Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Balitronica Gomez. Credit: Courtesy / La Pocha Nostra

¿Sabes que?

San Anto is pura pocha.

Pocha is code-switching from Spanish to English without flinching.

Pocha is eating a mangonada in your Ford truck, windows rolled down, while listening to Techno Cumbia down Commerce Street.

Pocha is drinking a Big Red con tu barbacoa.

Pocha is Spanish without italics.

Viva Fiesta? Very pocha.

It’s also very pocha of you to like flour tortillas.

Pocha is you, even if you’re not Chicano, and especially if you’re living in San Antonio.

It’s not always been this hip to be pocha. I was reprimanded – years ago at a former place of employment – for posting a code-switching flyer to social media. Now, ad executives are making big bucks mixing English and Spanish.

Pocha once described Chicanos who don’t speak Spanish correcta-mundo. Now, pocha is a term used more broadly to describe the trans-border culture that merges American identity with Mexicanidad.

I love my pocha-self.

I never knew I was a pocha until 1993. I was a junior at Southern Methodist University and well into my acting conservatory program. My professors trained me to sound neutral, to erase any vocal trace of my border upbringing in the Rio Grande Valley. Then, I was cast in my first professional play by a Mexican director who told me I sounded too white. I wasn’t Mexican enough outside of school. I wasn’t white enough in school.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Saul Garcia Lopez
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Saul Garcia Lopez Credit: Courtesy / La Pocha Nostra

It was around 1993 when Guillermo Gómez-Peña, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, founded La Pocha Nostra as a way to confront border politics through art. Since then, he has developed a network of artistic collaborators across the world.

Gómez-Peña has built this network through open-sourcing his craft. He shares his artistic language with other rebel artists to combat artificial walls built across nations, across cultures.

Pocha Nostra’s pedagogical method is ritualistic and inter-disciplinary: writers work alongside actors, musicians, and visual artists to create image-driven testimonial performance. Their work riffs through border motifs, venturing into vital connections between artist and community. Their work resonates cross-culturally.

This week, they are sharing their radical “artivist” diplomacy in San Antonio. Their next stop is Haiti.

When Gómez-Peña says San Antonio aloud, it’s like he is whispering into a lover’s ear. Over the years, Gómez-Peña has developed an artistic love affair with our city: two projects with Jump-Start Performance Co., a performance at last year’s Luminaria, and several keynotes with local organizations such as the National Association for Latino Arts and Cultures and University of Texas at San Antonio.

You have two chances to catch La Pocha Nostra in action this weekend.

Gómez-Peña, in town with Pocha Nostra artists Balitronica Gomez and Saul Garcia Lopez, is conducting a four-day workshop with San Antonio artists and students from Northwest Vista College. The workshop will culminate in a public performance jam on Friday night.

On Saturday night, Garcia Lopez, a “Chicanadian” living in Toronto, will embody Xochipilli, the Aztec god of corn, while Balitronica performs a ceremonial homage to the body as colonized terrain. Pocha describes the work as “daring shamanic and psychomagic actions…a ritual of social transformation.”

Audience members are frequently called upon to participate during Pocha Nostra performances. It is not your traditional theatrical experience. Be ready to embrace your pocha-self.

Marisela Barrera is a Chicana creating Tex-Mex stories on stage and in print. She has a BFA in acting from Southern Methodist University and MA/MFA degrees from in creative writing, literature, and social...