May 24, 2016

Carmen Aguirre at AWF 2016: "Mexican Hooker #1"

Amber from Parnell Library tells us about discovering Carmen Aguirre and why she thinks you should too:




Are you put off by the title Mexican Hooker #1? If you are, you shouldn’t feel alone – it was a feeling I came across in more than one person whilst mutually flicking through the Auckland Writers Festival programme. While you shouldn’t feel alone, you should probably feel regretful, though, because this stiffness likely kept you from encountering the almost disconcertingly interesting Ms. Carmen Aguirre.

Often the first thing you will learn about Carmen Aguirre is that at a young age she was raped – it is unpleasant, it is painful to read about, painful to think about. It seemed confusing to people I encountered -- to give a book concerning your most abject memories a name so blunt, so tongue in cheek, so tacky, even. What is she thinking, a rape victim, referring to the sex industry in such a cavalier manner?? Perhaps those people are uncomfortable confronting their own misgivings about the differences between rape and sex. Fair enough.

However, you needn’t be uncomfortable, because Carmen definitely isn’t. She is incredibly matter of fact, pastoral even, as she relates to you her experiences with a diverse range of violence. In an hour with Carmen Aguirre, a person previously unfamiliar with her work (ie, me) will learn that she is a woman who has lived a life unimaginable to some (ie, most New Zealanders). A political refugee under Pinochet’s regime from the age of six (her family relocated to Canada) and a member of the Chilean resistance from 18, Aguirre’s life was always going to feature danger, trauma and the processes of “healing” – whatever that might be and however it would come about.

For Aguirre, theatrical training precipitated this healing process, and Mexican Hooker #1 is an account of the dual experiences of becoming an actor (a very early calling) and being propelled into the therapeutic work of reconfronting and reappraising her rape. Aguirre travels to meet her rapist, the infamous John Horace Oughton, a kind of ‘bogeyman’ figure in the Canadian cultural landscape known as the ‘Paper Bag Rapist’, and for many this begs some questions, mainly, "Why?" If you’ve read any recent coverage of Aguirre’s book, you will likely know her answer – “Because I’d like to meet the man I’ve been in a relationship with for my entire life.”

Her answer encapsulates what is so fascinating about her life, her holistic and realistic attitude towards her experiences, and what is so brilliant about her title. Mexican Hooker #1 is a title that Aguirre says she had to fight her editors for, and I was happy to hear that because I love it. Aguirre sums it up with candor: the title is what it is because she literally played a character named “Mexican Hooker #1”, because she found herself completely and utterly typecast with no roles for women of colour on stage or television other than those very similar to ‘Mexican Hooker #1’, and lastly, heartbreakingly, because when she was raped at 13, her rapist called her ‘hooker’ repeatedly.

If you think it all sounds a bit heavy, and are expecting an incredibly morose autobiographical depiction of a tarnished life, absolutely don’t. As well as being matter of fact, Carmen Aguirre is hilarious, and my favourite moment was her quip about those who write for catharsis, “If you are writing for catharsis, you are not writing – you are masturbating”. Her language was rather more colourful, but you get the idea. I happen to completely agree, and at that moment I fell in love with her.

So yes, it is ‘heavy’ but don’t worry -- she is not writing for catharsis, she is not gunning to make you cry. Aguirre’s story is also impressive, entertaining, and very true. Aguirre referred to herself as ‘a person who writes plays for brown people’ and recognition of the purposeful, material value of her work is important. She says (I’m probably misquoting, but never mind) that her parents always told her that if you are not working for your community, then you are not working in the right way. But while her story, and her writing, is important for victims of sexual assault, for women of colour, for actresses, for refugees, it is valuable to anyone. And if you're not intrigued by a woman who was part of a revolutionary movement and who can make you cackle within the context of confronting the issue of rape, then I wouldn't know what to offer you.

You can, and really should, read Mexican Hooker #1 and Aguirre's first book, Something Fierce.

--Amber

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 19:16
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