“I’m la porqueria”: Reading Affective Embodiments in Vida / Laura (Lau) Malaver

In season one, episode six of self-proclaimed Latinx show Vida, younger sister Lyn Hernandez (Melissa Barrera) and Johnny (Carlos Miranda) lay naked on the floor of Lyn’s bedroom, caressing each other’s bodies.1Throughout the show, their relationship is unclearly named, seemingly caring and loving, though hidden from everyone else. Johnny brushes his hand on Lyn’s body, kissing her gently, and commenting on how much he misses her touch and presence, referencing their high school past hookups. Lyn on her part seems to enjoy the attention, cautiously though in a flirty way inviting Johnny’s comments. As the scene goes on, Johnny begins telling Lyn he wants a life with her, a casita painted red, with a fence also red. Lyn at first seems to like this plan, yet begins asking about Johnny’s dad; who is going to take care of him as he ages? What about the house he currently lives in? His job? Johnny nonchalantly responds he will figure it out when the time comes. The camera begins to do a medium close-up of Lyn’s face, troubled and confused about what she just heard. Lyn sits up with her knees still on the floor and as Johnny continues his caressing, Lyn realizes and poignantly states: “I’m la porqueria.”

Invoking a limpia (Mexican spiritual cleansing ritual) that neighbor and curandera Doña Lupe (Elena Campbell-Martinez) had performed for Lyn days before, la porqueria refers to all the filth, muck, and dirt that Doña Lupe removes from Lyn’s body, mind, and soul. For Lyn to realize that she is and embodies la porqueria is evocative of something else fermenting, which eventually signals other encounters, twists, and affective embodiments throughout the show. To examine Lyn’s perplexed surprise and selective events that unfold post-porqueria, I will use a praxis-oriented theory I term recovecos (Spanish for nook, hidden turn, or twist).2 Using recovecos as a mode of analysis forecloses uncritical considerations of Lyn’s persona embodying la porqueria because of her actions, perhaps mostly concerned with her sexual encounters with men, or her irresponsible accumulation of credit card debt under her mom’s name, among other events. Instead, recovecos exposes the multiple valences of porqueria, noting how it can dwell as an affective strategy, living outside a body, and constituting critical ways of being and doing through emotion, or affective excess.3 As porqueria is both uttered and animated, I ask: in which nooks does it live?; who and what holds and/or embodies porqueria?; is la porqueria desired?; why is porqueria an affective embodiment and strategy, a sort of twist (plot)?; and in which hidden turns does one find porqueria?4

I read porqueria as an affect to mean ambiguous, unexpected, and/or desired responses and encounters of emotion from the body, between bodies, and within the body. Affect, notes Sara Ahmed, constitutes emotional forces that are “not simply something ‘I’ or ‘we’ have. Rather, it is through emotions or how we respond to objects and others, that surfaces or boundaries are made.”5 Accordingly, “affect arises in the midst of in-between-ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon [and it is] found in those intensities that pass body to body (human, nonhuman, part-body, and otherwise), in those resonances that circulate about, between, and sometimes stick to bodies and worlds.”6 Therefore, when Lyn realizes she is la porqueria, I argue that instead of being able to cleanse herself of this filth, muck, and mess, porqueria becomes an affective state and embodiment that sticks to characters, surfaces, and roams on its own. I thus use recovecos as a lens to understand how porqueria materializes as an affective embodiment during specific scenes in the show. Being in a recoveco (physical space), encountering recovecos (hidden turns), and being in / finding yourself in a recoveco (a mess, twist) are all emblematic of Vida.7

“Ursula-ing” Lyn
In season 1, episode 6, viewers are invited to bear witness to a limpia, a Mexican spiritual cleansing that Doña Lupe performs for Lyn. Close-up shots and pans of Lyn and Doña Lupe instigate a stickiness and in-betweenness. After everything is completed, we get a close-up of Lyn’s face and a pan-out of her whole body while she stands inside the bathtub of Doña Lupe’s home. The image is striking; a riff on Frida Kahlo’s 1937 painting Memory, The Heart.8 Doña Lupe asks Lyn to take off her white dress as she hands Lyn a towel, and with care yet distrust, Doña Lupe puts the dress inside a plastic bag. Doña Lupe then hands the bag over to Lyn and states, “This bag contains toda la porqueria that I just removed from you.” “Porqueria?” asks Lyn; “The porqueria,” replies Doña Lupe adding, “the muck that is all the sorrow and doubt que traías. All the pain. This limpia was like a shower for your spirit.” As Lyn listens and gets dressed, putting her earrings on, Doña Lupe exclaims she needed this limpia for a long time, and gifts Lyn a talisman reminding her that she has removed everything, “te saqué anything that has gotten or is getting in your way.” As Lyn acknowledges how much lighter she feels, Doña Lupe insists that it is because of all the porqueria that Lyn has inside “even if you had gotten used to it being there.” Lyn seems to obliviously misunderstand the veracity of Doña Lupe’s words, and leaves thereafter. Lyn then bumps into her sister Emma (Mishel Prada) in the staircase as Emma is coming up and tells her “everything that’s not meant to be in your life should go.”

The details of this exchange and what comes afterward are substantial, and more poetic than mere words. That is, la porqueria in its utterance on behalf of both Doña Lupe and then Lyn, foreshadows the moment Lyn realizes “I’m la porqueria” instead of something she has and can remove, as in “I have porqueria.” Porqueria, I argue, emerges as an animative, “part movement, as in ‘animation,’ and part identity, being, or soul, as in ‘anima’ or ‘life.’”9 Lyn is clearly affectively moved post-limpia, and believes this cleansing to be temporary, or at least not prone to impact other aspects of her life, including her affair with Johnny. Yet, porqueria is messy, it roams on its own. As an animative, it embodies and encompasses “at times boisterous, at times violent, contradictory and vexed behaviors, experiences, and relationships.”10 I am suggesting that as an animative, porqueria already holds a body in-waiting, that is triggered by its performative utterance at the appropriate moment—Doña Lupe and the limpia being the first moment.11 In its animative form, porqueria does not wait for speech to bring it to life; rather, I argue that porqueria finds moments to enact inappropriate responses and to become affectively entangled. Upon leaving Doña Lupe’s apartment, Lyn feels lighter and content, carrying the plastic trash bag with her as a sign that she has been rid of toda la porqueria por dentro.12 In this plastic bag, one could imagine la porqueria brewing a sort of mischievous plan, hoping to perhaps return and create havoc in some ways.

Ma(r)king Uses of porqueria
According to the Real Academia Española porqueria is a colloquial (feminine) term meaning: suciedad, inmundicia, basura [dirtiness, filth, trash]; Cosa vieja, rota o que no desempeña su función como debiera [old thing, broken or that does not fulfill its function as it should]; acción sucia o indecente [indecent or dirty act]; cosa de poco valor [a thing of little value]; and cosa que no gusta o no agrada [a thing that is not liked]. Intrigued by these meanings, the enunciation of (la) porqueria renders its colloquial and apparent feminine definition something else to be or become. What kind of potential does la porqueria hold as it is grounded in, say, suciedad or as a cosa vieja o rota? One must also wonder who and what holds porqueria? Is it a fixed or ephemeral state?

In marking and making the uses of porqueria in Vida, I want to critique the moralistic binary that being and holding porqueria is negative, while being cleansed of porqueria is positive. Deborah R. Vargas’s ruminations of lo sucio, reminds us of porqueria as suciedad. Vargas argues for a queer analytic of lo sucio that contends with figures in queer’s suciedad, “figures and space that […] keep the queer in sexuality nasty, obscene, and dirty.”13 Reading porqueria as an affect through the site of lo sucio, makes apparent the intimate queered potentiality it holds. Its inappropriateness and entanglement as flesh with space, time, and subjects, and with(in) recovecos, disrupts intimacies capital seeks to produce, and instead gives rise to queer surplus that “tastes and smells sucio and cultivates a presence and lingering perseverance of queer sex and joy within neoliberal hetero- and homonormative violences.”14 Similarly, in their work on incomodar (bother, discomfort) as an affective analytic, Kristie Soares highlights “the continuum between the act of bothering—often understood as a nuisance, but perhaps not a radical force—and revolution.”15 Porqueria works within this continuum of bothering insofar as it incessantly disturbs Lyn’s everyday life, lingering long after the limpia of lo sucio in the in-between spaces of messiness with her and other characters. La porqueria, while in Lyn’s body, awaits Doña Lupe’s limpia as if strategically needing to emerge, to be uttered, to become animated. Unbeknownst to Lyn, Doña Lupe does not provide answers to questions needing resolution; she positions Lyn as the knower and beholder of her own longings, desires, and uncomfortable truths of her life.

An example of these bothersome, or sucio encounters as affective embodied strategies intersect with the juxtapositions in season three of Lyn’s revelations through Catholicism, and the queer Latinx performances at the bar that culminate in the Marcos (Tonatiuh aka Tona) 30th birthday queerceñera celebration (play on queer and quinceañera).16 Porqueria, I suggest, resurges in these scenes not as filth and muck to be captured and annihilated; instead, porqueria transforms in its animated appearances through multiple recovecos as a “refusal of vanishing” and a queer surplus that insists on leaving ephemera of messy and sticky traces of lo sucio.17 In other words, porqueria refuses to disassociate from Catholicism and from the queerciañera. As such, Lyn performatively becomes the embodiment of something she is not (yet); in seeking answers in a future-driven way, she misses the contradictions of her present, her everyday as partly intertwined with la porqueria she comes to realize she has and she is. To be fair, I am not suggesting Lyn’s choices are porqueria(s), but that porqueria roams throughout specific encounters and instances in Vida that happen to be catalyzed in part by Lyn’s limpia, and that incomodan18 respectable ways of being within LatinX culture in the United States.19 Through this lens of continual suciedad, I am positing that the viewer suspend their judgment as we witness the nuances of Vida, because after all, we all have porquerias.

In the pilot episode, after being estranged for years from their home, Lyn and Emma attend their mom Vidalia’s (Rose Portillo) funeral at “La Chinita,” the name of the bar Vidalia and her partner Eddy (Ser Anzoategui) ran together.20 As the first season  continues and spans the course of a week, Emma finds herself in a recoveco, having to make a decision to either sell the building which houses not only the bar but also many tenants some of whom are undocumented, or keep the building, renovate it, and manage the bar Vidalia left. She pays a visit to Nelson Herrera (Luis Bordonada), a Latino developer gentrifying, or rather gente-fying block after block of Latinx-owned businesses.21 Nelson, about whom Emma does not know anything, welcomes Emma into his office, immediately issuing a counteroffer. After learning of two separate mortgages that Nelson had approved for Vidalia and Eddy, Emma confronts Nelson with her stern and straightforward demeanor, accusing him of cheating her mom into taking an additional loan. In response, Nelson defends his move by centering Vidalia’s sickness as a motive she used to keep the bar and herself alive. On top of this swindling and sucio move, Nelson has the nerve to sexually harass Emma by touching her leg, inviting her to “make a deal.” Emma gets up, bothered, and pours her hot cup of coffee on his pants storming out of his office and proclaiming she will never sell to him.

One could argue Nelson is a porqueria; his motives to make money directly exploit Latinx-owned businesses and labor and the very livelihood of generations of families living in Boyle Heights. Furthermore, Nelson’s phallus-centric interactions perpetuate a cis-heterosexual and patriarchal dynamic, animating an affective move of porqueria that disavows the agency and control that Emma and Lyn employ over men, as well as among other characters such as Mari (Chelsea Rendon) who experiences an unfortunate public humiliation of being filmed performing oral sex. Weary of basing this argument on another set of binarisms, I note “agency” on behalf of Emma and Lyn to mean their inter-subjective dynamics of sexual gestures, reading their distinctive yet interrelated sexual encounters as pleasurable and erotic, exceeding machista and heteropatriarchal interpretations based on a virgin-whore dichotomy,22 and in excess of heterosexual sex. In fact, pleasure and eroticism grounded in a queered understanding of love, gesture, care, passion, and affective embodiment exceeds normative expectations that having (heterosexual and queer) sex is sucio, or a porqueria.23

I have shown how porqueria becomes an animative that Lyn and other characters affectively embody. While at first the viewer might posit that a limpia will cure one of the porqueria por dentro (inside), I suggest that la porqueria post-limpia lingers and resurfaces upon encounter. With recovecos as an episteme in mind, I argue that we need to embrace porqueria as an affective state or embodiment, one that can live in the turns, nooks, and twists of our vidas. Instead of interpreting Lyn’s “I’m la porqueria” as a representation of filth, muck, or suciedad to be rid of, we can complicate its inappropriate, bothersome, and sucio emergence as an invitation to linger in the discomfort it provokes, while coming to terms with the fact that it refuses to vanish. Being affectively moved by porqueria’s potential to bother and reclaim suciedad, then, allows Lyn to live in contradiction, in-betweenness, and tension with other characters. Overall, recovecos unlocks the potential of porqueria which remains in(side) the nook, to be encountered in the hidden turns, and/or stuck in the messiness of a twist. Porqueria is just around the corner.

Endnotes

  1. I use Latinx, Latino, or Latina (Latina/o/x) when citing or referencing directly from characters’ dialogue and/or descriptions from showrunners. I deploy LatinX with an upper case “X” in certain moments as a deliberate move to call for X as a critical hermeneutic for analyzing the entangled systems of oppression and the intersubjective relations emergent from being racialized as Latino/a/x in the geopolitical space of United States. LatinX, writes Claudia Milian, “is not about how squarely, how ‘rightly,’ and how convincingly one fits into the Latino/a ontological category, but it is instead a marker of how one navigates the world” (LatinX [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020], 77). In this navigation, specificity of gender or otherwise is crucial, marking lived experience, and crossing (out) systemic injustice. Yet, deploying X in LatinX beyond binary configurations is not a crossing out of lived experience or a subordination of differences, but rather an episteme intended to analyze the complex differences within Latinidad. After all, “there’s mandatory work to be done with the plexus of entangled Xs being passed around” (Milian, 32). For a discussion on X as a patriarchal crossing out, see Nicole Trujillo-Pagán (“Crossed out by LatinX: Gender neutrality and genderblind sexism,” Latino Studies 16 (2018): 396-406. Trujillo-Pagán notes how “‘LatinX’ should be distinguished from ‘Latinx’” in order to note how the X “is imposed in the ‘a/o’ in explicit ways that claims to not only be gender neutral, but also invalidate the gender binary.”

  2. I understand praxis to mean working on the self through self-reflection and consciousness raising. A theory-oriented praxis puts to practice the theory one is working through. Recovecos is a concept, theoretical in essence with hints of practicality. Recovecos’ hidden turns and twists, and our awareness of its existence radically intersects with notions of the temporal, thinking it is about to come, to be fulfilled, to be found. As a theory and praxis, recovecos exposes the myriad of possibilities, or actions that affective embodiments permit: non-linear ways of thinking and being, imaginative alliances horizontally constructed with human and non-human beings, and dwellings within innumerable spaces. Therefore, as a praxis-oriented theory, recovecos allows us to imagine and simultaneously to cope with the social structures encrypted and inscribed on our bodies, our minds, our subjectivities.
  3. This affective excess works through the affective formation of porqueria at is intersects with temporal and spatial logics in the show. Porqueria’s performative (utterance) and animative (embodied) potential assembles and sticks to the messiness of the show’s plot, twists, and nooks. For more on affective excess, see Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotions (New York: Routledge, 2004).
  4. Although Vida just completed its third season and season finale April 2020, I will ground my examples of porqueria in the show as highlighted and animated mostly in season one, while referencing other episodes and seasons as need be. This will not then be a comprehensive article on all the instances of reading porqueria in the show. For more, see Laura Malaver, “Vida,” Chiricú Journal 4, no. 1 (Fall, 2019): 199-202. https://colorado.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.colorado.idm.oclc.org/docview/2365218690?accountid=14503.
  5. See Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotions (New York: Routledge, 2004), 10.
  6. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), 1.
  7. Part of porqueria’s affective embodiment and messiness is the deliberate use of Spanish throughout the article. There is a sense of incompleteness in translation that renders a fixed or neat understanding of porqueria impossible in English. I thank Dr. María Elena Cepeda for this insightful approach.
  8. In Memory, The Heart (1937), Frida appears standing with one boat-shaped foot on water and the other on top of the ground, next to an enormous bleeding red heart. She is dismembered in the arms, each an extension of two separate pieces of clothing hanging from the sky by red cords. To highlight her emotional disturbance further, Frida’s heart is hollow, stabbed through by a wooden rod. Though the painting references Frida’s heartbreak after finding Diego Rivera was having an affair with her sister Christina, I argue that the juxtaposition of the dark blue sky filled with heavy rain clouds and Frida’s face, and that of Lyn’s face and heart filmed against a dark blue backdrop in Dona Lupe’s apartment after the limpia, is significant for Lyn’s future demise as she confronts her own affair with Johnny and her memories. http://www.kahlo.org/memory-the-heart/
  9. See Diana Taylor, Performance (Durham: Duke University Press), 127.
  10. Taylor, 131.
  11. I borrow the notion of a body-in-waiting from Sandra Ruiz’s conceptualization of endurance in her work Ricanness: Enduring Time in Anticolonial Performance (New York: New York University, 2019). According to Ruiz, endurance “is about laboring to eventually stare past the horizon with apprehension, longing, pain, and pleasure—no feeling invalidated by another in the long pursuit of liberation and continual existence” (12).
  12. All of the muck, filth inside (of you).
  13. See Deborah R. Vargas, “Rumination on Lo Sucio as a Latino Queer Analytic,” American Quarterly 66 no. 3 (2014): 717-18. Vargas notes that queer suciedad “offer a productive engagement with sites and performances of queer sex and sexuality that persistently violate, and at times, willfully fail to arrive to sexual intimacies produced through capital.”
  14. Vargas, 715.
  15. See Kristie Soares “Incomodando: On the Role of Bothering in Rita Indiana’s Speculative Work” (2019) (http://asapjournal.com/incomodando-on-the-role-of-bothering-in-rita-indianas-speculative-work-kristie-soares/). Soares uses incomodar (to make uncomfortable; bothersome) as an affective strategy, noting how “bothering is a slow process that can eventually incite a rupture. Incomodando is a way of holding power accountable.”
  16. Queerceañera was coined by one of the writers of the show. Lyn notes in various occasions that she “only hires Latinx acts” for the bar.
  17. Vargas notes that these messy and smelly traces “sediment through inheritances of the sensorial traces of everyone and everything that creates a splendid accumulation,” and contemplate differently the structural processes aimed at sanitizing and cleaning up the class disenfranchised queers of color by considering alternative configurations of presence and existence” (724). For more on ephemera, see José Esteban Muñoz, “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Acts” Women and Performance 8, no. 2 (1996): 5-16, DOI: 10.1080/07407709608571228
  18. As Soares notes of speculative texts in specific and Vargas’s lo sucio in general, “the fact that lo sucio incomoda [filth bothers] helps us account for why certain speculative texts might posit a future that seems, to some, bothersome.”
  19. Though this is outside of the scope of this article, I want to be clear about the LatinX here. I do not deploy upper case X to imply that it is inclusive of everyone, because difference matters; nor do I use LatinX to assume a collective identity that we are all now a monolithic (Latinx does not do this either, I argue; it is a gender-inclusive term as opposed to “Latino”). Instead, X as a critical hermeneutic seeks to understand LatinX as an analytic imbued with X’s uncertainty and potentiality, but also in its potential reification of crossing out specificity dependent on context and who deploys the X. X does not simply obscure or hide; it can uncover and highlight and hence expose the very gender binary and patriarchy X seems to obscure.
  20. It is worth noting the racist naming of the bar “La Chinita,” literally meaning littler Chinese. In season 1, episode 4, a high angle shot shows Emma walking underneath the sign “La Chinita,” telling Eddy “It’s racist.” Eddy replies, “¿Cómo que racist? It’s historic. It like honors the Japanese culture.” Emma confounded by this sign and Eddy’s reply, states “I know some people around here are okay with casual racism, running around calling all Asians ‘Chinos,’ but I am not; it has to come down.” Interrupting this Asian racialization permeating in the Latinx community is not only necessary, but a demonstration of how re-racialization occurs “casually” and historically in specific contexts by Latinos (See Tomas Almaguer, “Race, Racialization, and Latino Populations” in Racial Formation in the Twenty-First Century edited by Daniel Martinez HoSang, Oneka LaBennett, and Laura Pulido [Oakland: University of California Press, 2012]). Eventually, a high angle shot shows two construction workers on a ladder replacing the anti-Asian racist sign with a heart-shaped signed with the words “Vida,” the rebranding Emma and Lyn decided on for the bar.
  21. I use Latino instead of Latinx for Nelson in Vida because he is male-identified, which specifically notes his positionality in relation to the neighborhood and others in the show. Trujillo-Pagán states that the X in LatinX is “not only imposed in a masculinist fashion that obscures patriarchy,” but it also “hides the myriad ways we’re shaped by different positions we have in the battle against the gender binary.” Thus, being specific about Nelson as Latino is crucial, as is my usage of X as a hermeneutic to content with patriarchy and not cross it out. I would thus say: I use X as an analytic to understand Latino developer Nelson’s porqueria as he gentrifies the Latinx neighborhood.
  22. See Alicia Gaspar de Alba, [Un]Framing the “Bad Woman”: Sor Juana, Malinche, Coyolxauhqui, and Other Rebels with a Cause (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014).
  23. In these scenes of the pilot episode, much is happening during the span of a single day including the utterances of “whitetina” (white and Latina), the inconsiderate appropriation of Lyn’s “Aztec jewelry” store and the racist bar’s name “La Chinita.” In season 2, episode 7 Lyn and Marcos (Tonatiuh) device a plan to get back at Nelson. One could read their move as porqueria; yet, as I have analyzed, porqueria in its animative state moves through the body and resurfaces elsewhere, creating mess and muck to mean something else. Porqueria here in Lyn’s and Marco’s plan is only a gaze back at Nelson for his swindling move towards Emma and the neighborhood. Profound tension and secrecy animate through porqueria as it is affectively present among characters and their relations to space and time.
Laura (Lau) Malaver
Lau Malaver is a PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. Their research interests include critical race and cultural social theory, queer and trans of color critiques, women of color feminisms, affect, relationality, performance studies and theory, and de/post/anti-colonial thinking. Their work appears in Chiricú Journal, Decolonizing Latinx Masculinities, The Acentos Review, and Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Lau is a performer and fiction writer.