August 13, 2012

Carmelita Tropicana is a performance artist and writer. Her latest multimedia work Post Plastica, a collaboration with Ela Troyano, premiered June 2012 at El Museo del Barrio in New York City. Her plays include: Memorias de la Revolución and The Conquest of Mexico as Seen Through the Eyes of Hernando Cortez’s Horse. Her book, I, Carmelita Tropicana: Performing Between Cultures, was published by Beacon Press in 2000.

What's your earliest Olympic memory?

Nadia Comenici in 1976. And a Cuban boxer when I was young. I rooted for the Cuban. I had trouble figuring out who I would root for and what that meant in terms of identity and loyalty. I wrote about it in my performance Milk of Amnesia. [“When the Olympics are on I’m at a loss as to who to root for … No, not really. I root for Cuba. Why? Is it that I’m for the underdog and that if I’m in the US I am more Cuban, and if I’m in Cuba I’m more American?”]

How excited do you get about the Summer Games: Eager? Hyperventilating? Meh?

Medium excitement. I enjoy watching the opening ceremony. The Beijing Olympics set the bar for Olympic ceremonies and the theatricality of it. It was exciting to think how one could top the Beijing Opening Ceremony.

Which events that you particularly enjoy watching? (Or, if you don't like the Olympics, what do you do instead in August?)

The girls’ gymnastics; the swimmers, both men and women; women’s volleyball; synchronized swimming; the diving. Special interest stories like the “Blade Runner” paraplegic athlete [South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius] who was able to compete.

Are there any sports you watch only during the Olympics?

I seldom watch sports. I used to watch tennis but don’t any more. I enjoy going to Super Sunday parties and watching the entertainment portion—the halftime show and the commercials.

If you ran the International Olympic Committee, what sport would you add/get rid of? What rule would you change?

There’s a ribbon sport [rhythmic gymnastics] I don’t quite get, though it must be difficult. The dressage competition I wasn’t aware of until Mitt Romney’s horse was in it. Dressage seems like something just for the elite who can afford a horse; most people can’t.

What do you think of NBC's Olympic coverage? Or do you watch the Olympics in Spanish?

It’s been okay, though Bob Costas is rather dull. I like Brian Williams much better. I’ve never watched the Olympics in Spanish.

What athletes will you be rooting for?

I’m rooting for the US girl gymnasts, especially Gabby Douglas. And I’m interested in Michael Phelps because of how many medals he’s won but not necessarily in rooting for him.

Other than the United States, which countries do you cheer for?

I’m less likely to root for the Chinese as a team, unless a particular athlete is personable, interesting. I do tend to root for the underdog, so Latin Americans, Caribbeans, and Africans in the running and boxing competitions.

Overall, are the Olympics a good thing, or a waste of time and money? An instrument of peace or of nationalist zeal?

I think of them as a diversion, entertainment. It’s a competition between nations—US vs. China, two super powers—but done through sports. It does spur nationalistic zeal, but I don’t think it’s a waste of money. It’s amazing to see the tenacity of athletes, their sacrifice. The body is really quite a beautiful machine capable of incredible feats, and that is quite something to watch. I like that it’s a global event.

If you could have a ticket to one Olympic event in London, what would it be?

Women’s gymnastics or Michael Phelps swimming.

“Olympic Talk with Carmelita Tropicana,” by Bill Vourvoulias.

From “London Recalling,” the August 13, 2012, issue of V as in Victor.

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