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Monalisa’s Hell’s Kitchen: Club Culture and Trans Friendship in New York City

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In September 1996, Chilean playwright Ivan Monalisa arrived in NYC (at that time, his ID showed the masculine name Iván Ojeda Leviante). For three months, he takes an internship in the New Dramatists program. However, abruptly, he quits. Dazzled by neon lights, he moves to the Southwest neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen. The fluorescent flashes that attracted him were not from the theatre marquees, but from the clandestine clubs and pick-up bars where house music submerges the choreography of Latin trans divas—from Edelweiss to Sally's.

As Monalisa portrays in two published short stories volumes, these night clubs are scenarios of queer utopic revolutions where the trans community resists the devastation of HIV pandemics and the cruel process of Disneyfication under Rudolph Giuliani’s law.

Running away from the police or negotiating with hustlers, Monalisa crosses NYC only like rats can do it. Below ground level, voices reverberate at a different frequency. Precisely, this is the sound Monalisa captures through prose.

Consequently, in this travel to Hell’s Kitchen, Monalisa further enunciates a particular literary style, characterized by three distinctive elements: Its intertext coming from the deep web, its melopoeia following the rhythm of Deep House, and the main characters talking with dead heroes of the Latin American diaspora (Amalia La Cubana, iconically portrayed in Paris is Burning, or Salvador Agron, the Puerto Rican teen vampire, among other ghostly shapes).

(This lecture will be delivered in Spanish; the paper will be also available in English. English captions will be available in the coming weeks.)

Cristián Opazo (Santiago, 1979) is an Associate Professor of Latin American Cultural Studies at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (UC). With Theatre and Performance Studies as a starting point, his critical work explores the relationship among urban subcultures, marginalized masculinities, and cultural policies in contemporary Chile and Latin America. He is the author of Pedagogías letales: ensayo sobre dramaturgias chilenas del nuevo milenio (Cuarto Propio, 2012), and Rímel y gel: el teatro de las fiestas (forthcoming, Metales Pesados, 2024). In recent years, he has also published two edited volumes: Humanidades al límite: posiciones críticas en/contra de la Universidad global (2022) and Democracias incompletas: debates críticos en el Cono Sur. Between 2018 and 2022, he served as the alternate director of the Millennium Nucleus in Art, Performativity, and Activism, a long-term research project funded by the Chilean Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation. Parallel to his research activity, Opazo has developed a series of podcast on topics of Latin American popular culture: Nada Está Perdido: Historias Latinoamericanas and Zodiaco Chileno, both of them produced by Radio Cooperativa and available at Spotify and iTunes

Cristián Opazo will be teaching ILAC 273: Kids: Youth Cultures in Contemporary Latin America in the Winter 2024 Quarter.


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