College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

Graduation Date


Document Type


Department/Program Conferring Degree

Critical Ethnic Studies


mixed-race, circus, blackness, feminism, art


Elizabeth Fei situates Miss Lala, the subject of Degas’ “Miss Lala at the Cirque Fernando” painting to recenter Lala’s racially mixed body as a crucial site for understanding how discourses of race and gender manifested then and continue to manifest. Using images, articles, and recollections of her act, Fei recovers Lala’s subjectivity by drawing on three main aspects of Lala’s identity: her black womanhood, her circus performances, and her multiraciality. Fei contends that to configure Lala as a mixed race figure allows for all of the possible ways she might have identified to emerge as it is dexterous and adjustable by nature. This exercise, she argues, primes us for the work needed in scholarship activism.