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A Tijuana tourist prop, the donkey cart is a bizarre symbol of tourist border culture.  In the photos produced, tourists pose with live donkeys painted with zebra stripes, wearing hats that read things like “Cisco kid”, “caramba” and “drunk again”.  As a mixed child (Chicana and white), I interacted with the donkey carts while traveling in Mexico with my father.  The carts evoke memories of feeling out of place.  On one of our trips to Mexico a cruise ship docked in a town we were visiting and tourists from the ship disembarked. Several of them began to take my photograph.  At the time I was unable to articulate or comprehend what was happening and my feelings about it.  In retrospect this is an example of something that has happened often and always made me feel ill at ease.   I unintentionally raised the question of authenticity by being made in to a token and providing the perfect vacation photo, a little “Mexican” girl on display.  In the moment of confusion filled with assumptions over identity and representation I felt voiceless.  The Donkey cart mimics my experience of tokenization by appearing as a supposedly genuine artifact, one that tourists are allowed to read as a simple truth rather than a complex reflection of historical relationships between tourist and Tijuanenses.  Objects like the donkey cart exist for the purposes of entertainment and commerce in the tourist market.  But who is the joke on?  The tourist who is willing to pay for a photo on the donkey/zebra wearing a hat that reads “drunk-ass” or is it the person who pushes the cart, offering an exploitive misrepresentation of them selves.  For whose pleasure and at who’s expense are these images?

Through work with my own donkey cart I challenge these failed representations of human identity and culture in an attempt to salvage power and voice from what feels like a forced identification with a false identity.  In the Tijuana tourist tradition I invite the public to be photographed riding a fake donkey with the misplaced paraphernalia and signage of their choice.  The participants are prompted to mislabel them selves according to past experience of being misidentified.  The tensions that exist in my fascination with problematic symbols such as the donkey cart are teased out in a playful manner during the process of image production.  The donkey cart contributes to demeaning and lasting stereotypes about Mexicans, dumb, dirty and drunk. Yet I feel compelled to love and joyfully engage with these objects and challenge their message at the same time.  The donkey cart posses a tremendous potential to expose its own lies and absurdity.

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