La India Maria (aka Maria Elena Velasco), a pocharrific indigenous comedienne from Puebla Mexico, took that combi to the sky on May 1st, a special day for progressive proles y paisas alike. A tip of the tando for this legendary actress, producer and major female film director.
Often compared to Lucille Ball, Maria Elena got her start as a showgirl at the legendary Teatro Tivoli in Mexico City, moving quickly to performing in comedy sketches. Her big break came in 1969 when "La India Maria" was featured on Siempre el Domingo, hosted by Latino star-maker Raul Velasco (the Ed Sullivan of Mexico).
Maria Elena's comedy persona, an iconic indigenous woman named "The Indian Maria" was a mashup of rural paisa estyle: well worn chanclas, gaudy fabrics with excessive ruffles, multiple petticoats, thick braids wrapped in ribbons and a beloved box of chiles. Her "Maria" represented the downtrodden and most exploited class in Latin America; indigenous women. Yet in film after film, the wiley "indian" gets the better of hustlers, smugglers, foreigners, US Customs agents and even international spy rings. La India Maria was our rascuache James Bond!
One of her most Pocho peliculas is the classic Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla, where a young Maria leaves her native village to work for some gringos, is a hilarious trans-national romp seasoned with biting economic & cultural observations from a woman's perspective. Amid the comedic one-liners are real gems of the intercultural experience.
In asking for her father Don Santo's blessing, he initially refuses by saying, "They will change you, they will look upon you as 'less than' and before long you will belong neither here nor there" -- and this is a classic description of the Pocho/a condition, of being eternally in-between worlds, rejected and ridiculed by both.
For a mujer so ahead of her time, it's fitting that her death was announced in that most modern of mediums: Twitter. As the first genre-busting cyber-indigena and celebrated entertainment innovator, Maria Elena would have had a good laugh at merging technology with tradition, even in death.