Musical chairs: Performances and/of identities in a community arts center




Pople, Elizabeth A.

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The research explored the role of music and identity construction through an ethnographic examination of the relationships established among participants at music performances held at a Latino/a community arts and activism center, the Comunidad Unida (United Community) Community Arts Center (CUCAC). A detailed review of literature established that within transnational or borderlands contexts music served as an important outlet for the construction and performance of identity. In an attempt to gain a more comprehensive and qualitative perspective than prior studies, the research methodology consisted of participant observations at concerts and events featuring musical performances, as well as in-depth semi-structured interviews with eighteen participants (seven event staff, seven audience members, and five performers).

An analysis of both the interviews and observations revealed that music events provided both a context and message for promoting solidarity among community members. While participants identified the theme of community and subthemes of family, complex (Latino/a)identity, space, and politics in their descriptions, these descriptions were reliant upon the context of the events and center itself. The complexity of identity also depended on the center for context, in that no one common identifier was given for the center across or within the groups. This implied that the center was recognized as an imagined community of many disparate groups connected by the center's mission. Lastly, the way participants related to and understood the center also depended upon level of participation. To have a positive experience, participants felt that continued and lasting participation was necessary. The frequency would allow participants to become familiar with one another and promote the feelings of solidarity. These findings validated current perceptions of identity as fluid and contextually situated. They also offered a unique perspective on how imagined communities maintain solidarity across their often diverse and physically disconnected populations.


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Borderlands, Ethnography, Identity, Music, Performance, Transnationalism