Artist Jennifer Tamayo talks Dora the Explorer and Dreamers

Colombian-born writer and activist Jennifer Tamayo. (Photo courtesy of Poetry Foundation)
Colombian-born writer and activist Jennifer Tamayo. (Photo courtesy of Poetry Foundation)

Jennifer Tamayo sat with a long white sheet draped over her front and neatly spread in front of her.  As audience members filled the Poetry Foundation’s reading room, she scribbled the Gloria Anzaldua quote “THE WORLD IS NOT A SAFE PLACE TO LIVE” across her chest. 

“What is white subjectivity?” Tamayo asked once the audience was settled.  “What is the white subject?  Write it on my body.”  Then again, to the hesitant audience, “I know it sounds like I’m reading a poem, but I’m not.”  She asked each person to come up and write their thoughts surrounding white subjectivity on the white sheet with marker pens.  Tamayo projected images of Dora the Explorer behind her.  She singled out audience members who did not volunteer to participate.

Tamayo is a Colombian-born writer, artist and activist based in New York City. She is the managing editor for Futurepoem, an independent press publishing contemporary poetry and prose.  She has authored multiple books of poetry, including her most recent collection “YOU DA ONE.”  She is introduced as a writer who utilizes “spam emails, text speak, memes, English, Spanish and Spanglish to create a new language.”

After each person wrote on her sheet, she launched into what she called “Dream Act Part One,” read from her iPhone.  Tamayo’s reading style includes a pastiche of voices, bits sung and spoken in a robotic voice, a mish mash of English and Spanish.  She parodied legal documents, reading, “Alien Jennifer Baaaarf Tamayo is ineligible for white cock status.” In the same piece, she sang in a thick accent, “Everything’s free in Amer-i-ca/For a small fee in Amer-i-ca.”

Tamayo invited audience participation, at one point prompting an a capella sing-along to Madonna’s “Borderline,” which she dedicated to her mother, who immigrated to the United States with Tamayo illegally.

Later, she read a poem in call-and-response style with a video featuring clips from the children’s television show Dora the Explorer.  She sat a small Dora piñata in her lap and read a piece about Freud’s Dora case study of hysteria, putting the two Doras in dialogue with one another.  After the performance, she explains that to her both Doras represent female bodies ventriloquized by men.

“Dreamers, you come here with your hearts open,” Tamayo read.  To close the performance, she tore the Dora piñata apart on stage, then got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the floor with the written-on white sheet to “Borderline.”

In the question portion, she explained her interest in Dora the Explorer as a cipher for undocumented immigrants.  Tamayo posited that Americans love Dora in as much as she can be “milked for her goodness,” but the real bodies she represents are not loved.  She explained that she was undocumented herself until she was 18, and that the Dream Act could benefit 1.8 million undocumented immigrants in America.  Tamayo said she hopes to ultimately re-appropriate Dora as a magical, transformative witch in her art praxis.