In the comment section below, write a 250-words (minimum) response based on this question:
Explain the following quote from the essay and pick ONE of the case studies (Danielle Polanco, Rita Moreno, Rosie Perez, or Jennifer Lopez) to discuss how del Valle Schorske uses these examples to expand on her central argument:
“When changes in U.S. economic priorities have displaced Puerto Ricans from Puerto Rico itself, we’ve become backup bodies in cities like New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia. By the late 20th century, Puerto Ricans made up the largest “immigrant” group in New York City. Life hasn’t been much better stateside, but there is still an important sense in which the Puerto Rican pseudo-citizen moves dique freely in relation to her cousins in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America. She won’t be deported, exactly. Instead, she’ll spin in a perpetual motion machine.
All of these myths and policies converge on the body of the Puerto Rican backup dancer. The consolation prize for second-class citizenship — really, for lack of sovereignty — has been cultural nationalism. We can shimmy and shake all we like, get loud and proud about how well we do it. But even when the backup dancer gets to be a star, she’s on the blink, appearing and disappearing like the bright spot on the nocturnal satellite map before and after Hurricane Maria.”
Carina del Valle Schorskeis a writer and translator living between New York City and San Juan, Puerto Rico. She is currently at work on her first book, a psychogeography of Puerto Rican culture, forthcoming from Riverhead and tentatively titled NO ES NADA: Notes from the Other Island.
In this essay, Carina del Valle Schorske uses a lineage of Puerto Rican female “stars”, four case studies of former backup dancers in the US, to examine how the cultural industries sell aspects of Puerto Rican expression (for instance, the “sabor”, sensuality and urban poise of Boricua dancers) but for the most part, are not willing to give full artistic platforms to Puerto Ricans. She reads this long practice of cultural erasure and backup service as a symptom of the U.S. colonial oppression against Puerto Rico.
An analysis of the backup dancer (colonial subjects)
“Pop culture teaches us that backup dancers are beneath notice. They’re not real artists, and the pleasure we take in them is primitive. They are not suitable emissaries of culture, even if culture wouldn’t be any fun without them. There are no prominent prizes for video girls, no credit roll at the end of the concert naming names. When we pick favorites and mimic their moves, our mothers make sure we know not to aspire. Backup dancing is not aspirational; it’s a no-man’s-land where brown girls are liable to languish, underpaid, and overworked. It’s one wrong turn away from sex work.”
“I loved her for her low-slung baggy jeans and spangled bustier. I loved her for the wave arranged across her forehead, her sly smile, and most of all, of course, for the way she moved… What won my attention was an unusual liberty in her movement — unconfined, it seemed, by a tightly choreographed routine or proper place in the staged urban environment — and a looseness in her waistline I can’t help calling Spanish… I followed the current that ran up and down her torso, briefly electrifying each gesture as if it were a spoken phrase that would resolve into a statement. I wanted to know where the meaning would land.”
One Sentence Individual Discussion
Thinking of Omarion’s video as an analogy of Boricua women in the US, discuss in the chat the irony of Danielle Polanco as an object of desire and attention but only in the service of the singer’s interests.
“That’s how I spot her: Omarion’s video girl, in a red crop top, striped shorts, and gold sneakers, dancing with Bruno Mars in the January 2018 video for “Finesse.” It’s a tribute to In Living Color, and Danielle Polanco — this time I can say her name — is the Fly Girl the camera loves best, leaning out from the fire escape with her girls to call down to Bruno and his boys, a Tony-and-Maria moment made plural for our pleasure.”
“When the doors of Hollywood opened for Rita Moreno, they didn’t open for all her possibilities. They opened for a Slave Girl, an Indian Princess, a Dusky Maiden. It was one role, really: the temporary romantic interest of the white leading man led astray by her temptations before settling down with a suitable (read: white) wife… She’s on her heels, grabbing hold wherever her body touches the ground. Maybe Rita felt shadowed by the roles she’d been forced to play, unable to get out from under the sense of herself as an erotic extra. Or maybe she couldn’t escape the sense that her luck would always come at someone else’s expense”
“It is Anita, not Maria, who seems to summon the whole urban world into being with a swirl of her purple skirts and a clap of her hands: “Here,” said the New York Times review, “are the muscle and rhythm that bespeak a collective energy.” When I imagine a world ruled by Anitas, I get a festive feeling, as if I’m climbing the fire escape to the famous rooftop scene. I can almost smell the summer-softened tar, the beer going flat, the perfumed sweat rising as banter becomes music, becomes, suddenly, a dance battle.”
“On Soul Train Rosie was always trying to do the moves she’d learned back in the city: the Pee Wee Herman, the Roger Rabbit. At New York clubs like the Roxy and the Latin Quarter she had her eye on the male dancers “behind Whodini and Big Daddy Kane … all doing James Brown, Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, and the fabulous Nicholas Brothers moves, making them their own.” Don’s early objections to Rosie’s dancing took the form of gender management: “Nononono, you’re a girl!” Of course, the (imagined) friction between her conventional femme sexiness and her hip-hop intensity is what gave her performances heat. If her body was disciplined in a satin miniskirt, stockings, and a waist-cinching belt, her face was not: that self-possessed sneer.”
“If he let Rosie move however she wanted to move, she might roll up the next night with her entire hip hop block demanding a living wage. On the other hand, if he didn’t, she might leave. One night, that’s what she did: I walked back to the head of the line, paused, then strutted down as if I were Naomi Campbell on the runway, continued walking past Don to my seat, grabbed my things, and told him I was out.”
“Rosie isn’t really Tina yet, she’s Rosie, recognizable if you know her from Soul Train, and just a Puerto Rican girl dancing if you don’t. Soul Train’s practice of using amateurs to bring the energy of the street to the screen was being developed in new directions by MTV, and Spike Lee was making major contributions to the same culture. He wasn’t the first one to cast Rosie Perez from the club floor; her “realness” had become a hot commodity in the emerging hip-hop economy.”
“In an interview from 1998, Jennifer Lopez refers to Rita Moreno as “the original Fly Girl,” naming her the inadvertent matriarch of the Fly Girls featured on Keenen Wayans’s hip hop-driven variety show In Living Color, where Jennifer got her first big break. She shifts the focus from Rita’s moment of semi-stardom as Anita to imagine her in relation to a small collective of dancers, most of whom did not move on to fame and fortune.”
“When I think about the fact that Keenen Wayans refused, at first, to hire her as a Fly Girl — “called her chubby and corny” — I’m grateful to Rosie for fighting for that “big-ass beautiful girl from the Bronx” with the “star smile.” I like the footage from that period, especially a little promotional clip for Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” where Janet introduces her new dancers as “Jennifer, Shawn, and Nicky: three backed-up hoes!” It’s fun to watch Jennifer fire back, “Honey we’re here to wreck shop, what’s your problem?” Taken literally, the idiom suggests the end of buying and selling, the general damage “backed-up hos” intend to do with their dancing.”
Pick ONE of the following assignment options and post your answer in the comment section below:
Yarimar Bonilla and her collaborators argue that “a disaster is not a singular event but always an unfolding process.” Referring to at least two scenes, discuss how Aftershocks of Disaster makes the case for a complex understanding of climate and natural disasters in Puerto Rico. Analyze how US colonialism and governmental neglect (local and federal) are key factors to contextualize the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Pick ONE of the themes below and discuss how the activists, educators, journalists, and/or artists explain and offer solutions to these specific topics:
.Accepting and giving consent to colonial and imperial neglect (Minutes 6:20-9:50)
.Narrating the loss (Minutes 9:50-12:25)
.Media and the politics of representation (Minutes 12:25- 17:00)
.Diasporic support/documenting the relief efforts (Minutes 17:00-21:00)
.Creating a future for Puerto Rico/ Queer identities (Minutes 25:15-27:40)
.Food activism/mutual aid/ organizing a sustainable movement (Minutes 27:40-33:15)
Using either your own experience, that of your family or loved ones, describe how you (or your people) felt the “aftershocks of disaster” in Puerto Rico. Reflect and integrate at least two of the different perspectives presented by the documentary.
As we continue our examination of Afro-Boricua-Latina individual and collective identities it is important to do a back and forth between the archipelago of Puerto Rico and the US Puerto Rican diaspora. So far we have explored how our forms of knowledge and racialized experiences, bodies, and languages are usually neglected in the US and its institutions. We have seen also how Latina-Boricua thinkers, writers, and educators are actively defending and promoting a dignified presence in US society and claiming spaces in contemporary debates. Today we are going to dig deeper into the conversation about colonialism and coloniality and how current climate and governmental disasters and Puerto Rican migration waves are connected to more than 122 years of US imperialism in Puerto Rico.
Yarimar Bonilla is a public intellectual and a leading voice on Caribbean and Latinx politics. She is a Professor in the Department of Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Hunter College and in the Ph.D. Program in Anthropology at the Graduate Center, CUNY.
Bonilla teaches and writes about sovereignty, citizenship, and race across the Americas. She has written about anti-colonial movements in the French Caribbean, the role of digital protest in the Black Lives Matter movement and the politics of hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico.
The current earthquake “swarm” in Puerto Rico pushes us to expand this framework even further. In an earthquake swarm, there is no sense of a “main event” with smaller precursors and successors. Instead, you have a jumble of seismic events of disordered magnitudes, depths, epicenters, and consequences.
I’ve thus started to think that what Puerto Rico and many of its neighbors are experiencing might best be understood as a “disaster swarm,” with hurricanes, earthquakes, debt crisis, migratory crisis, imperial violence, austerity governance, and other forms of structural and systemic violence all acting as a disordered jumble upon a collective body that cannot distinguish a main event or a discrete set of impacts.
Maria had a strong impact, ripping the veil off Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship to the United States—particularly for those living outside of the island, but even to some living there. But that unveiling process had been underway since 2016, with the declaration of the debt crisis, the determination that Puerto Ricans could not declare bankruptcy, and a series of Supreme Court rulings that made it patently clear that the island’s commonwealth status did not offer any measure of sovereignty.
These events had started to peel away the facade of Puerto Rico as a decolonized place. People of my generation and older were taught that in the 1950s we had been decolonized through the creation of the Commonwealth, or Estado Libre Asociado. Although there were those who questioned this notion, and there had always been an anti-colonial movement, the promise of prosperity and the escape valve created by migration had long cloaked the enduring relationships of colonialism.
People talk about how Maria ripped leaves off trees and, metaphorically, off Puerto Rico’s colonial relationship to the US. The storm made our vulnerability and our unequal relationship to the United States undeniable.
RCJ: Much of the popular commentary on the botched relief efforts or Trump’s neglect of Puerto Rico after Maria, has centered on this insistent declaration that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and that Puerto Ricans, by extension, are US citizens. Do you find statements to this effect to be useful politically or for your intellectual project as a scholar?
YB: No, I feel like those statements occlude more than they reveal, because when people say, “Oh, these are US citizens,” the implication is that they should be treated otherwise because of that designation. But the fact is that Puerto Ricans are actually second-class colonial citizens, and their citizenship is working just as intended. The limits placed on their citizenship are (as they say in the tech industry) not a bug, but a feature.
Puerto Rico was strategically placed on a separate track, as an incorporated territory that was barred from becoming a state. The category of the unincorporated territory was created precisely to bar access to the full rights and guarantees of US citizenship. I repeatedly say that when allies feel the need to assert that Puerto Ricans are US citizens, they should instead ask themselves if what really needs to be asserted is that the US is an empire. When folks feel understandably upset over how Puerto Ricans are treated, they should ask themselves: “Why does the US have territories? Why is the US an empire, and how does it continue to benefit from that reality?”
YB: In recent years, there has been a rising consciousness as to how global capitalism has led to the current climate crisis, but it’s important to stress that this is grounded in racial-colonial logics. The ability to claim jurisdiction and conquer territory based on ideas of civilizational hierarchy laid the groundwork for environmental destruction.
Rethinking sovereignty is thus key not only for decolonizing decolonization but also for decolonizing our relationship to the environment—by moving beyond settler (and masculinist) logics of conquest. Although decolonization and climate change might seem like disconnected issues, they both require us to think beyond the conceptual limits of the imperial nation-state. In both instances, we need to move from a logic of borders to a logic of entanglement.
How do you understand a logic of entanglement regarding Puerto Rico?
In her personal essay, Jaquira Díaz suggests that instead of criminalizing students “teachers might de-escalate situations rather than involving the police, prioritizing their black and brown students’ emotional wellbeing and physical safety, as they do with white children.”
Similarily in her fictional story, “Holyoke Mass.: An Ethnography,” Ivelisse Rodriguez contextualizes the cycles of violence, poverty, and neglect endured by her characters and by Puerto Ricans in the US when she reproduces an ethnography that says, for instance:
“The last to arrive, to work in the tobacco fields, were the Puerto Ricans. They came in the fifties. Not the fifties memorialized on TV. These people came to work. Not in offices. No clean, crisp, white shirts at the end of the day. No nices home to return to by six’o clock. No doting wives. The came to work with their hands. Maybe just like they did in Puerto Rico. Tobacco instead of sugar cane. By the time they came, though, everything was almost gone. All the promise. All the upward spirals. All the paper like gold.” (Page 45)
Rodriguez’s story takes this backdrop into consideration to portrait the entrapments experienced by Veronica, a 15-year-old Puerto Rican during the late 90s. In the story, Veronica experiences how gender and ethnic labels constraint her identity, educational prospects, physical and emotional well-being.
Pick ONE of the following assignment options and post your answer in the comment section below:
Integrating Jaquira Díaz’s arguments analyze the scene at Miss O’Donnell’s classroom in “Holyoke Mass.: An Ethnography” (pages 31-34). Discuss how Miss O’Donnell’s ethnic and gender bias creates an atmosphere of rejection that affects Puerto Rican girls like Veronica.
Thinking of the social analysis articulated in both pieces, discuss how in Rodriguez’s story, Veronica starts to recognize that her possibilities of social, educational, economic, and gender mobility are disappearing.
Pick ONE of the topics listed below, and discuss how these issues are presented by Rodriguez in her story, and how do you relate to these conflicts. Have you experienced something similar? How did you approach the situation? How did you navigate and resisted systemic oppression?
.lack of resources and stimulus for the youth
.the criminalization of Latina/o/x youth
.patriarchal (machista) dynamics in love relationships
Jaquira Díaz is a Puerto Rican fiction writer, essayist, journalist, cultural critic, and contributor to many notable periodicals.
The world isn’t kind to black and brown girls, or black and brown women, especially when they come from working-class communities or from poverty. My girls taught me that it’s possible to make our own families, to find our families. They helped me believe in love and friendship and hope. But more than anything, after they had girls of their own, it was theirgirls who taught me the most important lessons: they helped me see the girl I was. They helped me remember that there are girls out there who are just like I was, just like we were. My story wasn’t unique — somewhere there is a teenage girl with a mother who suffers from mental illness and addiction, just trying to get through the day. Maybe seeing herself in this book [Ordinary Girls] will make life a little bit easier.
Because of anti-blackness in the United States and Latin America, most of us are either hyper-visible or invisible or both simultaneously. So many people I’ve had conversations with don’t even know that Latinxs are not a race or that black people exist in Puerto Rico (and throughout all of Latin America) and that we don’t all look exactly the same.
As a light-skinned black Boricua, I’m often read as racially ambiguous, and because of colorism, I benefit from my proximity to whiteness. I think it’s our responsibility (those of us who benefit from light-skinned privilege or racial ambiguity or whiteness) to have a reckoning with race, to do the work to actively address institutional racism, as well as racism and colorism in our everyday lives, not just in the public eye. Otherwise, we are complicit.
-Jaquira Díaz,“Either Hyper-Visible or Invisible”: An Interview with Jaquira Díaz
Jaquira Díaz uses her own experiences of being criminalized as a young girl to talk about the racial disparity in punishments enforced at and by American schools. By referring to how she was wrongfully accused of vandalizing the music room in her school, she puts in perspective how the accusation destroyed her involvement in a creative activity that she loved.
“When she saw the damage done to the music room, to her office, she didn’t think of the Whitney Houston-loving child who dreamed of one day being in Broadway musicals, which was how I saw myself. What she imagined was a brown girl capable of vandalism, breaking and entering, stealing. She thought I would destroy the one place that had brought me joy.”
Breakdown Room Discussion
“The very real problem of the school-to-prison pipeline is getting worse, particularly for black and brown girls… extensive study [has shown that the criminalization of Black and brown girls] is based in part on the perception of girls having violated conventional norms and stereotypes of feminine behavior, even when that behavior is caused by trauma. In other words, black and brown girls are typically marginalized at school in these ways because officials judge that they aren’t feminine enough, or the right kind of feminine. Black ‘giddiness’ is considered suspect, black hair is ‘distracting’ and any black girl who expresses unchecked emotion, even a six-year-old, can be sent to the county jail.”
Have you experienced or have witnessed Black and brown girls experiencing the type of criminalization Jaquira Díaz describes in her personal essay?
Born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Ivelisse Rodriguez grew up in Holyoke, Massachusetts. She earned a B.A. in English from Columbia University, an M.F.A. in creative writing from Emerson College, and a Ph.D. in English-creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Her short story collection, Love War Stories, a 2019 PEN/Faulkner finalist and a 2018 Foreword Reviews INDIES finalist, was published by The Feminist Press in summer 2018.
In Love War Stories, love is a battleground. Ivelisse Rodriguez’s characters—mostly Puerto Rican girls and young women on the cusp of romance—covet, wrestle with, and fight to subvert their familial and cultural legacies of suffering from, and for, love. Rodriguez’s is an intimate and unflinching new voice in Puerto Rican literature. She expands familiar Nuyorican narratives, exposing the glorified but brutal realities of love, and reckons with the inheritances that shape our communities.
Poet Aracelis Girmay is of Eritrean, African American, and Puerto Rican heritage. She earned a BA at Connecticut College and an MFA from New York University. Her poems trace the connections of transformation and loss across cities and bodies. Her poetry collections include Teeth (2007), Kingdom Animalia (2011), and The Black Maria (2016).
Questions surface: what poems or voices are lost because editors are predominantly male or white or on the East Coast? Other questions: What ideals or aesthetics are these organizations and institutions shaping? Who or what is wildly, meaningfully creating and shaping new spaces? What kinds of calls (for submissions or collaborations) can help foster new ways of thinking both about and against these constructions, structures, ways of seeing, and identifying and signifying?
I am interested in finding ways to talk about the things we read. The ways we read. Text as body and body as text, among other things. I’m interested in finding ways to surprise myself into new territory and thinking about how play and experiments with “form” can be ways to surprise myself, my relationships to language.
In groups or individually pick ONE of the following quotes and “translate” it into your own words and perspective. Trace a connection with one of the previous readings.
1. Those people
do not like Black among the colors.
They do not like our
calling our country ours.
They say our country is not ours.
2. When a White person with a White child points to my child, even lovingly, as an example of a Black life who matters, I would also like that person to teach their White child about White life and history, and about how they are going to have to work really hard to make sure that they are not taking up more air, more space, more sidewalk because they have been taught wrongly that the world is more theirs. I would like to give my five-year-old words so that when he is told “George Floyd was killed because his skin was brown,” he is able to say something like, “Well, actually, there is an idea called Whiteness. Some people think that they are better and deserve more of everything because they are White and their ancestors are from Europe. Their ancestors hurt people and hurt the land to get the power that they gave to their children and that their children keep keeping, and keep using to hurt, even today. Isn’t that terrible?”
3. This year we go to the marsh. It is cold and so windy that almost no one else is out there, so we take off our masks and turn our backs to the wind. What was here before us? Who was here? What is here still though we maybe cannot see it? We are teaching the children to ask. This is Lenni Lenape land. There was a wilderness once. When the Dutch arrived in the seventeenth century, they began their colonial project by waging war with the land and its people. The tide is high, and we do not see the crabs or clams or snails, but we know that they are there.
4. Whenever it is that my partner and I begin to teach our children about the brutality, by design, of this moment and this country, the continuum of catastrophe we are alive and loving and breathing in, I know now that a vital part of what we teach them must have to do with the beauty and power of the imaginative strategies of Black people everywhere. Maroons planting cassava and sweet potato, easily hidden, growing secret in the ground. My best friend’s godsister, Brandy, who, when we were small, knew how to disappear into thin air by opening a book. Tegadelti freedom fighters on the front lines in Eritrea, making pigment out of flower petals, to paint. Palestinians who, when Israeli forces criminalized the carrying of the Palestinian flag in 1967, raised the watermelons up as their flags. Red, black, white, green. The mind that attempts, and attempts again, to find a way out of no way.
5. It occurs to me that what I right now want for my children is to equip them with fight and armor and space for dreaming in the long, constant work of our trying to get free. I am trying to think like a poet, like a maroon—to tell our children that there were people who, even while under the most unimaginable duress, had the mind to find and keep refuge in the trees.
1. García Peña believes that the framework of ethnic studies is essential to our humanity. What arguments she brings forth?
2. How the notion of being “essential “or “non-essential” is connected to the paradox (a contradictory position or state) of the type of work Ethnic Studies does within academia?
3. What does García Peña means at the end when she invites us, the readers, to go “back to Schomburg”?
(250 words minimum)
Watch Frances Negrón Muntaner interview, pick ONE of the topics listed below, and discuss her arguments and your own opinion about it.
(Example: Negrón Muntaner argues that______and I think that______.)
.Colonialism and coloniality (minutes: 2:20-7:00)
.Colonialism and coloniality within the U.S. (minutes 7:00-10:30)
.Latinas, beauty standards and U.S. media (minutes 10:30-13:40)
.Identity labels (minutes 13:40-18:30)
.Latinx Media Gap (minutes 18:30- 23:45)
(250 words minimum)
Using Lorgia García Peña’s article “Non-essential Knowledge: Latinx Studies in Times of COVID 19” and Frances Negrón-Muntaner interview answer the following question in a paragraph:
How the ideas about colonialism and coloniality presented by Negrón Muntaner (minutes 2:20-10:30) are connected to the goals of Latinx Studies of uncovering suppressed knowledge as discussed by Lorgia García Peña?