Decolonizing Experimentalisms at the Borderlands

Since 2010, the annual festival Gatas y Vatas has functioned as a platform where cis and trans women, genderqueer and non-binary performers engage in decolonial practices. The festival was initiated by young Hispanic women as an attempt to counteract the white male dominance of Albuquerque’s music scenes. While performers are not restricted to particular musical styles, most of the recurring artists engage with sound experimentation that challenges any given categorization. Performers at Gatas y Vatas, which translates as “lady cats and gals,” embrace a collective identification as gatas and vatas through engaging in a cultural exercise of resistance and belonging. During the course of the festival they cultivate safe spaces for individual and social healing through sound.

By focusing on experimental practices at the US-Mexico border I intend to bring attention to the border as a space of cultural negotiation and resignification—as an in-between state of contradictory identity discourses, where traditions are constantly reconfigured—while focusing on the local specificities of the New Mexican experience. Drawing from ethnographic research, in this paper I explore the ways in which the practices fostered in Gatas y Vatas are tied to decolonizing efforts to contest US mainstream oppressive social codes. From a peripheral position, the performative actions of the Gatas enact decolonial experimentalisms and present a counter-hegemonic strategy to disrupt racial, class, and gender normativities. The result is a community-oriented experimental platform that has reached levels of inclusion and group solidarity rarely seen in experimental music circles.


Ana Alonso-Minutti is associate professor of music and faculty affiliate of the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico. Her research interests include experimental and avant-garde expressions, music traditions from Mexico and the US-Mexico border, music history pedagogy, intersectionality, feminism, religion, and decolonial methodologies. She is coeditor (with Herrera and Madrid) of Experimentalisms in Practice: Music Perspectives from Latin America (Oxford UP, 2018), and her book Mario Lavista and Musical Cosmopolitanism in Late Twentieth-Century Mexico is under contract by Oxford UP. Her work has been published in Mexico, Argentina, and the U.S., and her video documentary, Cubos y permutaciones: plástica, música y poesía de vanguardia en México, was exhibited at the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City in 2017. She holds a B.A. in music from the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in musicology from the University of California, Davis.