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.”
40 thoughts on “Asynchronous Assignment on Dancing Backup by Carina del Valle Schorske”
What Del Valle Schorske was trying to imply in her statement, is that people from Puerto Rico expected to be welcomed by the United States with open arms. But, in reality, the relationship between the US and Puerto Rico has been quite rocky. Some think that the US thinks the Puerto Ricans are inferior to them and have fewer privileges than those who live in the 50 states. She states how Puerto Ricans are seen as nothing more than “backup bodies” to major American cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Chicago. New York City, in particular, “immigrant” Puerto Ricans make up the majority of the immigrant groups in said city. Said “immigrants” aren’t living a much better lifestyle, but in a way, they have a lot more “freedom” than their cousins from South and Central America.
Things that are otherwise seen as not that rewarding, such as second-class citizenship, are often seen as a huge achievement for the Puerto Ricans, and that’s quite sad when you think about it. I guess the last part sums everything up nicely: no matter how much a dancer from Puerto Rico expresses herself, no matter how much she shakes, how much she charms the crowd, she’ll never truly be at the top, and there will be times where she’ll be overlooked, and there will be a time where she will be forgotten entirely. And on top of that, these Puerto Rican dancers are expected to have certain standards to appeal to said audiences in the first place, making their job a whole lot more complicated.
In my opinion, Danielle Polanco’s case was the one that had a lot of connection with Del Valle Schorske’s quote. Danielle is seen as this exotic dancer, one that could hypnotize and charm anyone who witnessed her dancing. Her routines were seen as nothing but amazing. But this sort of commentary, make Danielle seem like an object of desire, a woman who’s under the singer’s control (Omarion), and is only there to service said singer, just like how the average Puerto Rican is seen as somewhat inferior or “Second-class” to the ignorant American. A cruel, but true reality.
In this quote Carina del Valle Schorske mentions how U.S. economic policies towards Puerto Rico has forced many Puerto Ricans to seek shelter in the U.S. and leave their own country. However when they do move to the U.S. they are treated as second class citizens. Despite Puerto Rican’s making up the largest immigrant group in NYC they aren’t being treated any different here despite this notion that Puerto Ricans, compared to other Caribbean countries like the Dominican Republic, have this sense of freedom due to their commonwealth status. People tend to think that this commonwealth status affords Puerto Ricans certain liberties that other Caribbean people like Cubans, Haitins, and Dominicans don’t have in the U.S. Despite this misconception that Puerto Ricans are at an advantage when coming to the U.S. we see that it’s not the case when they are reduced to a mere “backup dancer” status. Even though the backup dancers can be seen as stars they are merely forgotten once they’re off of the spotlight and this is what has happened throughout the history of Puerto Rican since it’s commonwealth status in the U.S. began. One case mentioned is of Rita Moreno. When she was given the opportunity of being in Hollywood it didn’t open doors for her to play any role. Instead she was reduced to the roles of a Slave Girl, an Indian Princess, a Dusky Maiden as the article mentions. Even in her most notable role in the widely popular movie West Side Story she was reduced to playing a backup character in a movie about Puerto Ricans vs Italians. One notable point about this film is that most of the actors playing Puerto Ricans weren’t even Puerto Ricans and were made to look more “Puerto Rican” by applying darker foundation on them. Rita Moreno was also made to speak in a stereotypical “Spanish” accent for her role as Anita. I feel like this movie is a very good example of what del Valle Schorske mentions in the quote about Puerto Ricans being seen as second class citizens in the U.S. West Side Story could have casted real Puerto Ricans to play these roles and not forced them to act in a stereotypical way.
Valle Schorske explains in the essay the second class citizenship that Puerto Ricans get once in the United States territory, the way in which the Puerto Rican, as in the music industry, take the back dancer spot in terms of the social importance and status that they get in the country. The Puerto Ricans in the island might have the perception that the United States is their only way to get a better life, and some other countries might, as well, think of the Puerto Rican situation and relationship with the United States as an advantage. When in reality, it is the economical barriers of the United States that forces Puerto Rican to leave their Island, their national Identities, to go to the mainland in the United States. One of the examples is that its mansion is the example of Rita Moreno, and many other artists, that are treated as second class people. Like if their work was not worth it of recognition on the basis of their nationality. The Puerto Rican diaspora has had a very hard journey of compromising their identity to try to blend in with the rest of the United States. We see cases like Jennifer Lopez that have gone through a very long process of recognition through her career, and adaptation to fit the different standards that society requires. It is very interesting to distinguish a nation from a state, because Puerto Ricans are in fact a nation within the United States and because of that they are constantly discriminated against and accused of provoiledge from other Latin American countries.
Del Valle was stating in this quote is that, Puerto Ricans have seek the U.S. for comforting and sheltering. When most of the case is not even like that because when Puerto Rico have been having their homes destroyed and their people are working on getting their country back together no help from the U.S. is there. People from Puerto Rico come to the U.S. come for better life and opportunities, but what opportunities are they getting instead of being used? “When changes in the U.S. economic priorities have displaced Puerto Ricans from Puerto Rico itself, we’ve become backup bodies in cities like New York City, Chicago, and Philadelphia”. This word “backup bodies” in this sentence means more. I feel like Puerto Rico is backup and their people are backup too. And it’s sad that it has come to this point. “backup bodies” is used in a way to send a message that their importance and where they stand is like a backup dancer spot. One of the four studies that stood out to me was Rita Moreno because there was something about her story that caught my eye. Her story as a Puerto Rican woman who didn’t accept to be backup in the West side story and I felt like Puerto Ricans could’ve been in this movie instead of people pretending to be a Puerto Rican when they don’t know their struggles as individuals. As I was saying in my presentation, these women had to fit in how the production of film wanted them to do it and it is hard because it takes away who they are and where they come from because people try to take that away and make them “fit in”.
Your analysis is on point. While as a Puerto Rican actor Rita Moreno got to have the most visibility in the film and “stole” many scenes, del Valle Schorske also argues that because of the status of Puerto Ricans in the US, she could not fathom being the protagonist of the film, a role that she was more than fit to play.
In the selected quote above, Carina del Valle presents Puerto Ricans as the backup community, or backup dancer, in the United States. She claims that Puerto Ricans are considered immigrants, which does not make sense because Puerto Rico is “U.S. territory”. Therefore, they should not be counted in the immigrant category apart from U.S. citizens. They are given citizenship and they are not deported, but they are not granted the same rights and privileges people in the U.S. do. Not being deported is basically the main benefit of being Puerto Rican. But, what about helping Puerto Rico as any other U.S. state and giving its people the safety and confidence they need and deserve. The United States government claims to be the authority of Puerto Rico and yet their actions are of a foreign aide. Carina del Valle also says that Puerto Ricans will “spin in a perpetual motion machine”. This means they will forever stay in the same place; they will be stuck in colonialism infinitely. Even if Puerto Ricans achieve the American dream, it would never last for them.
Carina del Valle uses Jennifer Lopez as an example to expand on her central idea of Puerto Ricans as backup dancers. She states that backup dancers are not real artists. Jennifer Lopez was called “chubby and corny” by Keenen Wayans and a “backed-up hoe” by Janet Jackson. Back then, Jennifer Lopez was not famous. She was simply a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx. One of the many Puerto Rican backup dancers. She was part of the show but didn’t have the same privileges others in the same position had. Lopez became a star and still was criticized mainly for her Latina’s roots.
Another important aspect of the discussion is that because of colonialism and coloniality Puerto Ricans currently do not have a voice about their political future. US congress ultimately controls all the central aspects of Puerto Rico’s economy and political relationships. The call here is to cut the dependency and advocate for Puerto Ricans to decide their own future with or without the US.
In the selected quote above, which was quite powerful, Carina del Valle presents Puerto Ricans as the backup community, or backup dancer, in the United States. She had mentioned that Puerto Ricans are considered immigrants, which does not make sense to me because Puerto Rico is “U.S. territory.” Therefore, they should not be counted in the immigrant category apart from U.S. citizens. They are given citizenship, and they are not deported, but they are not granted access to the same rights and privileges of people in the U.S. do. Such as not getting a career the right. It is also not fair for the Puerto Ricans not having the right to vote. The United States government claims to be the authority of Puerto Rico. Carina says that Puerto Ricans will “spin in a perpetual motion machine,” which means that they will stay in the same place indefinitely or forever, mostly. Even if Puerto Ricans achieve the American dream, it would never last for them. It is just not right for me. Carina Del Valle mentions Jennifer Lopez and her Puerto Rican backup dancers in expanding her points of view.
Before JLO had her fame to the world, she was just an ordinary Puerto Rican girl born and raised in the Bronx, NY. According to research on her, she was part of the show but didn’t have the same privileges, and the same with her backup dancers in the same position had. Her song called “My love don’t cost a thing” is an example of a Latina artist who is more than just a Puerto Rican that do not have access to their rights. Overall, JLO became an inspirational legend and, unfortunately, was still was criticized mainly for her Latina’s roots. Also, Puerto Ricans deserve to be treated equally.
The idea of being an inmigrant is complex because it also highlights the fact that culturally and linguistically as we have being discussing, Puerto Ricans are very different than US Americans. Even after 122 years of forced union with the US, Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans have more cultural connections with Latin America than with the US That’s why Puerto Ricans are considered and self-identified in the continent as US Latinxs.
Dance is a creative form of expression that can be seen on a global level. For Puerto Ricans, song and dance is a cultural norm inherited from ancestors of Caribbean, African and Spanish (Spain) descent. Pop culture has been known to commercialize the creative contributions of ethnic cultures for profit. We see this in the popularity of songs like “Despacito” by Puerto Rican singers Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. This song was already a hit, but Justin Bieber was added to the remix for a pop culture flair.
Puerto Rican dance is no different. Salsa is a popular form of Puerto Rican dance adopted by professional dance competitions on a global level. Bomba is another style of Puerto Rican dance inspired by the influence of African roots. These two forms of dance, and the music that accompanies them, are the roots of the Puerto Rican backup dancer. An old school salsa group called “El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico” sang “Sin Salsa No Hay Paraiso” comparing Salsa music to paradise. Puerto Rican artists Willie Colon and the late Hector Lavoe sang “Aguanile”, a cultural ode about spiritual cleansing and is a great song for bomba dance. Salsa and bomba dance are ritualistic when celebrating and expressing the Puerto Rican culture. Community leader Maricruz Rivera Clemente said bomba dance is “an instrument and a space for rebellion”. She called bomba “anti-systemic, anti-racist, and anti-oppression” and said that it gives the dancer and drummer “a space for freedom and political transformation” (Arts).
The dance that is enjoyed by many as entertainment is so much more than that which meets the normal eye. In my youth girls grew up idolizing women like Iris Chacon. Chacon got her TV spotlight not just for her skills but from the oversexualization of Puerto Rican cultural norms. But to the little girls watching sex didn’t cross our minds. Instead, we were moved by our own automatic connection to the music and dance. The costumes and clean rhythmic steps were fascinating and had to be copied. Puerto Rican girls like JLO and Rosie and much a younger version of me, spent time in overcrowded bedrooms, boom boxes blaring, copying dance moves because it felt so natural. This is the beautiful root of the often berated back up dancer. It should be as simple as backup dancers proudly doing what they love and getting paid for it. Yet, considering the commonality of cultural erasure due to colonization, many performers become the “back up bodies” in supporting roles, just as Puerto Rican citizens often feel like they live as “back up bodies” within a larger society.
The culture, with its vibrant and rooted music, dance and food has been happily adopted. However, the people, although welcomed to stay, are made to feel free while they chase their dreams, underrated, spinning “in a perpetual motion machine”. The back up dancer gives up all their gifts to support the star by making the routine look better. Puerto Ricans, of richly rooted origins, offer all their gifts to make the star, America, look better. Massive numbers of backup bodies are here to offer support while getting little recognition in return. Below are two links, one of Iris Chacon and one of traditional bomba dance for your viewing…check out the fancy footwork!
BOMBA DANCE BELOW
IRIS CHACON SHOW
Arts, KQED. “Puerto Rico’s Bomba, A Dance of The African Diaspora”. 9, June 2020. Video. 2 October 2020.
Thank you Christine for the links and the musical analysis. When discussing West Side Story, we talked about how the filmmakers and composers highlighted the European aspects of Puerto Rican music disregarding African musical traditions such as bomba and plena. These African derived genres are arguably more impactful to Puerto Rican culture and music than flamenco.
Yes Professor, I agree! Western society, and its colonizing stigmas, has this history of using what they see fit to accommodate their likes and needs. It discards anything that challenges the set preferences and we have seen this happen with all migrated cultures within America. We should be able to enjoy this melting pot of diversity. But instead we are distracted and controlled by political systems that choose when we count and pick apart at the parts they like most like vultures. In West Side Story, Rita Morena being forced to play supporting actress to Natalie Wood is a clear example of that disregard as well. I also think of the Jets in the Dance scene at the gymnasium. They despised the Puerto Ricans and everything non white, but they jumped at the chance to dance the mambo, a Latino dance. They also changed the dance up to their liking and boasted like their version was better than the original Cuban version. This is what I was getting at, the idea of colonizers taking what they want, when they want, and then tossing it to the side, forgotten, because it no longer serves their benefit.
In her argument, del Valle Schorske explains that many Puerto Ricans have come to the United States for economic reasons. However, Puerto Ricans are labeled immigrants when this should not be the case because they belong to a United States territory. One of the advantages that Puerto Ricans have over their “cousins” in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin America is that they cannot be deported. As del Valle Schorske mentions, “She won’t be deported, exactly. Instead, she’ll spin in a perpetual motion machine.” This explains that Puerto Ricans are not treated as citizens and will be denied certain opportunities, meaning they will not be able to achieve their full potential and spend their lives chasing a goal that may not be attainable.
Moreover, del Valle Schorske uses the term “backup bodies” to explain the disadvantages of being considered a second-class citizen. Being considered a backup means that you will not have the spotlight that someone in the leading group will have. This is an interesting comparison to Puerto Rico being a territory because they do not receive the same resources that the fifty states receive. Being considered a “backup” forces many Puerto Ricans to search for the spotlight in a country where they are not fully welcomed.
Lastly, one of the cases used by del Valle Schorske that stood out to me was Jennifer Lopez. Jennifer Lopez began her career as a backup dancer and was often looked down upon. After many years, Jennifer Lopez achieved fame and success, something that may be seemed as unattainable for Puerto Ricans. However, even though Lopez became successful, she was still judged, especially by other Puerto Ricans, who wondered if she was “the wrong one to represent our culture’s repressed powers.” To me, this line means that Puerto Ricans compete so much not to be a backup dancer that they will criticize their own when one of them finally stops being a backup dancer.
Carina del Valle tries to explain how the treatment of Puerto Ricans is not the same as the people in the states in the United States. The relationship between the United States is not stable with Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s conditions are getting worse every year and they have to migrate to the United States. Even way they move to the stateside their life isn’t better because they are still considered being low in the rank. Puerto Ricans still have a more “freely” lifestyle compare to their cousins in the Caribbean and Latin America. Puerto Rico is part of the United States, but they won’t get the same treatment as the people in the states. Carina mentions that Puerto Ricans are considered as “back up dancers”, which I think it’s a perfect way to express it. Back up dancers can’t overshine the main singer or lead dancer. In the same way, Puerto Ricans can’t overshine the people in the states. There is always this idea that the white has to be superior and the other races or ethnic groups have to be on the bottom. Even though Puerto Ricans are part of America they will never get to shine as others do. An example we can analyze is Jennifer Lopez because she had to fight where she is right now. Jennifer’s had to change the way she looked in order to fit the standers that the society required. She was called all these names because she didn’t fit the beauty standard. We can say she was considered the “back up dancer” because she couldn’t shine like the other artist. She was treated differently just because she was Puerto Rican. Slowly she was shinning and rising in fame. Just because Jennifer is famous now but that doesn’t change the fact that many people still don’t like her because of the way she is. People can’t stand when a Latina is shinning because they feel some type of way.
It would be interesting to dig deeper into the idea of “feeling some type of way” and analyze why is uncomfortable when a Latina is shinning as you said.
In the first quote when Del Valle Schorske talks about how due to the changes in the economic priorities of Puerto Rico made their own citizens move or be displaced to the United States they thought to themselves they’ve become second rate citizens or how she puts it “backup bodies”. Although they have been over thought and overshadowed Puerto Rican’s still feel a sense and a need to share their heritage and their pride to the rest of the United States. In essence this could be said for Rita Moreno. She didn’t have a choice of who to play but rather had to pick whatever was available seeing as she played everything from a slave girl to an Indian princess. All the while playing these forced parts she shines in the west side story as playing Anita she shows her amazing flair and energy that captivates the audience, this role that she plays helps to encompass her Puerto Rican roots that she shows off through her dancing. I think it’s especially hard for Rita seeing as she was doing this in the mid 20th century when being compared to a Jennifer Lopez or Danielle Polanco while undoubtedly they must’ve felt some sort of discrimination or feeling of being ostracized I can only imagine how hard it was for Rita who in some ways you can say was a pioneer in being able to break through into the entertainment industry. I imagine that throughout the years this type of discrimination has become less and less seeing as there are many being Latin stars now and yet it’s still sad to see these kinds of stories come up in present times.
.the “economic priorities” of Puerto Rico are controlled by the US Congress.
.there are some mental repercussions to be a colonial subject but it’s not only a matter of psychology. There are concrete policies that put Puerto Ricans in the category of second-class citizens, for instance not voting for the president (if you are living in the archipelago) or not having representation in Congress.
.Regarding Latinx stars now: while singers like Bad Bunny or Cardy B are gathering a lot of attention from mainstream media, they are an exception. As Negrón Muntaner suggested in the interview we saw at the beginning of the semester, the Latinx media gap is bigger now than in the 40s, for example. The numbers are appalling.
To Schorske, Puerto Rico’s and US relationship is a complicated one. Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico are silenced and not seen as citizens. They migrate here because it seems liberating to live in America, the land of the free. Ironically ,Puerto Ricans that migrate to the US struggle freeing themselves from that same silencing they’re met with in Puerto Rico. They fill the US with their culture and pride and work, however they can only ever be the background of the country. She brings up the role of a backup dancer as that’s what Puerto Rico is to the US. A dancer who shines and executes her roles perfectly but alas stays in the back is never appreciated. Jennfier Lopez is described later on as a disappointment for Schorske. It’s not because of her mediocre performance as an artist or dancer but it is the separation Jenneir Lopez has made from her own community. Schorske says “that doesn’t do anything to make me feel like part of us. Her stardom feels far-off and joyless” which makes her success very hard to look up to. I think that maybe this separation from her roots got Jennifer Lopez to where she is, a sad realization. Schorske indicated that Jlo is one of the only Puerto rican artists to maintain stardom and do large projects like Vogue however she may have gotten the chance once she sperparted herself from her culture. This says alot about US media culture wanting to digest and support Latin Artists if and when they are molded to what they believe is an artist, not giving the reign for latino artists to become whatever they please and be successful. This mold is again getting rid of public latin pride.This ties back to Schorske’s point, Jennier Lopez had to give up her cultural ties to rise to stardom because if she didn’t she may have stayed a backup dancer.
In this quote from the essay, del Valle Schorske discusses and argues the idea that Puerto Ricans have been displaced from their homelands not only by natural disasters like Maria, but also by shifts in US political and economic policies and norms. She connects this more detached and more ignored and forgotten state to the difficulties faced by Puerto Ricans in the entertainment industry, often locked into type-cast roles or stuck in back-up dancing positions, not just rarely seeing any true success in the industry akin to that experienced by majority groups but even when this success is experienced, it’s tainted by prejudice. This is very clear in the case of Rita Moreno, who was able to experience some sort of large-scale success in her industry, and yet within that pervue she was still being limited to a narrow set of roles set by a prejudiced audience and industry, and was even being encouraged to overplay the stereotypes of her own culture while performing.
In the case of Moreno, there’s also a point to be made within the context of West Side Story, where it’s showcased that some Puerto Ricans are made to falsely believe that they can seek comfort in the US’s opportunity peddling – the ideas that often falsely are being spread that the US is a country of opportunity and safety for all peoples, not just the privileged. In the clip we watched, there is dialogue showing examples of potential immigrants debating the idea of immigrating to America, but all the points for and against that decision could be said to be based on false information.
The relation between the US and Puerto Rico is indeed a strange colonial and territorial relationship. While indeed Puerto Ricans have the ability to travel to the US freely, Puerto Rico itself is if anything forgotten by america. Not just barely getting any helps but the people itself are treated in a way where they are not fully embraced as Americans. For me what really strikes as weird is that even though part of the US, Puerto Rico and its people are treated differently and everything else might also be a part of white supremacy. Puerto Rico being treated differently brigs up the question of why? The only reason i seem to find is related to the color of the people. The inability to gain that success in different fields of arts or business does not come from the lack of hard work or lack of talent, but its a form of suppression. the sexualization of the dancers for examples shows how they are not seen for their talent or hard work but just as a way to please the lust and requests of different people that hold the “brakes” of their success, and if they were not to be pleased in certain ways, their career would be short and not gain the merit they deserve. I understand that the culture of the Puerto Ricans and other nationalities is important to maintain their identity but at the end of the day they are americans and should get no different treatment or anything else, you cant chose what you like and you do not like because that is just selective behavior which brings more problem.
Indeed, there is documentation, studies, and books that look at US racism and colonialism in Puerto Rico. For instance, at the time of the invasion, it was very common for newspapers in the US to create racist caricatures to illustrate the debates about the newest colony.
I am not sure if I understood fully your last sentence, but it’s important to understand that US culture and Puerto Rican culture are not monoliths. Because of the joined (under unequal terms) history, both countries are constantly influencing each other. For instance, it will be irresponsible to describe New York culture from the second half of the 20th century to these days without including the input of Puerto Ricans.
In this quote Carina del Valle exposes the harsh reality Puerto Ricans face in the U.S and how they are seen and considered of lower category by the US and are often times treated as outsiders. She compares Puerto Ricans as backup bodies as a reference that they are typically ignored and viewed with less importance. We have seen this play out during natural disasters where the government took little to no consideration of the Puerto Rican people. She also mentions that even though the US government gives out a hand to the Puerto Rican people, it’s usually a one time thing and after the US believes to have Puerto Rico back up on their feet, it suddenly flops again and the Puerto Rican people are left in the forgotten yet again. Basically, the Puerto Rican community can cry out for help all they want but the US government will overlook their necessities and always find a way to make less of the Puerto Rican people. As successful as they can be and as “shinning” as del Valle states, the Puerto Rican person’s efforts to be and feel part of the US will not be taken into consideration. Her quote reflects on JLO’s career as a dancer and how she was forced to strip away her culture in order to “belong”. Her success depended on how much of an American she could be otherwise she wouldn’t become a “true” artist and again, as del Valle states, although a Puerto Rican can be successful as can be they will somehow continue to be placed of lower class by the US.
As is the case with many non-white people in the film industry, Puerto Rican stars were pushed to the back and had their talents only focused on as a support to the main act. For the specific case of the Puerto Rican women, who are not able to feel the benefits of being a first-class citizen and as del Valle Schorske says have to live without sovereignty, a country independent from an imperial nation. In the case of Rita Moreno, she had to struggle even more as her career began in the Golden Age of Hollywood, a time filled with racism, xenophobia, and misogyny. The actress, who constantly hoped that as she gained her many well-deserved awards would be able to branch out from the stereotypical roles she was given. However, the roles she was given often had her barefoot playing the sexy exotic women with little character. As del Valle Schorske states, these performers are kept in a cycle of being kept in the background only to shine when they are needed, never letting their talent shine. Even in her most famous role in West Side Story, she was surrounded by white actors in brownface with fake accents. Despite her beauty and talent being showcased, this was all where her home country was mentioned. The American government might show support to Moreno and many other Puerto Rican stars but continually fails to show any support to Puerto Rico and all its people. Many Americans may fail to realize that despite being a territory of the United States, there is little attention or aid given to the nation, at the same time they are not allowed to have national freedom and not allowed to participate in a government that takes away so much from the Puerto Rican people.
In the essay, the author Carina del Valle Schorske raises a pretty interesting topic of the relationship between the United States and Puerto Ricco. A Common statement that people from Puerto Rico are more than welcome in the United States has so many “underwater rocks”. One of these “rocks” is the cultural aspect of the Puerto Rican Culture.
The author claims that the role of backup dancers was discriminated against and devalued in the eyes of American culture. If we going to take a look at the dancing life of Puerto Ricco it is easy to say that these nation is living in the dance no matter what they do there is a certain way of movements and expressing themselves. All these factors make this culture so unique. When it comes to Puerto Ricans who came to the United States we can easily see that may people no matter at what time they came to the United States has a fear of expressing themselves in dancing and even in the walking way. If we will take a look specifically at the dancing industry generally speaking backup dancers are a very necessary component on any show. The main character can play incredibly but backup dancers truly represent the whole culture in detail.
When It comes to Cardi B her famous message: “I don’t dance here I make money moves” was taken as a wrong expression which devalues the whole cultural way of dancing and expressing the culture. From a Sociology point of view, this statement is more look like a way to explain to herself that she is not a simple dancer who is fading somewhere in the background but really a valued shiny star who can get more than anybody else out of simple dancing, and it is true, she made herself as a popular singer with a more than 1b views on youtube. but when we take a look at the bigger picture I do not think that such a statement should be taken too negative, it is more like a scream out of the person who proved firs of all to herself that any way of dancing can be turned into something bigger.
It’s interesting the way you see the political affecting the way Puerto Rican people and bodies express themselves in the US. Regarding Cardi B and her phrase, del Valle Schorske is referring to the quick monetization of the cultural moves of Puerto Ricans and Latinas. The phrase implies the dynamic of lap dances in Nightclubs. The consumer, usually men, enjoy looking at the body (at times touching too) but they are not really interested in the person dancing or their lives. If we follow del Valle Schorske’s analysis, the US government is interested in getting a quick profit in Puerto Rico but it’s uninterested in the well-being of its people.
The term ”backup bodies” already sounds demeaning before Carina Del Valle Schorske mentions it in her prose ”Dancing Backup: Puerto Ricans in the American Muchedumbre. The simple dream for young women who’ve immigrated to places like New York, for example, has turned into a plea to be ”included”. Talented young dancers feel like opportunities are few and far between. Take Rita Moreno, for example, who devoted her life to turning her passion for dance into a career of success. Sadly, the young girl who moved to Washington Heights and became immersed in a beautiful culture of dancing, would come to see the ugly realization of brown face. Ironically, she was the only latin woman in a cast acting in a production based on Puerto Rican characters, in the classic movie turned broadway play called ”West Side Story”. A movie that ideally was supposed to be an opportunity for latin dancers to display their talents on the screen was stripped by white actors. However, Moreno’s unforgettable performance on the big screen inspired many latin women who would follow in her footsteps, like dancer Rosie Perez. Its ironic that when latin culture is suppose to be on full display that somehow a Latina happens to be the only one representing for her people. It was the ugly truth for Moreno, and similarly, many young dancers who came from Puerto Rico with the dream to perform on the big stages in cities like New York. This is the prevalent issues for many Latinas who are dancers and look to pave a way for other women, but are treated as solely backup bodies. It goes back to del Valle Schorske’s main argument that Latina performers are forgotten, and often forced to ignore their latin heritage in order to move their careers forward. Puerto Rican woman have proved to persevere through any challenge. They shouldn’t be considered ”backup bodies”, but its proven to be difficult in today’s climate in America, which under-represents Latina’s who want to get fairly compensated for their passion to dance.
From del Valle Schorske’s quote above, she discusses how the U.S speak of opportunities and advantages for the Puerto Ricans, however when they arrived, they are seen as the backup community. Puerto Rico is considered a U.S Territory with their own national government yet they are unable to receive the same treatment and rights as any American like voting making their voices hindered. If it is a second-class citizenship received, it is a big deal for the Puerto Ricans, but in the states, it will not be seen as the same level making it seem they are inferior. There has always been rocky tension between Puerto Rico and the U.S although in the quote above it appears as if Puerto Ricans are welcomed with open arms. Through media, it was shown when Hurricane Maria hit and Puerto Rico was struggling to rebuild their island the U.S government told they were sending help and support, but as of today three years later they are still rebuilding town by town slowly but surely. The case study example to expand on her argument was Rita Moreno because she spoke out through her actions in her role in West Side Story. She played a variety of roles that came her way, but her role as Anitta shined through the screen gaining love and support from the viewers. She is one of many Puerto Ricans who traveled to the U.S hoping for a chance to breakout in their careers. Hollywood crew and audition process were very stereotypical and discriminatory with picking these Spanish-speaking roles in a negative way or short insignificant part. These roles in a particular culture should be meant to be played by women of that culture to bring a more vibrant and rich experience to make the movie a success.
Valle Schorke makes an interesting case study using Rito Moreno. Rito Moreno along with many other Puerto Ricans came to the mainland United States after WW2 because of the economic opportunities in the states. Her mother came to America to be a textile worker. However, the rhythmic bounces of their homeland still lived on as her mother would sew at home Rita would dance to the rhythms of the machine. However, when she tried to join HollyWood, she saw how limited her opportunities as a Puerto Rican-American woman were in the all-white industry. As a result, we can see how she, along with her other Peurto-Rican co-actresses were only there to fill out one specific niche and be discarded at a whim. When Rita got the role in West Side Story, she didn’t get her own role, rather she replaced Chita Rivera for the role of Anita. This is because the actresses who played Anita were relinquished to only have the back-up roles as the white male lead could only marry a fellow white woman. Valle Schroke’s argument hit it’s highest notes when Rita plays Anita during the rape scene of “West Side Story”. Rita breaks down and describes the scene as “incredible, amazing, magical”. Normally such a reaction to a brutal scene like this one would typically be overwhelmingly negative, but for Rita, it was one of freedom. She truly felt one with Anita, victims of a system that didn’t want them, and to be allowed to show how she truly felt made her one with the character. The tragic death of Rita Moreno truly encapsulates the attitudes of the people in Hollywood. Being sexually harassed and then discarded shows how white people only thought of Puerto Ricans as being sexual objects with no real purpose after the fact. A back-up dancer that was never meant to be entitled to happiness like “real” Americans. While she was a short-lived star, she shined with the brightness of a thousand.
An important clarification: Rita Moreno is not dead. She has now a 7o years career. Recently she played the abuela in One Day at a Time a Netflix sitcom about the daily struggles and joys of a Cuban family.
Del Valle argues the displacement Puerto Rican’s are faced with due to the changes in the U.S. economic priorities. Puerto Ricans are seen as nothing more than “Back up bodies” and treated as second class citizens. However, Caribbean’s and Latina America believe Puerto Rican’s are given the liberty to move swiftly in the U.S but the closer things are examined Puerto Rican’s are vastly underrepresented. In addition, Puerto Rican’s left their financial troubled island due to unemployment, poverty, low wages and high cost of living for the opportunities and better life in U.S. mainland. However, Puerto Ricans that held on to this concept were faced with the cold reality of challenges due to their heritage. The challenges Puerto Rican’s faced were racism and discrimination, actress, dancer, and singer Rita Moreno represents the struggles of minorities in Hollywood. Rita Moreno was awarded with presidential medal of freedom for her many contributions of arts. After winning different awards for her talent and hard work agents would only submit Moreno for “exotic” and Latina roles only. This exploitation urged Moreno to leave Hollywood. You would think that as a versatile Latina artist that you can transcend racial stereotypes with the skills and dedication you have to offer but in reality it is a set up for disappointment. However, Moreno didn’t stop her passion and returned to screen to continue to represent Latinos. Her influence of work and dedication opened doors for other Latinos as Jennifer Lopez, Rosie Perez, and Danielle Polanco. These individuals show that Latinos are made up of talent, hard work and dedication, not just back up body dancers.
This article talks about the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. The question of Puerto Rico’s political status was left in abeyance for years. Carina del Valle Schorske also mentioned the situation of Puerto Ricans immigrating to the United States. For example:” Carina del Valle presents Puerto Ricans as the backup community, or backup dancer, in the United States. She claims that Puerto Ricans are considered immigrants, which does not make sense because Puerto Rico is U.S. territory. Therefore, they should not be counted in the immigrant category apart from U.S. citizens.” Although Puerto Ricans seem to have a very free identity, their life in the United States has not been easy. She used the word “backup” many times. She said that Puerto Rico was like a backup to The Americans. She also described the United States as the ‘Empire’. It also indirectly illustrates the imperialist behavior of the United States. Puerto Ricans do not have the same rights as American citizens. I think the nature of the problem is that American colonialism created a big gap of class stratification. I think the government’s merger delays and judicial maneuvers are designed to get capitalism to have more low-wage workers, which is the essence of capitalism.
Valle Schorske explains in her article how Latin Americans, especially Puerto Ricans, are always the back dancer but never the main singer. How Latin American citizens are considered to always be “second class” even when they have much more potential than any other immigrant in the United States. In the quote mentioned in the assignment, a few words caught my eye. When she writes “we can shimmy and shake all we like, get loud and proud about how well we do it”, reminds me of the lyrics in Jennifer Lopez’s song called Let’s Get Loud. How she uses Jennifer Lopez’s own song to explain how even though Jennifer is being loud and proud, she still is not in the main spotlight as her fellow white artists are. How Jennifer’s image always had to be sexy and revealing to capture the audience attention. Therefore proving that her talent alone unfortunately was not “good enough” to catch the mainstream media. Even in today’s time, Jennifer opened the path to many Latin American women in the music and movie industries. However, the stigma of Latina women continues to be the same throughout her whole career. Her roles always consisted of being a maid, an assistant wedding planner, the wife that would get beaten from the husband, the stripper, sexy daughter in law and etc. All these roles had in common was that she was either second class, a lover, submissive wife, or an extremely forbidden sexy woman. None of her roles at first was a powerful woman from being to end. As a result, the stigma against Latina women continue not only among cultures that are not exposed to Latina cultres but even the people from the Latina countries themselves.
America has not only stripped any sense of independence and nationalism from Puerto Rico, but have shackled them through colonial rule for hundreds of years. The economic system that reigns over America is capitalism and that system has prioritized and cultivated an entertainment industry that has further exploited Puerto Rican women and our cultural practices as just mere entertainment. Those wealthy entertainment business owners, have capitalized off of the hard work and naïve Puerto Rican back-up dancers, who do not realize the way in which they have and are still being exploited. The same paradox can be seen in our Sports industry, where Black’s and Latino’s are exploited for their talent for mere entertainment for the white man, if you look up the history of basketball and football you will see how these players were mere toys, that not only entertained but got money off of their talent. This understanding of our exploitation is conveyed through a number of Puerto Rican stars and back-up dancers who have either made it or at least have a career in the entertainment industry. Jennifer Lopez has reached a level of status in the entertainment industry that has not only exploited her, but she seemed to have been aware of the arduous competition that had awaited her throughout her career. She, had not only faced obstacles of stereotypes, but had to play the roles that not only were stereotypes, but gave even more power to the economic priorities of the U.S economy. Instead these back-up dancers are put in situations that have been instigated by the economy that has them fight each other for a spot that only a few can get. We need to realize that these systems have basically indoctrinated us into limiting the ways in which we can climb up the social latter, without degrading or putting down our fellow Puerto Rican back-up dancers. Puerto Rican entertainers must escape the narrative that the American industry has labeled Puerto Rican back-up dancers and create our own platforms that benefit us, and the wealthy who couldn’t careless if you don’t fit their stereotypes.
I forgot to write about the hyper-sexualization of Latinx women in American society, and how they are given roles that fit the American’s narrow minded scope and stereotype of latinx women. As Carina del Valle Schorske discussed in her essay, Latinx women are basically sex workers, and she is correct in her analysis where the back-up dancer feel the pressure of trying to get to stardom, and the roles that are offered are sexualized and degrading that further the preconceived notions of who and what Latinx women stand for.
The selected quote from Carina Del Valle’s essay dives deep into what second class citizenship means to Puerto Rican populations within the States. Although they are a part of the United States they are forced to play backup dancers and supporting actors instead of standing in the spotlight. Carina Del Valle mentions that there is this sense of moving “dique freely” in the states and this idea that it is better than living on the island. However, this is all a false understanding for many Puerto Rican’s that come and live in the states. They soon find out that the United States is not welcoming to those whom they are meant to protect and push them aside to take the jobs nobody wants and live in the neighborhoods nobody desires and yet be the backbone of many cities. In many ways it is important to understand “Jenny from the Bronx” and the career she has had in order to understand this concept. Although she is a major star now she has spent years attempting to cultivate her career and be taken seriously not only in the music industry, but in dance and the movie industry as well. She has had many successes and yet till this day people discredit her career stating that she lip-syncs, her acting is terrible, and her dancing subpar. Jennifer Lopez has gained immense recognition but she has never been seen in the States as a Star. Often times her talent is pushed to the side and for a long time she was cast out of the lime light. This reflects how Puerto Ricans as a whole are cast aside in the States. They make up the backbone of many communities and yet are unrecognized for their contributions to society and are forced to play background characters.
In the quote, Carina del Valle writes about Puerto Rico in the sense that the community is seen as a shadow colony of the United States, only visible when it is convenient. Much like the backup dancer mentioned in the beginning of the essay. Puerto Rico is described as “the shinning star of the Caribbean”, however the country is described as such in order to attract investment opportunities for The United States. In the 20th century, Puerto Ricans made up the largest “immigrant” group in New York City, which is strange considered that Puerto Rico is considered “the shinning star of the Caribbean”, yet it’s natives are not treated equally. Puerto Ricans do not benefit from the same rights, as Americans have, liked the backup dancer, they’re disregarded to being only seen when it is convenient. Jennifer Lopez was often regarded as less than by other artists despite being as talented as them. Until this day, even when Lopez has achieved major success as an actress, businesswoman and singer, she is still judged for her roots. An example of is when she performed in the Super Bowl, a lot of the comments from the audience were mainly focused on judging her for the way she was dressed. Although Lopez has massive success today, she worked hard in order to be seen as more than a “backup dancer”, as many other Latino artists back then, Lopez had to fight stereotypes in order to be successful. Today, she fully embraces her Puerto Rican heritage and has paved the way for other Latino artists to do the same.
It is important to mention too that J.Lo’s Super Bowl Halftime Show along with Shakira and Bad Bunny was also controversial because they decided to be the “backup” option once all the Black artists invited decided to boycott the NFL for their treatment of Black athletes. Arguably they took the opportunity of giving visibility to Latinx artists at the expense of Black artists and the struggle for racial justice.
Del Valle Schorske’s central argument is that in the eyes of Americans, people from Puerto Rico will always be behind them, second at best. Puerto Rico being owned by the United States, the citizens look at Puerto Rico as their servant even, so when Puerto Ricaños come to the United States they are instantly scrutinized. This is proven when del Valle Schorske bring up the use of backup dancers. Many being from Latino decent, but barely given the chance to shine and be the lead dancer or singer. Their lifestyles are similar from back in Puerto Rico because of the way they are treated here in the United States. Yes, they are given the freedoms, but that is not an excuse for the way they are being treated. The author describes this as “she’ll spin in a perpetual motion machine.” Constantly dealing with the same discrimination, as if it were a cycle, almost impossible to get out of. No matter what is done the Puerto Rican backup dancer or singer will always be looked down upon and overlooked. They have to deal with the role they are given and not express how you can really dance or sing. Jennifer Lopes is a perfect example of this. Janet Jackson called her a “backed-up hoe” even though Lopez is worlds ahead of her in everything. She had to deal with many back up roles just because of her background. When Jennifer Lopez got famous the media and higher ups, white males, still scrutinized her. Jlo had to start to reveal more and look more “sexy” in order to get the attention of the audience. Jennifer Lopez’s trials and tribulations paved the way for Latina’s to do as they please and not be the back up.
Del Valle in her quote was stating that, Puerto Ricans have come to the U.S. with a larger population in New York for opportunities, help and most of all shelter. There is this idea that Puerto Ricans would be welcomed by the United States but in actuality the two territories have a complicated relationship leaving the people of Puerto Rico seen as nothing more than “back up bodies” to major cities while reminding readers that Puerto Ricans make up the majority of the immigrant group but acknowledges that they receive more freedom than other immigrants in Central America. I think when the phrase “back up bodies” is used, it in a way is compared to a backup dancer and back up dancers are used for their talents to make the main dancer look good without fair exchange and the main dancer here is the U.S.. Nevertheless, people from Puerto Rico come here (to the U.S.) for assistance and opportunities to rebuild their homes and fix their communities while falling down this never-ending cycle of being taken advantage of. The U.S. has displaced Puerto Ricans from Puerto Rico. This story in a way aligns with Rita Moreno’s because her story was about how she as a Puerto Rican women did not want to be back up in West Side Story, and all though I may be making an assumption here Moreno knows her worth and value to where being backup was nowhere near an option. Why have a cast of white people play Puerto Rican people in brown face when you can have actual Puerto Rican people take on these roles. In doing this creates a space that Puerto Ricans are not welcomed.
del Valle Schorske analyzes the consequences of natural disasters and changes in US political and economic practices and the displacement that is faced by Puerto Ricans in the United States. The United States still treats Puerto Rico like a colony and is able to have financial gains, but in return they do not offer them equality under the law. Similarly, Puerto Ricens in the entertainment industry are often unable to move up from background dancer roles and are never able to become the main character themselves. An example of this was Rita Moreno who was casted in West Side Story, still felt insecure trying out for the main role. She felt like there were only certain mold of characters that she was limited too. This is parallel to the way the United States treats the citizens of PR, like the film industry, the actors are only used for economic gain but are not provided with the same equality of opportunity.
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