About Purple Eyes

Purple Eyes is an ancestral auto/biography where I investigate my identity as a queer Chicano amid the lineage of machismo in my family. Many generations of Inocéncios originated in Michoacán, a southern Mexican state with strong P’urhépecha connections, before they immigrated to the United States. And as my cousin Chuy says, “those Michoacán men, tu sabes, are on another level of machismo.” The title Purple Eyes comes from my dad’s notorious purple sunglasses he wore when I was kid, a remnant of his flashier clothing when he worked as an undercover cop in gay night clubs.  The “purple eyes” also imply the ability of the men in my family to queer the world around them despite their hyper-masculine tendencies. From strawberry farms to the U.S. military and from welding shops to the police force, the piece interrogates passages of masculinity and how the men in my family have negotiated supremely heterosexual spaces that view queerness as a weakness. The play is a solo show, so I perform as myself as well as my dad, my grandpa, and my great-grandpa through memories I have collected over the years. I do not seek to write biographies or historical narratives. Rather, my performance of these stories are my queer imaginings and interpretations of memories.

Because of the intense racism toward Mexican-Americans in Texas during the 1960s and the language barrier between my grandparents, Grandpa José didn't teach his children Spanish, so much of the cultural knowledge he carried didn’t pass onto my pocho dad and his siblings.  Yet I, along with some of my cousins, suffer from cultural loss and we are seeking to recover the fragments. Through a storytelling aesthetic inspired by John Leguizamo’s Freak and Luis Alfaro’s Downtown, I have crafted this play to understand how the cultures of the U.S. and Mexico have affected my family. In an effort to dismantle the racism, sexism, and homophobia that have infiltrated the Inocéncios, I reawaken our indigenous P’urhépecha past throughout the piece as a potential site for revolution.  The play contains four chapters, one on my great-grandpa Jesús, one on my grandpa José, one on my dad Joel, and one on myself—all our names begin with the letter jota, an irony not lost on me—where I perform a myriad of familial histories but focus on specific incidents where we contest the strictures of machismo.

Right now, I'm touring this piece across Texas to theatres and university groups with an emphasis on Mexican-American and LGBTQ populations. But this intersectional examination of mine and my family’s experiences will be relevant for both queer young adults and Latinas/os of various ethnicities. In addition to touring the performance, I lead workshops where I can guide participants how to craft their own solo pieces that revisit familial stories.