatro by incorporating Shakespeare into Chicanx space and into Chicanx political, linguistic, and theatrical genealogies. Additionally, Josh Inocéncio’s Ofélio, which premiered in Houston as part of the T.R.U.T.H. Project’s campaign to raise awareness about sexual violence in LGBTQIA2+ communities, channels the activist ethos of teatro to address the specific concerns of queer communities of color. Though very different from one another, Magaña’s, Siguenza’s, and Inocéncio’s plays reflect the diverse ways in which Borderlands artists have adapted teatro to serve community needs.

The legacy of teatro has also influenced the development of other community-based theater initiatives throughout the Borderlands. The Merchant of Santa Fe, for example, was produced by La Compañía de Teatro de Alburquerque, “a bilingual community theater comprised of a core of professional actors working [xx] with community actors from all walks of life and of all ages,” and it was developed through a series of “tertulias,” or open meetings with the public to discuss the script-in-progress and related issues.[9] James Lujan, author of Kino and Teresa, was an actor in this production and collaborated with playwright and executive director Ramón Flores on a play about the Pueblo Revolt titled Casi Hermanos in the following years. Drawing on the power of community-based theatrical performance to retell New Mexican history, Lujan later developed Kino and Teresa — his own appropriation of a Shakespeare play — with Native Voices at the Autry, a Los Angeles-based company designed to center Native American stories and actors. Telatúlsa, the company that produced Tara Moses’s Hamlet, El Príncipe de Denmark, and Teatro Milagro, which produced Olga Sanchez Saltveit’s ¡O Romeo!, are similarly committed to community education and empowerment through theater.

The plays featured in this anthology arise from a desire to tell culturally relevant stories and to create opportunities for Latinx and Indigenous playwrights, actors, and directors within a largely white classical theater repertoire. As José Cruz González asserts, community theater is valuable for both artists and audiences: “To have these communities come to a theatre space that oftentimes they have felt excluded from for many reasons and then all of a sudden see themselves reflected onstage and in the language is a really powerful thing.”[10] This inclusion is important in educational spaces, too, and many Borderlands Shakespeare plays were created in colleges and universities in collaboration with students who wanted to engage with Shakespeare on their own terms. Borderlands Shakespeare productions thus serve communities in a range of ways as sites of activism, education, and professional development. [xxi]

Shakespearean Afterlives and Appropriations in the Americas

Although many Borderlands Shakespeare plays could be described as adaptations, we emphasize the term “appropriation” in The Bard in the Borderlands because the playwrights radically reimagine Shakespeare and redirect his cultural capital to advance their political and social aims. As Julie Sanders suggests in her delineation of adaptation and appropriation, “appropriation effects a more decisive journey away from the informing text into a wholly new cultural product and domain.”[11] Sujata Iyengar and Christy Desmet remind us, however, that there is no absolute line between adaptation and appropriation and that they instead operate on a continuum.[12] The full range of this continuum is represented in this anthology, with some plays diverging quite far from Shakespeare’s plays and others sticking more closely to Shakespeare’s plots but making them multilingual or setting them in border spaces. Further, many of the plays included here can be classified as “tradaptations,” a term developed by Québécois poet, playwright, and actor Michel Garneau to capture the interplay and overlap between translation and adaptation. As Alfredo Michel Modenessi argues, translations that emerge from colonized spaces call attention to power asymmetries, even among colonial languages, and they generate new and creative linguistic forms.[13] For Garneau, translating Shakespeare into Québécois French, which is often compared negatively to European French, necessarily involved a form of adaptation that was attuned to the political dimensions of language. A similar dynamic adheres in the Borderlands, where Spanish first functioned as a colonial language and was later subordinated to English, coming to be associated with racialized Mexican American identity.[14] In this context, language carries fraught class-based and racial valences, and border Spanish and Spanglish are often disparaged as improper or impure.

As they engage with the entangled colonial histories that shape La Frontera, Borderlands Shakespeare appropriations contribute to a dynamic body of global, postcolonial, and anticolonial responses to Shakespeare and his legacy. With [xxii] the expansion of the British Empire, Shakespeare’s works became instruments of imperial power, as they were frequently taught in colonial education systems and used to promote English cultural supremacy. Moreover, Shakespeare’s dates align loosely with those of the Spanish conquests in the Americas in the sixteenth century, and his plays were written at a time when England was embarking on its own imperial ventures and beginning to enslave and traffic African people. Scholars such as Miles P. Grier, Laura Lehua Yim, and Jace Weaver examine the colonial dynamics surrounding Shakespeare as they played out in the territories now known as the United States, where English and U.S. authorities used Shakespeare as means of mediating encounters with Indigenous Peoples.[15] As Weaver writes, Europeans often used theater — most prominently Shakespeare — “to define themselves by comparison with, and in opposition to, the Indigenous Other.”[16] Scott Manning Stevens and Madeline Sayet have demonstrated that the imperial weaponization of Shakespeare continued with the formation of the Indian boarding school system, where Shakespeare’s plays were taught as part of a federally funded assimilationist program designed to eradicate Native languages, beliefs, and cultures.[17] Such practices intersect with a history traced by scholars such as Ayanna Thompson, Brigitte Fielder, and James Shapiro in which Shakespeare productions, some of which employed blackface minstrelsy, promoted anti-Black racism.[18] These interrelated histories gave rise to the notion that Shakespeare is what Arthur Little describes as “white property.”[19] Appropriation, therefore, has become a powerful means through which artists throughout the Americas have claimed Shakespeare for their own communities and disrupted ideologies of white supremacy and coloniality. [xxiii]

Caribbean invocations of Shakespeare, and of The Tempest in particular, are central to this literary and political resistance. In Une Tempête, composed by the Martinican writer and politician Aimé Césaire, Caliban explicitly calls out Prospero’s colonial domination and aligns himself with a Black radical tradition when he rejects Prospero’s attempts to name him:

Appelle-moi X. Ça vaudra mieux. Comme qui dirait l’homme sans nom. Plus exactement, l’homme dont on a volé le nom. Tu parles d’histoire. Eh bien ça, c’est de l’histoire, et fameuse! Chaque fois que tu m’appelleras, ça me rappellera le fait fondamental, que tu m’as tout volé et jusqu’à mon identité! Uhuru!

[Call me X. That’s best. Like a man without a name. Or, more precisely, a man whose name was stolen. You speak of history. Well that’s history, known far and wide! Every time you’ll call me that will remind me of the fundamental truth, that you stole everything from me, even my identity! Uhuru!][20]

Césaire’s Caliban connects the theft of land, language, and labor to the violence of colonial naming practices that impose European identities and worldviews on Indigenous American and African peoples. Césaire’s play magnifies Caliban’s resistant energy in order to speak back to these colonial and canonical forces. Cuban author Roberto Fernández Retamar also invokes the figure of Caliban in his writing to meditate on the fact that colonized subjects are often forced to resort to colonial languages and canonical European authors to speak truth to power: “¿qué otra cosa puede hacer Calibán sino utilizar ese mismo idioma — hoy no tiene otro — para maldecirlo … ?” [“What else can Caliban do but use that same language — today he has no other — to curse him … ?”].[21] Shakespeare’s plays thus present a paradox: on the one hand, they can be useful for thinking through questions of power and anticolonial resistance, while on the other, they are a reminder of the colonial imposition of European languages, literatures, and cultures.

For these reasons, Shakespeare appropriations in the Americas make important contributions to global conversations about colonialism — contributions [xxiv] that, as Walter Mignolo argues, are often obscured by the Anglocentric misconception that “postcolonial theories could only emerge from the legacies of the British Empire.”[22] In their essay collection Latin American Shakespeares, Bernice W. Kliman and Rick J. Santos highlight the diversity of Latin American responses to Shakespeare, observing that “Shakespeare’s work has been used equally to support and to contest the establishment.”[23] As Modenessi has detailed in his scholarship, Mexico has been a particularly generative site of Shakespearean production and appropriation. Many Mexican directors and adaptors have employed Shakespeare’s plays to highlight issues of local concern, often taking “what some might call radical, disruptive or dissident approaches.”[24] For example, the Macbeth adaptation Mendoza (2016, dir. Juan Carrillo) dramatizes the effects of the Mexican Revolution, and Hamlet P’urhépecha (1990, dir. Juan Carlos Arvide) attests to the persistence of Indigenous communities and languages in Mexico. As Trevor Boffone and Carla Della Gatta’s essay collection Shakespeare and Latinidad demonstrates, furthermore, U.S.-based Latinx playwrights and directors have also adapted Shakespeare in innovative ways that speak to the colonial histories of the Americas and the forms of migration and cultural hybridity that have arisen from them.[25]

Borderlands Shakespeare is part of these broader genealogies, but it also constitutes its own artistic and political project, born of a region shaped by Indigenous, Spanish, Mexican, Black, and European American influences. By focusing specifically on the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands, we use what Marissa Greenberg calls a “critically regional approach” that “enhances our ability to more accurately describe the interactions of Shakespeare’s local and global functionality by discovering regions as loci of international and intercultural relations.”[26] By definition, the Borderlands cross national boundaries and disrupt other demarcations imposed by the state. As Espinosa has powerfully demonstrated, residents of the Borderlands bring vital perspectives to Shakespeare, treating his works as “an element to which [they], on the temporal and physical borderlands, can add nuance [xxv] and layer with manifold meanings.”[27] The plays collected in The Bard in the Borderlands are a testament to the ways of knowing and creating that fronterizos have developed in response to the ongoing coloniality that has shaped the region. As they bring Borderlands epistemologies, languages, and creative practices to bear on Shakespeare, the playwrights in this anthology incorporate his plays into the hybridity and decolonial imagination of Borderlands arts.

Hybridity and Decoloniality in Borderlands Shakespeare

Language is a primary site of decolonial work in Borderlands Shakespeare. The plays featured in The Bard in the Borderlands employ a range of languages, including English, Spanish, Indigenous languages, and the hybrid languages spoken throughout the region today. By refusing to observe any hard linguistic boundaries, Borderlands playwrights resist what Anzaldúa has described as institutional and social acts of “linguistic terrorism” that insist upon keeping English and Spanish separate and “pure.”[28] As Anzaldúa writes of the relationship between linguistic and ethnic identity,

Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity — I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I can accept as legitimate Chicano Texas Spanish, Tex-Mex, and all the other languages I speak, I cannot accept the legitimacy of myself.[29]

In the process of translating and adapting Shakespeare to reflect the realities of the region, Borderlands playwrights affirm the identities and everyday language practices of border residents. In Hamlet, El Príncipe de Denmark, for example, Tara Moses (Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Mvskoke) makes specific use of translanguaging to call attention to the linguistic politics of the Borderlands. Hamlet’s oscillation between Spanish and English not only reflects his internal struggles as a colonized subject but also serves as an act of rebellion against the forces of colonial power with which Claudius is aligned. Set in present-day San Diego, Bernardo Mazón Daher’s Measure for Measure | Medida por medida uses the political and moral conflicts that animate Measure for Measure to emphasize the ways in which linguistic injustice often enables abuses of power in border communities. [xxvi]

By remaking Shakespeare within the traditions of Borderlands arts and culture, Borderlands playwrights create dramatic works that are perhaps best understood through their deep intertextual relationships to a range of Indigenous and Chicanx stories, songs, and plays. Borderlands Shakespeare is fundamentally a hybrid project, with its blending of English texts with Chicanx and Indigenous art forms, genres, and myths. Several plays in this anthology, for example, feature corridistas who assume the role of the Shakespearean Chorus and narrate dramatic events in the form of a corrido, a hybrid Mexican song form adapted from European ballads and commonly featured in teatro. Other plays include raps, Indigenous music, songs from Broadway musicals, dances, face painting, protest art, and arborglyphs. Many of the playwrights in The Bard in the Borderlands adopt the Chicanx spirit of rasquachismo, defined by Tomás Ybarra-Frausto as an “underdog perspective” of “making do” that “engenders hybridization, juxtaposition, and integration” and favors “communion over purity.”[30] The ethos of rasquachismo is prevalent in Borderlands cultural production, including in teatro, where performers built sets and costumes from available materials. A rasquache approach, therefore, takes from Shakespeare what it needs and irreverently incorporates pieces of his plays into new, hybrid worlds that challenge visions of white, canonical purity.

Much as Shakespeare’s own plays do, Borderlands Shakespeare appropriations draw from a range of sources and mix comic modes with serious critique, a practice also common to teatro and to Chicanx art more broadly. Plays such as El Henry, La Comedia of Errors, and ¡O Romeo!, for example, engage in witty banter, word play, and physical humor while also addressing in earnest issues of white supremacy, family separation, and Indigenous erasure. Carl Gutiérrez-Jones explains that Chicanx artists have used “engaged humor” in order “to rethink both literacy and victimization,” noting that they have “built on the traditions of political humor derived from Mexico.”[31] Teatro, in particular, was influenced by the Mexican tradition of carpas, traveling theatrical performances that often included political satire as well as physical comedy. Traces of this influence arise in several Borderlands Shakespeare plays. ¡O Romeo!, for instance, draws on the practice of satirizing authority figures by parodying Shakespeare himself, presenting him as fallible and naive. Fausto, the Falstaff character in Siguenza’s El Henry, embodies another resonant use of humor, as his raucous joy for life signals [xxvii] a resistance to the oppressive structures that seek to discipline him and his community.

As they employ a range of techniques to repair the harm caused by colonization, Borderlands Shakespeare plays center Indigenous and Mexican perspectives, offering counterpoints to the Western epistemologies conveyed in their source texts. Some plays, such as Lujan’s Kino and Teresa and González’s Invierno, depict specific Native American communities and address the need for Indigenous sovereignty. Others work to reclaim spirituality, knowledges, languages, and practices for those who lack a direct link to their Indigenous ancestries. As Jorge Huerta writes, Chicanx drama often “shows a fascination with and respect for the Chicanos’ Indigenous roots” and “affirm[s] the Chicano as Native American.”[32] Some of the plays in the anthology draw upon the mixing of Catholic and Indigenous belief systems in the Borderlands, reflecting what Teresa Delgadillo examines as “spiritual mestizaje.”[33] The veneration of La Virgen de Guadalupe in The Tragic Corrido and the many references to Indigenous gods and goddesses in The Language of Flowers and ¡O Romeo! speak to the healing power of Borderlands spirituality. Several playwrights in this anthology draw on the ritual of Día de los Muertos to explore points of convergence and conflict between Christian and Indigenous notions of the afterlife. The cyclical worldview that infuses this ritual both disrupts the linearity of myths of Western progress and points to the persistence and resilience of Indigenous lifeways.

Storytelling is an integral part of the decolonial imaginary, which, as Pérez theorizes, often necessitates rereading and retelling Western narratives “to retool, to shift meanings and read against the grain, to negotiate Eurocentricity.”[34] Embodied performance, Chela Sandoval, Arturo J. Aldama, and Peter J. García argue, is a key vehicle for such decolonial storytelling, as it ruptures present realities to envision new ones, thus “generat[ing] a pause in the activity of coloniality” and becoming “an effective means to individual and collective liberation.”[35] Borderlands Shakespeare participates in this project of disrupting colonial narratives and performance traditions, reworking central texts of the Western canon to imagine decolonial futures. The potential of such cross-temporal engagement [xxviii] to destabilize Euro-American colonial histories is perhaps best articulated by Paulina, a Chumash healer woman and the storyteller figure in González’s Invierno, when she says, “Sometimes there are tiny cracks, small openings, allowing the past to live differently in the present and the present to become truthful because of the past, joining us together in ways we never thought possible.”[36] The plays in The Bard in the Borderlands use Shakespeare to pry open generative spaces within colonial forms and narratives. They thus create what Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson calls “altermundos,” alternate worlds that, even if dystopian, rewrite the past, present, and future to remind us that an “otro mundo es posible.”[37]

Editorial Praxis and Terminology

Our intention in editing this anthology is to amplify the vital work of Borderlands playwrights and to generate paratextual materials that call attention to the critical insights and aesthetic sophistication of their plays. Fundamentally, we believe that it is important not to circumscribe knowledge within the academy. We therefore strive to align our editorial praxis with what Alexis Pauline Gumbs calls “community accountable scholarship,” ensuring that the anthology honors and benefits the communities in which the plays were created.[38] In preparing these playtexts for publication, we have employed antiracist and decolonial editorial practices. We have worked closely with the playwrights and have made editorial decisions collaboratively and transparently. We have decided not to include translations of Spanish dialogue into English, opting instead to preserve the plays’ linguistic specificity and to honor the dynamic language practices of the Borderlands. Similarly, we have chosen not to italicize words in Spanish or Indigenous languages because they are not considered foreign in this context. We have included a glossary that is intended to serve not as a comprehensive dictionary but rather as a guide for understanding some culturally and regionally specific terms. We have retained the playwrights’ formatting where possible but have made some changes in the interest of consistency and to adhere to the house [xxix] style of ACMRS Press. Our quotations of Shakespeare’s texts come from the third edition of The Norton Shakespeare.

The plays collected in this anthology reflect the diversity of identities that overlap and bleed into one another in the Borderlands. We maintain the terminology that the authors use to self-identify and to describe their characters, and we aim to use the most specific, current, and inclusive terms possible in our introductions and other paratextual materials. Many people in the Borderlands trace their ancestry to the original inhabitants of the land. We use the word “Indigenous” to reflect this situatedness, and we capitalize it when referring to people and their cultural practices. When available, we use specific tribal designations and self-identifiers to refer to people and traditions, and we are mindful of the dangers of homogenizing Indigenous experiences.[39] The term “Chicana/o/x” signals both the Indigenous ancestry of Mexican Americans and a political commitment to working class power, immigration rights, and educational opportunity. Many Mexican Americans began to identify as Chicano during the Movimiento of the 1960s and 1970s. The term is thought to have originated from the word “Mexica,” which evolved to “Mexicanos,” “Xicanos,” and then “Chicanos.” What was, and sometimes still is, used as a derogatory term to refer to Indigenous ancestry was reclaimed by activists to emphasize and celebrate this heritage. The term “Chicana/o/x” is frequently used in relation to the intellectual, political, and artistic traditions of the Borderlands, and we adhere to this practice.

Several other identity markers are prominent in the Borderlands and in this anthology. Some people emphasize national origin, or use the qualifier “American,” as in terms such as “Mexican American” or “Salvadoran American,” reflecting the ongoing effort to name and embrace compound identities. Other people use the more general terms “Hispanic” and “Latina/o/x/e.” The term “Hispanic” was created by the U.S. government for the 1970 census and is generally used to refer to people whose heritage derives from Spanish-speaking countries. “Latino” became popular in the 1980s and emphasizes Latin American heritage. Both “Hispanic” and “Latino” have been critiqued for eliding the Indigenous and African roots of many people throughout the Americas.

Since at least the 1990s, activists and scholars have been moving towards identifications that are more inclusive of sexual and gender diversity. Terms such as “Latinx” and “Chicanx” emphasize the limitations of the gender binary upheld by masculine and feminine word endings in Spanish, in which the masculine is [xxx] the default for referring to mixed-gender groups.[40] Chicana feminist resistance to being subsumed into masculine or androcentric language led to the creation of terms such as “Latina/o” or “Latin@.” The conversation has since expanded to explicitly include non-binary gender identification. To reflect these conversations, we use the gender neutral “Latinx” and “Chicanx” as general terms, though we acknowledge the increasing use of the -e ending as a gender neutral alternative. We use “LGBTQIA2+ ,” standing for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Two Spirit, and more, to talk about specific communities as a whole, and we also use “queer” and “queer of color” when referring to particular intellectual, artistic, and political traditions. As language and understandings of social difference continue to evolve, more terms will likely emerge to refer to the multitudes of identities of people who inhabit border spaces.

Pedagogy, Politics, and Possibilities

Our writing of this introduction coincided with the tenth anniversary of the founding of the “librotraficantes,” a group of educators, activists, and scholars whose mission was to “smuggle” banned books to students in the wake of Arizona State House Bill 2281. Permanently blocked in 2017 after a seven-year court battle, this law attempted to stifle the success of the Mexican American Studies program in the Tucson Unified School District by banning ethnic studies curricula. As Houston-based scholar, cultural critic, and leader of the librotraficantes Tony Diaz notes, this legislation represented a backlash against educational approaches designed to affirm Mexican Americans and Latinxs more broadly: “It’s clear to me that our intellectual advancement is a threat to some people, because they tried to make it illegal.”[41] Such efforts to deny students opportunities to learn about their cultures and identities are neither new nor a relic of the past. They are part of a long legacy of anti-immigrant and white supremacist racism which has escalated once again in recent decades. In Texas, for example, backlash to recently approved ethnic studies curricula has led to censorship and laws prohibiting educators in public schools from teaching the full history of systemic racism and its social impacts. Efforts to whitewash history and marginalize non-white stories are a very real and present threat. [xxxi]

As several news outlets covering the fallout of HB 2281 emphasized in their headlines, Shakespeare’s The Tempest was among the texts removed from the curriculum in Tucson.[42] “Shakespeare loomed large throughout this episode,” writes Espinosa, “as critics of the law clung to the Bard’s iconic status to criticize the misguided nature of the legislation.”[43] As Espinosa has argued, the outsized emphasis on the apparent absurdity of banning Shakespeare — the canonical Anglophone author par excellence — detracted attention from the educational experiences of Mexican American students and the value of Mexican American literature. It assumed that Shakespeare was somehow an outlier in the list of books removed from Tucson classrooms. This response is indicative of the whiteness that often surrounds Shakespeare and the reception of his works. Indeed, because Shakespeare’s work has been used as a tool of assimilation and gatekeeping in education for centuries, it often carries fraught associations for Latinx students. Both material and perceived, these tensions inform what Espinosa theorizes as a “Shakespeare-Latinx divide,” wherein Shakespeare is positioned as a representative of white, Anglocentric culture, and Latinxs are imagined as its antithesis — if they are imagined at all.[44] In this context, Latinxs are perceived to have difficulty reading and comprehending Shakespeare, and, as Espinosa writes, “attitudes about Shakespeare’s place in the establishment of English linguistic and cultural identity certainly drive these views.”[45]

The presence of The Tempest in the Tucson Mexican American Studies curriculum, however, does less to reinscribe Shakespeare’s canonical status and association with whiteness than it does to reflect a long tradition of engagement with Shakespeare by residents of the U.S.–Mexico Borderlands. The forms of colonialism, enslavement, and linguistic domination dramatized in The Tempest resonate with many of the concerns addressed in other texts taught in ethnic studies courses. But, as Espinosa argues and as the plays in The Bard in the Borderlands attest, Borderlands engagements with Shakespeare also transcend The Tempest to consider a range of Shakespeare’s works in relation to [xxxii] Borderlands stories, songs, and other art forms. We see this anthology as part of the longstanding effort to affirm such responses and to teach Borderlands literature, histories, and cultural traditions.

Indeed, The Bard in the Borderlands arises from our own teaching of Shakespeare and Mexican American literature in the Borderlands. Through conversations with students and fellow teachers in the region and beyond, we recognized the need not only to make Borderlands Shakespeare plays available in print and digital formats but also to offer an accessible critical framework through which to understand the complex work that they do. As Borderlands playwrights reimagine Shakespeare to reflect their identities and concerns, their plays give students the tools to interrogate Shakespeare’s cultural place; to interpret his works in conversation with their lived experiences; and to create their own artistic responses to canonical works of literature. Teaching Borderlands Shakespeare opens space for thinking critically with students about how we can best serve our communities when we teach, produce, or adapt Shakespeare and how we can do so in ways that avoid replicating colonialist and white supremacist ideologies. To invoke the work of the librotraficantes, Borderlands Shakespeare provides a means of smuggling Chicanx and Indigenous literature and history into increasingly surveilled educational spaces.

This edition honors and endeavors to extend the community-based efforts from which Borderlands Shakespeare has arisen. We therefore see this open-access anthology as an invitation, and we hope that it will encourage robust engagement among readers, teachers, students, scholars, activists, artists, and theater practitioners as we continue to explore intersections of Shakespeare and Borderlands arts. We hope that it fosters future collaborations that destabilize the artificial boundaries often separating universities, community colleges, high schools, and community arts organizations, opening space for dialogue and shared learning. We look forward to continuing the work of building the field of Borderlands Shakespeare studies and sustaining art, theater, and storytelling in the region and beyond. Adelante.

  1. Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 5th ed. (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Press, 2022), 94.
  2. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 17.
  3. For more on Latinx theatrical engagement with neoliberal policies and their consequences, see Patricia A. Ybarra, Latinx Theater in the Times of Neoliberalism (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2017).
  4. Ruben Espinosa, “Traversing the Temporal Borderlands of Shakespeare,” New Literary History 52, nos. 3/4 (2021): 606,
  5. Emma Pérez, The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 6.
  6. For an overview of Chicanx theater, see Jorge Huerta, Chicano Drama: Performance, Society and Myth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). For an introduction to Native American and First Nations theater, see Jaye T. Darby, Courtney Elkin Mohler, and Christy Stanlake, eds., Critical Companion to Native American and First Nations Theatre and Performance: Indigenous Spaces (London: Bloomsbury, 2020).
  7. David Román, “Latino Performance and Identity,” Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies 22, no. 2 (1997): 153.
  8. Matthieu Chapman, “Chicano Signifyin’: Appropriating Space and Culture in El Henry,” Theatre Topics 27, no. 1 (2017): 61,
  9. Mary Montaño, Tradiciones Nuevomexicanas: Hispano Arts and Culture of New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001), 345. For more details on the tertulias for The Merchant of Santa Fe, see Elizabeth Klein and Michael Shapiro, “Shylock as Crypto-Jew: A New Mexican Adaptation of The Merchant of Venice,” in World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance, ed. Sonia Massai (New York: Routledge, 2005), 34–35,
  10. José Cruz González and David Lozano, “Diálogo: On Making Shakespeare Relevant to Latinx Communities,” in Shakespeare and Latinidad, eds. Trevor Boffone and Carla Della Gatta (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021), 159,
  11. Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2016), 35.
  12. Christy Desmet and Sujata Iyengar, “Adaptation, Appropriation, or What You Will,” Shakespeare 11, no. 1 (2015): 16,
  13. Alfredo Michel Modenessi, “‘A double tongue within your mask’: Translating Shakespeare in/to Spanish-Speaking Latin America,” in Shakespeare and the Language of Translation, ed. Ton Hoenselaars (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2004), 242–43,
  14. For more on the relationship between language and race in the construction of Latinx identity, see Jonathan Rosa, Looking Like a Language, Sounding Like a Race: Raciolinguistic Ideologies and the Learning of Latinidad (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
  15. See Miles P. Grier, “Staging the Cherokee Othello: An Imperial Economy of Indian Watching,” The William and Mary Quarterly 73, no. 1 (2016): 73–106; Laura Lehua Yim, “Reading Hawaiian Shakespeare: Indigenous Residue Haunting Settler Colonialism,” Journal of American Studies 54, no. 1 (2020): 36–41,; and Jace Weaver, “Shakespeare Among the ‘Salvages’: The Bard in Red Atlantic Performance,” Theater Journal 67, no. 3 (2015): 433–43.
  16. Weaver, “Shakespeare Among the ‘Salvages,’” 433.
  17. Scott Manning Stevens, “Shakespeare and the Indigenous Turn,” in Histories of the Future: On Shakespeare and Thinking Ahead, ed. Carla Mazzio (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, forthcoming); and Madeline Sayet, “Interrogating the Shakespeare System,” HowlRound, August 31, 2020,
  18. See Ayanna Thompson, Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Brigitte Fielder, “Blackface Desdemona: Theorizing Race on the Nineteenth-Century American Stage,” Theatre Annual 70 (2017): 39–59,; and James Shapiro, Shakespeare in America: An Anthology from the Revolution to Now (New York: The Library of America, 2014) and Shakespeare in a Divided America: What His Plays Tell Us About Our Past and Future (New York: Penguin Press, 2020).
  19. Arthur L. Little, Jr., “Re-Historicizing Race, White Melancholia, and the Shakespearean Property,” Shakespeare Quarterly 67, no. 1 (2016): 88,
  20. Aimé Césaire, Une Tempête (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1969), 28; Aimé Césaire, A Tempest, trans. Philip Crispin (London: Oberon Books, 2015), 25.
  21. Roberto Fernández Retamar, Calibán. Apuntes sobre la cultura en nuestra América (México: Diogenes, 1971), 30. The English translation is drawn from Roberto Fernández Retamar, “Caliban: Notes Toward a Discussion of Culture in Our America,” trans. Lynn Garafola, David Arthur McMurray, and Roberto Márquez, The Massachusetts Review 15, nos. 1/2 (1974): 24.
  22. Walter Mignolo, The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, and Colonization (1995, repr., Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003), ix.
  23. Bernice W. Kliman and Rick J. Santos, “Mestizo Shakespeares: A Study of Cultural Exchange,” in Latin American Shakespeares, eds. Bernice W. Kliman and Rick J. Santos (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005), 14.
  24. Alfredo Michel Modenessi, “‘Meaning by Shakespeare’ South of the Border,” in World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance, ed. Sonia Massai (New York: Routledge), 107.
  25. Trevor Boffone and Carla Della Gatta, eds., Shakespeare and Latinidad (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021).
  26. Marissa Greenberg, “Critically Regional Shakespeare,” Shakespeare Bulletin 37, no. 3 (2019): 343,
  27. Espinosa, “Traversing the Temporal Borderlands of Shakespeare,” 606.
  28. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 61–67.
  29. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera, 66.
  30. Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, “Rasquachismo: A Chicano Sensibility,” in Chicano Art: Resistance and Affirmation, 19651985, eds. Richard Griswold del Castillo, Teresa McKenna, and Yvonne Yarbro-Bejarano (Los Angeles: Wright Art Gallery, University of California, 1991), 156.
  31. Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, “Humor, Literacy and Trauma in Chicano Culture,” Comparative Literature Studies 40, no. 2 (2003): 112–26, esp. 113,
  32. Jorge Huerta, “Feathers, Flutes, and Drums: Images of the Indigenous Americans in Chicano Drama,” in Native American Performance and Representation, ed. S. E. Wilmer (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009), 182.
  33. Theresa Delgadillo, Spiritual Mestizaje: Religion, Gender, Race, and Nation in Contemporary Chicana Narrative (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011).
  34. Pérez, The Decolonial Imaginary, xvii.
  35. Chela Sandoval, Arturo J. Aldama, and Peter J. García, “Toward a De-Colonial Performatics of the US Latina and Latino Borderlands,” in Performing the US Latina and Latino Borderlands, eds. Arturo J. Aldama, Chela Sandoval, and Peter J. García (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012), 2–3.
  36. José Cruz Gonzalez, Invierno, Prelude.
  37. Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson, “(Trans)Mission Possible: The Coloniality of Gender, Speculative Rasquachismo and Altermundos in Luis Valderas’s Chican@futurist Visual Art,” in Altermundos: Latin@ Speculative Literature, Film, and Popular Culture, eds. Cathryn Josefina Merla-Watson and B. V. Olguín (Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, 2017), 355.
  38. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, “Daily Bread: Nourishing Sustainable Practices for Community Accountable Scholars,” Brilliance Remastered, July 31, 2012.
  39. For a guide to best practices that inform these linguistic choices, see Gregory Younging, Elements of Indigenous Style: A Guide for Writing by and about Indigenous Peoples (Edmonton: Brush Education, 2018).
  40. For a discussion of these terms, see Catalina (Kathleen) M. de Onís, “What’s in an ‘x’?: An Exchange about the Politics of ‘Latinx,’” Chiricú Journal: Latina/o Literatures, Arts, and Cultures 1, no. 2 (2017): 78–91.
  41. J. Weston Phippen and National Journal, “How One Law Banning Ethnic Studies Led to Its Rise,” The Atlantic, July 19, 2015,
  42. See, for example, Jeff Biggers, “Who’s afraid of ‘The Tempest’?” Salon, January 13, 2012, See also Sam Favate, “Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ Barred from Arizona Public Schools,” The Wall Street Journal, January 17, 2012,
  43. Ruben Espinosa, “Beyond The Tempest: Language, Legitimacy, and La Frontera,” in The Shakespeare User: Critical and Creative Appropriations in a Networked Culture, eds. Valerie M. Fazel and Louise Geddes (New York: Palgrave, 2017), 42,
  44. Ruben Espinosa, “‘Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue’: Uneasy Assimilation and the Shakespeare-Latinx Divide,” in The Routledge Handbook of Shakespeare and Global Appropriation, eds. Christy Desmet, Sujata Iyengar, and Miriam Jacobson (New York: Routledge, 2019), 48–58,
  45. Espinosa, “Beyond The Tempest,” 45.


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The Bard in the Borderlands: An Anthology of Shakespeare Appropriations en La Frontera, Volume 1 Copyright © 2023 by Katherine Gillen; Adrianna M. Santos; and Kathryn Vomero Santos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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