Mardi Gras as Public Healing Ritual for Wounded New Orleans

I urge you to fly, drive & run to New Orleans

By Jose Torres Tama submitted by RuthAnne Tarletz de Molina
Published on LatinoLA: February 25, 2006

Mardi Gras as Public Healing Ritual for Wounded New Orleans

Jose Torres Tama on "Mardi Gras as Public Healing Ritual for Wounded New Orleans"

I originally planned to write on Mardi Gras / Carnaval for my newsletter listing in EyeSpyLA in a very different light. However, when this piece came to me via email, I realized it was better than anything I could say. And if you can?t make it to New Orleans, you can make it to Long Beach &/or Olvera Street for a taste (see Where are the Chicana/o artists this weekend/next week). Even though it is a long intro piece, it is repeated in full. Jesed, Simja, Shalom, RuthAnne Tarletz de Molina (Love, Joy, Peace in Hebrew)

Jose Torres Tama wrote:

Dear arts community:

This is Jose Torres Tama writer, visual & performance artist from New Orleans. I have written numerous pieces on Katrina since my escape from the chaos of the social storm on a pirated Jefferson Parish School Bus & the challenges of facing an eviction on my return to the city.

Lately, there has been much national debate about whether the people of New Orleans should be celebrating Mardi Gras. I offer an opinion that we need to celebrate, now more than ever, because carnival is more than just a party. It is a public healing ritual for us to dance through the pain & celebrate in the face of tragedy to keep our collective human spirit alive in this post-Katrina wounded village.

The new piece is called ?Mardi Gras as a Public Healing Ritual for Wounded New Orleans.? Below is the piece as text & a brief biography. (PLEASE CIRCULATE FREELY)

Respectively, Jose Torres Tama 504.232.2968 jose@torrestama.com www.torrestama.com www.openstudioartists.org

"Mardi Gras as a Public Healing Ritual for Wounded New Orleans"

Having adopted the city of New Orleans as my physical & spiritual home for more than twenty-years, I can never imagine not celebrating the most vital ritual of this Catholic metropolis?carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday. In contrast to the national TV coverage that depicts a nihilistic party of drunken frat boys beckoning sorority girls to expose their breasts for plastic beads, Mardi Gras, to us natives, is a unique & sacred public performance ritual of collective costuming, parading & dancing through the streets.

In the old tradition of the feast, it was the only time of year when the poor & working class could mock the gentry & aristocracy who held power over their lives. For enslaved African Americans in pre-Civil War New Orleans, it was a day to shed their shackles & dance with unfettered liberty---& even act as free men & women. Under such abhorrent conditions, I cannot imagine having the one day of absolute freedom taken away.

In the Latin, ?carnaval, carne? means a celebration of the flesh. Translating it in Catholic terms, it is a time of extended tolerances & a period for eating & drinking with reckless abandon until the day of atonement?Ash Wednesday. It is certainly more than just a party.

There has been much debate about whether we, the people of New Orleans, should celebrate Mardi Gras this season because thousands of our brothers & sisters are still displaced throughout the country in the wake of Katrina?s pounding & the levee breaches. Seventy percent of this city remains uninhabitable, & the political leadership is mired in its inefficiencies while we beg Washington not to forget us as they did in the days after the storm.

For those of us who have been able to return, now more than ever we need to dance in the streets & through the surrounding destruction that has transformed our ?Big Easy? into the ?Big Hurt.? It is not easy being back in this wounded village that still remains less than half a shadow of its original self. The general mood oscillates from the ecstasy of sleeping in one?s own bed to the pervasive melancholia of a ghost city with intermittent blackouts.

But the first parades began this past weekend, & the irreverent Krewe du Vieux marched through the Bywater, the Marigny & the French Quarter neighborhoods with mule-drawn carriages & ?throws? that included foiled-wrapped ?chocolate city? candy & bubble-spouting rubber heads of Mayor Nagin. Mardi Gras allows us to laugh at our pain & the people of New Orleans have an intrinsic sense of humor that is unmatched.

Satirizing the hurricane evacuation process, one float had the phrase ?Mandatory Ejaculation? emblazoned in glittery Las Vegas marquis letters above a giant paper-mache vagina streaming electric lights from its center. Mardi Gras is also a sexy affair & double-entendres run amok as our united desire invokes the rebirth of this nearly three-hundred year old "Grand Madame" of the deep south.

Even in the bitter cold that descended upon our fragile city, the neighborhood was out, young & old, black, brown & white, because this is an intergenerational celebration of life that allows us to cross racial & class borders, & we were all anxious to dance as a communal tribe to the soulful sounds of the many brass bands blasting their horns with a rhythmic urgency & inspiring even the most tone deaf to gyrate. Their music opens the path for the many masked marchers & opens our hearts to rise as one.

Brass bands like the young TBC, To Be Continued group, whose members have been scattered across California, Texas & Georgia, have managed to return for the work that Mardi Gras offers--blessing us with their bold hybrid fusion of hip-hop, gospel funk & a traditional chorus of trumpets, trombones & tuba calling the dead to wake & get up ?offa? your feet.

?Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?? I do. I have missed one carnival since I first moved here in1984. It was just another freezing & dour day in February back in New York?nobody was dancing. I was forced to watch the festivities through the television prism of a two-minute news sound bite.

If you do not know Mardi Gras & what it means, I urge you to fly, drive & run to New Orleans--experience the wounds momentarily vanish in the revelry of masking, dancing & strutting your exaggerated bad self while keeping in step with the percussive sounds of a city dancing for its life.

Jose Torres Tama 504-232-2968

BRIEF BIO: Based in New Orleans, writer, visual and performance artist Jose Torres Tama is the recent recipient of a 2005 Funds for the Arts Fellowship from the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) with funds from the Ford Foundation to develop the manuscript for his book called ?The Dream Knows More than You: Performance Chronicles of a Latino Immigrant.? He has toured the U.S and internationally to Eastern Europe and Mexico for the past decade. Cornell, Duke, Rutgers, LSU and the University of Michigan are some of the many institutions that have presented his solo performances, youth residencies and academic lectures on performance art as a tool for social change.

A Louisiana Theater Fellow and an Award recipient from the National Endowment for the Arts, his performance work explores the effects of media on identity and race relations, the ?American Dream? mythology and the Latino immigrant experience. His work with marginalized Latino and African American teens that employs performance art as a creative strategy to cultivate the voices of the unheard has been profiled on NPR and has received much praise as an empowering example of how art can transform lives. As a writer and critic, he was contributing editor to "Art Papers" Magazine published out of Atlanta for which he wrote about performance art and politics from 1996-2002. www.torrestama.com

About Jose Torres Tama submitted by RuthAnne Tarletz de Molina:
Jose Torres Tama bio is included in the story. I, RuthAnne Tarletz de Molina, have presented here because I think it is more than noteworthy. It speaks volumes about healing in general, not just from what happened in New Orleans.

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