This week I am so very pleased to interview one of the founders of Mangos with Chili, Cherry Galette. They are on tour with the final four dates, read about them and if you are in the area go and see them!
Miz Chris [MC]:
Where are you from?
Cherry Gallete [CG]:
Cherry was born to a family of music makers and farmworkers in rural Washington state. After stints in other parts of the US, Cherry came to Oakland 8 years ago.
Leah was born to a gay Sri Lankan dad and a working class white trauma mom in Worcester, MA, grew up in the rust belt, got college in New York in the 90s, ran away to Toronto/ unceded Missisauga of New Credit territories from 1997-2007, and have lived between the Bay and Toronto since.
We came to the Bay Area to learn from and contribute to the amazing QTPOCTS (Queer and Trans People of Color) art and culture made here. We don’t know if we will be in the Bay Area forever- gentrification and cultural and economic displacement are factors that affect us like they are affecting all of our communities- but we are committed to the project continuing in new places and in new manifestations and evolutions as our lives, migrations, and artistic paths evolve.
How did Mangos with Chili start?
Once upon a time in an era long ago, in the time of Friendster and before cell phones or GPS, Leah and Cherry met one fated summer in San Francisco when they were both attending a retreat for artists of color, and visiting their then boos. Mangos With Chili was a dream hatched on corner store phone cards, Fruitvale tienditas selling the snack that is our namesake, and big visions of taking queer and trans people of color performance art to big stages. We knew that our community of art makers, our craft, and our beautiful stories of resilience and survival, deserved to be witnessed. We knew that our community deserved to come to spaces where they could feel home, be fully held, be celebrated, and see stories similar to their own reflected in creative work.
So in 2006, after many years of performing as solo
artists, and facing similar unsavory experiences with queer performance spaces that were mostly white, and people of color performance spaces that could be homo and transphobic, Cherry and Leah brought their dreams, sweat, and desire together to start planning a ten day tour that took the Northeast by storm.
Our breakout 2007 cabaret took 8 queer and trans performers of color working in different artistic genres to cities and stages throughout the Northeastern United States and Canada. With no core funding and mostly grassroots publicity, Mangos With Chili was a phenomenally successful project. We raised our budget through grassroots fundraising and door revenue, and were able to pay artists a fair wage, in addition to covering all travel and housing costs. The show packed world class theaters, underground performance spaces, and campus halls, including Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in Toronto, C-Space in Cleveland, Swarthmore College, Cattyshack in New York, The Black Repertory Theater of Providence, Theatre Juste por Rire in Montreal, rural Northeast stages and more. Audiences everywhere thanked us for both the high caliber of work and the life-saving importance of the testimonies we shared through our art. We were completely blown away by the tour’s unexpected success- how night after night community and university spaces were packed to capacity with folks who had learned about the shows from word of mouth and were hungry for more. (Even though Leah thought we could definitely fit seven people in a six seater minivan. We have since learned that when it comes to tour rigs, being a size queen is everything).
In our early years not only did we have no core funding, we barely had working computers. During our first two tours we relied on a huge paper atlas of North America to find our way around (the atlas has now moved on to become part of our archives!). We paid for gas out of pass-the-hat donations as gas prices began to soar. But we did it. We found a way. We made magic happen. We made shows that are gorgeous healing spaces, that people talk about years later.
At the time of MWC’s founding, Leah lived in unceded Missisauga of New Credit territories/Toronto, and Cherry was completing a revisit to the rural immigrant community in the Northwest she grew up in, and was about to move to Oakland. Between 2006 and 2007 as we relocated to the Bay Area, we began to create and produce artistic work in the Bay. Some of our signature shows were created during this time – Encuentros, which featured stories from immigrant and first generation queer artists, Beloved, which took place in October and honored our QTPOC dead, and Whipped, which is our show about the many manifestations of queer love. We also had many opportunities to present work in the National Queer Arts Festival, and used this as an opportunity to launch new shows in addition to our signature shows. During this time we also continued to tour. We followed our inaugural tour with 2008’s Queer Borderlands Tour, and 2009’s Stunning South Tour. We took a break from intense touring following the 2009 tour – we were tired, had some really hard stuff to sort through, and needed to figure out future directions, and Cherry was recovering from being hit by a truck – but we did brief stints in different geographic areas between 2010-13.
What is the vision for Mangos with Chili?
Our vision is to provide big stages for qtpoc artists to showcase and develop their work. For QTPOC and other folks to see QTPOC stories and performance in big, luscious complexity.
Mangos With Chili is a touring, performance art incubator committed to showcasing high
quality artistic work of life saving importance by queer and trans artists of color. Our goal is to produce high-quality multi-genre performances reflecting the lives and stories of queer and trans people of color that speak out in resistance to the daily struggles around silence, isolation, homophobia, transphobia, and violence that QTPOC face.
Beyond being a performance incubator, we have come to think of ourselves also as a ritual space for queer and trans communities of color to come together in love, conversation and transformation. Our goal is to present high quality performance art by QTPOC, but so much of our work is also about creating healing and transformative space through performances that are gathering places for QTPOC community.
We root in our belief that we can make stages into sites of freedom, healing and transformation through shared story and art. We don’t control a lot all the time, but when you have a stage for a few hours, it can be a place where we dream back to what our ancestors knew or imagine new futures. We can create a microcosm of the communities we want to live in. We know we are both ancient and breathtakingly new. That poetry and dance are far from a luxury. That our ancestors survived through song, poetry and story, mapping freedom trails and envisioning new ways of being beyond survival. And as we remember them by dancing in their memory, we do the same.
Why do you travel the show?
Because we love touring! Even though it is exhausting and crazy making and the van gets real full of old hummus, it is so worth it. Because queer trans and two spirit Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities all over are hungry for the show. We’re 1/3 through our 2014 tour, are visiting the pacific northwest for the first time, and have heard from so many people that they have literally been waiting to see the show for years – that our show is healing and empowering and magic and life giving and that witnessing stories that are our own changes lives for realsies.
Also we feel it’s important to bring the work to different cities and communities and build with qtpoc across the country. There is beauty and power in seeing how our communities are living, surviving, and thriving.
What do you hope for this year’s Mangos with Chili?
To bring people together – Cherry recently met a qpoc couple in New Orleans who had met at our 2009 show there and had been together since. And when we say bring people together we mean not just in the romantic or sexy sense. There is deep power in our beautiful qtpoc bodies, stories, lives, and dreams come together.
We also just wanna tell some bomb, complicated love stories, sex stories, disaster stories that will heal folks and tell folks some shit they really need to hear.
Half our crew this tour id’s as disabled, sick and/or crazy, and it has been so.freaking.amazing to centralize Disabled queer and trans POC love and sex stories. So good. So needed.
We also hope that folks see their truths reflected in the works on our stage.
Also, some of us wanna get laid. And some of us already have.
Tour Dates Remaing:
New Orleans: https://www.facebook.com/events/414412678690117/
And IG: http://instagram.com/mangoswithchili
* This is reprinted from the Miz Chris column in Oakland Local