“Marimacha” Laughs its Way Through Representation of Latine, Black, and Queer Characters
I grew up being called marimacha before I hit puberty because I was a tomboy at heart. I loved wearing pants, sneakers, t-shirts and hated dresses and dress shoes. I felt comfortable skateboarding, playing soccer, and climbing trees. I could hear the whispers of my family members calling me marimacha and hinting at what my life was to be if I didn’t change. See, there are certain social norms that Hispanic and Latine women might oblige by, such as getting married to a man and having children with him. By these Hispanic and Latine norms, liking what boys liked categorized you as a possible marimacha, meaning lesbian. Thirty years ago, coming out in Latine households was not acceptable, so family members were not okay with me acting like a boy even though I am straight. Fortunately, we have progressed greatly since the late eighties and early nineties—yet coming out, especially to Hispanic and Latine families, is still a struggle.
The short film “Marimacha” by Darrel Alejandro Holnes was one of the short-form comedy pieces showcased as part of the Latinx Theatre Commons (LTC) 2022 Comedy Carnaval in Denver, Colorado. As more than one hundred Latine artists gathered at Su Teatro’s theatre to see the last selection of pieces from the Carnaval—after two days of non-stop readings, monologues, performances, and stand-up comedy—“Marimacha” opened the morning slot. Directed by Cami Cruz Thomas, “Marimacha” combined situational and observational comedy. It drew from family relationships as well the characters’ everyday lives and Latine societal norms. But what makes this story unique is how it represents Latine Blackness and queerness: a rare intersectional focus in Latine theatre, and even rarer in theatre more broadly. Through laughter and recognition of Blackness and queerness in the film, audiences see how these two identities intersect under the umbrella of Latinidad.
I giggled every time Linda spoke because she represents the typical Latine mom.
“Marimacha” opens on a mechanic (Bryan Edison) fixing a car. Inside the car, an Afro-Panamanian family of three is on their way to a wedding. Of course, the first words out of Linda’s (Florinda Bryant) mouth were asking why her daughter, Paola (Hannah De Oliveira), isn’t bringing a male date and wondering who at the wedding she could hook her up with. Solution—a third cousin!
Bryant and Jose Febus' performances as Paola’s parents are key to comedy of the film, especially in the beginning. It is in the delivery of their lines and the looks on their faces while they share everyday Latine societal conventions like not wanting to talk about women’s bodies but talking about them anyway. If you grew up in a Latine household, you absolutely recognized Linda’s constant nagging. I giggled every time Linda spoke because she represents the typical Latine mom, always trying to hook her daughter up with a man, hoping she will get married soon and have kids.
But Linda is in for a surprise, as Paola has different plans. As the discussion goes back and forth, Linda and Alfredo ask Paola to find a picture of such-and-such on Facebook, and a sexually explicit picture from Paola’s ex-girlfriend pops up on her phone. This outs her to her parents. The audience then sees how each of these parents takes the news, whether they accept it or not.
While this moment might not seem funny to Paola, the audience can’t help but laugh because it probably reminds them of home and their own families. In this case, Alfredo (Jose Febus) delivers the funniest line. Earlier, Paola kept asking to be let out of the car to pee so that she would not have to deal with her parents’ nagging, and Alfredo would not let her out. When Paola outs herself, Alfredo immediately says, “Go pee!” as Linda starts to fake cry. Alfredo’s face as he says these words—coupled with the immediate fake cry from Linda—made me laugh because I know this scenario all too well. But what will the outcome be here?
Statistically, Latine parents are not always accepting of their queer kids. Recent data from a 2020 Center for American Progress and the Arcus Foundation found that Latine folks were the least accepting of queer people as compared to the general population of the United States. Additionally, more than two-thirds of Hispanics (68 percent) identify as Roman Catholic according to a 2007 study, and the Catholic Church considers homosexual actions to be wrong and sinful. “A lot of gay and lesbian Latinxs are out in English but not in their Spanish-speaking church,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, the largest national movement of LGBTQIA+ Catholics and allies. This contributes to the internalized homophobia that exists in within our culture. In a survey conducted by the Williams Institute in 2021, 61 percent of Latine folks surveyed indicated they experienced “a lot” of discrimination towards LGBTQIA+ individuals in their racial community, in comparison to 43 percent of African Americans, and 27 percent of whites.
This language barrier can make it difficult for people to find words to define who they are or express their true identity to their loved ones.
People who are both Latine and LGBTQ also face challenges in expressing sexual or gender identity. In Spanish, some terms don’t exist or have negative connotations. Take the discourse around the words “Latinx” and “Latine” as an example. For the past decade, not all Latine folks have come to terms with either term and refuse to accept them, even though “Latine” and “Latinx” are nongender terms that include folks existing outside the gender binary. Then, there are English words like “queer” or “genderqueer” that do not have literal Spanish translations. Instead, they have translations like “marimacha” or “maricón,” which come with negative connotations. This language barrier can make it difficult for people to find words to define who they are or express their true identity to their loved ones. So when the title of a film is “Marimacha,” one might automatically associate the negative stereotypes associated with that word; but “Marimacha” flips the script, and the characters take ownership of it, proud and loud.
In “Marimacha,” Alfredo and Linda turn out to be the exception to these norms. Linda comes in full circle towards the end of the piece. Instead of trying to couple Paola up with a guy, she is now trying to find a new partner for Paola—but this time, a marimacha. She is breaking the heteronormative Latine stereotype of coupling women to only men.
Ultimately, Linda also breaks away from traditional Latine cultural values and gender roles. A lot of Latine folks live in bicultural families with traditional Latine cultural values such as the strict gender roles like machismo or familismo, which emphasize male dominance and connections to the family above all. Familismo can be tough because it is all about the image of family above all. The saying, “¿Que diran los vecinos?” (“What will the neighbors say?”) can become more important than supporting one’s family member coming out. The Genforward survey of 2022 found that 42 percent of Latines believe that the acceptance of homosexuality diminishes societal morals—another way of saying traditional Latine cultural norms.
Paola admits she did not want to come out this way. This was not what she planned, but she had no other option. Her parents saw a picture of her ex-girlfriend’s clitoris in a text, and there was no undoing that. They were going to keep asking questions until there were clear answers. It was simply easier to come out. While we’ve been quickly introduced to these characters, we do not necessarily know about their intimate relationships with one another. It is clear they care for one another and respect one another, but I would have liked to have seen what made Paola feel comfortable enough to come out. At first she is distraught and doesn’t want to, but then she just does. I wonder if it is cultural. Is it a representation of the relationships in AfroPanamanian families and the trust they build with one another?
In this way, intersectionality between queerness and Black representation is important in this short film, especially since these characters are AfroPanamanian. We do not have enough plays or films about AfroPanamanian families in the United States. To widen the spectrum, we don’t even have enough Latine stories of parents accepting their queer kids—and even fewer AfroLatine or AfroPanamanian. Thus, these characters critically serve as intersectional representations of intact families and queerness.
The characters’ race matters when talking about Latine representation, especially when these parents embrace and accept their daughter’s queerness.
In Amanda Alcantara’s recent article about the cancelation of the film Batgirl starring AfroLatina actor Leslie Grace, Alcantara said,
“Our [AfroLatina] absence has dire consequences. The world of television and entertainment is a mirror of society, defining beauty standards and influencing our perception of self. I know this personally. When I was a kid, the underrepresentation of Black women in TV and film affected my self-esteem. I often felt that I was ugly and wished to have green eyes or straight hair. This was the image that I saw on the screen. This is what I learned was beautiful, what had star potential. I’m not alone.”
Alcantara speaks for not just herself, but for the Black Latinas seeking representation on and off the screen. While “Marimacha” is not explicitly about race, it is totally about race. The characters’ race matters when talking about Latine representation, especially when these parents embrace and accept their daughter’s queerness. It is a celebration wrapped in comedy. Holnes said, “We have to laugh when we can. Love each other when we can.” This story does exactly that.
After Paola is outed, Alfredo saves the day by sharing that he actually had an aunt who was queer. He goes on to deliver important lines like “secrets are what you keep from strangers” and “our lesbian daughter can still give us grandchildren.” He and Linda represent the new wave of Latine parents opening their arms and accepting their queer kids. The National Council of La Raza and Social Science Research Solutions recently released a report, LGBT Acceptance and Support: The Hispanic Perspective, showing an increase in tolerance within the Hispanic and Latine community. The study found that many Latine queer folks have recently experienced more tolerant families and communities. Maybe this has to do with more and more proud queer Latine icons and changemakers such as Adriane DeBose, Colman Domingo, MJ Rodriguez, Indya Moore, Tessa Thompson—or even Ritche Torres, the first gay AfroLatine person to be elected to Congress.
However, the Human Rights Campaign’s 2018 Latinx LGBTQ Youth Report shows that the process is still complicated and difficult for Latine folks, especially youth. Many face challenges such as mental health and homelessness as a consequence of coming out. That is why this film is so important: coming out is still a personal choice, and isn’t easy. My hope is that “Marimacha” will not be a singular story of coming out safely with a healthy outcome and a supportive family. Latine folks still have a long way to go in terms of representation, but the more we normalize Latine, Black, and queer stories, the more we can help change societal norms. Holnes understands this, too. When asked why he wrote “Marimacha,” Holnes said, “To get it out there and for the next generation,” because “coming out is the first step in healing.”