Latin America: An Institutional and Cultural Survey

Poetics of Latinidad + Wrapping- up

Poetry is the full act of naming. Naming states of mind. The rebellious, the contentious, the questioning personality wins out. And poetry is on the street burning it up with its vision of the times to be.

-Miguel Algarín, “Nuyorican Language”

Bilingual poetry and letters disrupted linear thinking, engaged in multivocal discourse, and restore call and response as the central logic of internal dialogue… It uses the modified language of two colonizers to express the conscience of a conquered race, a raza, by prioritizing its main raíz: the mestizo/mulato/black body. Nuyorican poetry expressed Latin American cultural tradition as refracted through Puerto Rico’s unincorporated territory status… in the end, she forms a voice in an act of decolonization from both the colonizer to the North and the one to the South.

-Ed Morales, “Raza Interrupted” (Page 113)

I. Poetics of Afro-decendencia/ Black Latinidad

ELIZABETH ACEVEDO is the author of the award-winning novels, The Poet X, With the Fire On High and Clap When You Land She holds a BA in Performing Arts from George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Acevedo is a National Poetry Slam Champion, winner of the National Book Award, and the Boston-Globe Hornbook Award Prize for Best Children’s Fiction of 2018.


Open discussion:

Discuss the three distinct views on Afro-Latinidad discussed by Acevedo in her poem.

II. Poetics of Salsa and Puertoricanness 

DENICE FROHMAN is a poet, performer, and educator from New York City. She is a CantoMundo Fellow, former Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion and Leeway Transformation Award recipient. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Nepantla: An Anthology for Queer Poets of ColorWomen of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism, and has garnered over 10 million views online.

 “Accents”- Denise Frohman


my mom holds her accent like a shotgun, with two good hands. her tongue, all brass knuckle slipping in between her lips her hips, all laughter and wind clap. she speaks a sanchocho of spanish and english, pushing up and against one another, in rapid-fire there is no telling my mama to be “quiet,” she doesn’t know “quiet.” her voice is one size better fit all and you best not tell her to hush, she waited too many years for her voice to arrive to be told it needed housekeeping. English sits in her mouth remixed so “strawberry” becomes “eh-strawbeddy” and “cookie” becomes “eh-cookie” and kitchen, key chain, and chicken all sound the same. my mama doesn’t say “yes” she says, “ah ha” and suddenly the sky in her mouth becomes Hector Lavoe song. her tongue can’t lay itself down flat enough for the English language, it got too much hip too much bone too much conga too much cuatro to two-step got too many piano keys in between her teeth, it got too much clave too much hand clap got too much salsa to sit still it be an anxious child wanting to make Play-Doh out of concrete English be too neat for her kind of wonderful. her words spill in conversation between women whose hands are all they got sometimes our hands are all we got and accents remind us that we are still bomba, still plena say “wepa” and a stranger becomes your hermano, say “dale” and a crowd becomes a family reunion. my mama’s tongue is a telegram from her mother decorated with the coqui’s of el campo so even though her lips can barely stretch themselves around english, her accent is a stubborn compass always pointing her towards home.

Open discussion:

How does Denise Frohman think of her mother’s accent? How she connects it to Puerto Rican culture?

III. Wrapping-Up

This interdisciplinary hybrid course examined indigenous and black experiences in Latin American history, society, and culture from pre-colonial times to the present. It looked specifically at European and US colonialism and imperialism while presenting ongoing decolonial, and anti-racist struggles. It emphasized socio-cultural and political contributions among Latin Americans and the implications of these manifestations for the formation of transnational identities. Lastly, we explored the notion of hybrid nationalisms and the fight for social justice and human rights in relation to various US Latinx communities.

Feedback Questions

Write your response on a card:

.What did you learn in our class?

.What was your favorite topic/reading/film/author/assignment?

.What was difficult this semester and how did you overcome that obstacle?

Ground Zero- Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

Entry Question

What topics from the second half of the semester would you like to engage with for the final project? Do you want to propose a question?

Brief Biographical Introduction

Karla Cornejo Villavicencio is an Ecuadorian-American writer and the author of The Undocumented Americans, published in 2020 and shortlisted for the National Book Award for Nonfiction. She has written about immigration, music, beauty, and mental illness

A common story among Latinx migrants

She was born in Ecuador in 1989. When she was a year and a half old, her parents immigrated to the US, leaving her with family. A few years later, her parents brought her to the US. 

A rare story among Latinx migrants

She graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 2011 and believes that she is one of the first undocumented immigrants to do so. She is currently a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at Yale. She is also currently serving as Baruch College’s very own Harman Writer-in-Residence for the fall of 2021.

Recommended Student-led Interview

Oral/slide presentations





Group Discussion

In groups of five discuss ONE of the following topics. Expand on both Cornejo Villavicencio’s text and your classmates’ reflections.



This text made sure to highlight how much many of these undocumented Latin Americans were affected by 9/11 because they were first responders and had to deal with poor working conditions mostly due to them being undocumented… I also thought it was really sad to see how much these Latin Americans went through from the working conditions, being heckled by some of the public, and then after all that many of them contracting illnesses and diseases both physical and mental.

-Logan Santin

The text shares Milton’s story, “I tried to take my life. A psychiatrist…talked him down from overdosing on pills. A psychiatrist… talked him down from throwing himself onto the train tracks” (37). This topic really resonated with me because of the parallels between the text and my family. My parents are from Latin America and seem to not truly understand why mental health is so important. They tend to brush off a lot of situations and deal with their issues by themselves. Mental health needs to be discussed more openly without judgment in Latin American communities. Without proper conversations, there are many people who are suffering in silence.

-Thiare Garcia

“Other Latinx people do not believe in therapy and commonly say that “therapy isn’t for us.” But the truth is that often therapy isn’t an option as undocumented Latin Americans or children of immigrants do not have the money for therapy. As a result, thousands of Latin Americans do not receive proper health and suffer in silence… The Latinx community must start to destigmatize mental health. There need to be more public resources regarding mental health and affordable access to mental help. If we don’t fix this, it may cost people their lives.”

-Laura Portillo Carrillo

This topic resonated with me as a teenager, because adults would think that children are just ignorant, and they will heal automatically when they grow up, but without good treatment in between, how can children get rid of the pain of childhood.

-Zhiqing Jiang

The topic of mental health and migration resonates with me because I have a relative who is also suffering from mental illness, which causes pain and despair for herself and her family. Mental illness should not be discriminated against. Mental illness is similar to a cold, one is sick in the body, the other is sick in the heart.

-Lacy Lin

This topic really did resonate with me because some of my friends parents would think that their mental health problems would automatically be fixed if they just gave it time. These problems are not a joke and should be treated seriously.

-Madison Russo


“people like Paloma explain the exploitation of the workers, stating how she and others would have never taken the job had there been a sign detailing the immense risks and health consequences, and how access to the subsequent funds came with many restrictions for the undocumented workers.”


The undocumented immigrants working in ground zero weren’t made aware of the conditions they were working in and had to suffer health conditions because of it. Not only that but they couldn’t even get properly compensated as their checks would bounce or they weren’t able to prove that they worked in ground zero. A lot of the immigrants affected were Latin who migrated to America for a better life but ended up suffering here. Again exploited and mistreated when working in ground zero many also gained mental health effects PTSD, depression, anxiety, etc.

-Nelly Ferol


“The poor conditions Milton Vallejo was working in during the cleanup had an effect on both his mental and physical state. Moreover, Vallejo was only receiving $60 for a 12-hour working day. Yet after his and many others Latinx massive contributions to the community and reconstruction they were viewed as slaves, as they weren’t allowed to talk or work when the white contractor came in to check on them.”

-Fedir Usmanov

“They had to deal with the dangerous work. They also had zero to no safety/protection that they would get injured from the work or sick from the dust. I think this is very important as this could be considered slave work. It is basically inhumane.”


Extra-credit opportunity with 250-word reflection

Asynchronous Blog Post on Ground Zero

Asynchronous Blog Post


1. Read the essay “Ground Zero” by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio.

2. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 12/02 before the class. 200-words minimum.


Think back to Cornejo Villavicencio’s text. Why do you think is important to center these discussions around the experiences of undocumented Latin Americans?  Reflect and share your interpretation of one of the topics from the essay that resonated with you.

.migration and its health cost

.mental health and migration

.gender-based violence

.denial of health services/ debt

.reproduction of plantation economies (Latinx overseer)

.invizibilized labor

.surviving through tip economies



Have you or your family experienced any of the experiences and/or struggles indicated above? How do they resemble and how do they differentiate from the accounts presented by Cornejo Villavicencio?


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “Ground Zero” do you want to bring into the discussion?

Raza Interrupted: New Hybrid Nationalism (Pages 100-116)- Ed Morales

Entry Question
When you think of Nuyorican culture what art forms, artists, thinkers, activists, community organizations, political organizations come to mind and why?


Nuyorican Identity
In the chapter “Raza Interrupted: New Hybrid Nationalism” poet, journalist, and critic Ed Morales argues that Nuyorican identity developed out of three spheres: salsa, radical cultural nationalism, and Nuyorican literature (Page 104)
Oral/slide presentations



Wu,Can Fu



Salsa reached back to Caribbean musical forms and insisted on Spanish as a lingua franca to preserve a sense of origin. It was a modernist re-contextualization of the mulatez aesthetic of Afro-Cuban music, redrawn to fit the 70s crisis of capitalism and the collapse of industrialization in cities like New York. (Morales, 104-107)

What do you think of Ed Morales’ claim that salseros created a “stripped-down package of from-below musicians playing for a from-below audience (106).”?

Radical Politics

The Young Lords’ core membership was motivated by local community concerns, such as the infrequency of garbage collection, the lack of access to tuberculosis testing, and the impact of lead-based paint used in tenements that housed the children of the urban poor. Like the Black Panthers, it functioned as a national liberation movement with a strong focus on culture and identity. (Pages 108-110)

In your opinion what were the greatest achievements of the Young Lords and how do you think these direct actions and political strategies promoted a Nuyorican identity?

Nuyorican Poetry

Bilingual poetry and letters disrupted linear thinking, engaged in multivocal discourse, and restore call and response as the central logic of internal dialogue… It uses the modified language of two colonizers to express the conscience of a conquered race, a raza, by prioritizing its main raíz: the mestizo/mulato/black body. Nuyorican poetry expressed Latin American cultural tradition as refracted through Puerto Rico’s unincorporated territory status.  (Page 113)

Pietri’s poem memorialized the sacrifice of countless laborers with dignity, but he sounded the death knell for a generation that lacked self-awareness. (Page 110)

Luciano describes the transformation of the jíbaro from an idealized white peasant of the countryside to the modern-day black, urban Puerto Rican whose racial identification was a major part of a political radicalization project. (Page 107)

How do these poems, poets, and performances illustrate the ideas about Nuyorican identity presented by Ed Morales?

Asynchronous Blog Post on Raza Interrupted (Pages 123-132)

Ed Morales argues that Nuyoricans were/are equipped to engage in a project of multiculturalism while preserving their local, human, and urban culture and traditions. These traditions come mostly from the Taino, African and Spanish heritage as well as the many hybridizations of US society. Morales defends that more than assimilating to Hispanic (in its original European sense) or US American culture, Nuyoricans responded and at times contested and added complexity to these identity formations. (Pages 131-132)

The questions that follow address some instances in which Nuyoricans have become central influencers in the development of NYC’s arts and communities at the end of the twentieth century.



In the comment section down below, write a (200-word minimum) response based on ONE of the following prompts (Deadline 11/18 before the class):


Discuss the involvement of Nuyoricans in the creation of Hip Hop.


Morales argues that Benjy Meléndez’s story illustrates the multicultural intersections at the core of Hip Hop. Why? Expand.


Describe the input of Puerto Rican artists to avant-garde visual arts scenes in New York.


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “Raza Interrupted” do you want to bring into the discussion?

The Uprising of Dignity: The Zapatista Movement

Entry Discussion

In breakout rooms, pick ONE of the following Zapatistas mottos and discuss your understanding of it based on the documentary and the Zapatista declaration:

.”Another world is possible.”

.”We are making a world that gives space to other worlds.”

.“We learn as we walk, side by side with our education. To educate is to learn.”

.”They could cut all the flowers but the true words… never.”

.“Everything for everyone, nothing for us.”

Zapatista Central Concepts

Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona

.Rebel dignity

Everywhere there are more compañeros and compañeras who are learning to relate to persons from other parts of Mexico and of the world. They are learning to respect and to demand respect. They are learning that there are many worlds and that everyone has their place, their time, and their way, and therefore there must be mutual respect between everyone.

We are also going to go about raising a struggle in order to demand that we make a new Constitution, new laws that take into account the demands of the Mexican people.


.Mal gobierno (bad government)

We saw quite clearly that there was no point in dialogue and negotiation with the bad governments of Mexico. That it was a waste of time for us to be talking with the politicians because neither their hearts nor their words were honest. They were crooked, and they told lies that they would keep their word, but they did not. The politicians from the PRI, the PAN, and the PRD reached an agreement among themselves, and they simply did not recognize indigenous rights and culture. We saw that blood did not matter to them, nor did death, suffering, mobilizations, consultas, efforts, national and international statements, encuentros, accords, signatures, commitments. And so the political class not o­nly closed, o­ne more time, the door to the Indian peoples, they also delivered a mortal blow to the peaceful resolution – through dialogue and negotiation – of the war.

.Neoliberal globalization

Neoliberal globalization wants to destroy the nations of the world so that only o­ne Nation or country remains, the country of money, of capital. And capitalism wants everything to be as it wants, in its own way, and it doesn’t like what is different, and it persecutes it and attacks it, or puts it off in a corner and acts as if it doesn’t exist.

Then, in short, the capitalism of global neoliberalism is based o­n exploitation, plunder, contempt, and repression of those who refuse. The same as before, but now globalized, worldwide.

*See interview with Subcomandante Marcos 7:00-8:15

.Juntas del buen gobierno (autonomous municipal governments)

This method of autonomous government was not simply invented by the EZLN, but rather it comes from several centuries of indigenous resistance and from the zapatistas’ own experience. It is the self-governance of the communities. In other words, no o­ne from outside comes to govern, but the peoples themselves decide, among themselves, who governs and how, and, if they do not obey, they are removed. If the o­ne who governs does not obey the people, they pursue them, they are removed from authority, and another comes in.

All the juntas work toward equitable housing, land, work, food, health, education, information, culture, independence, democracy, justice, liberty, and peace.

Oral/Slide Presentations

Santin,Logan A





Zapatistas call their educational practice “otra educación,” another education, based on the video, why do you think they call it that way? How their approaches to pedagogy are different from mainstream educational methods?

Women’s Rights and Leadership

In the chatbox, complete ONE of these sentences.

Zapatista women took conscience of_______.

Zapatista women are organizing for ________.

In conclusion

Ongoing Zapatista Principles 

1 – We are going to continue fighting for the Indian peoples of Mexico, but now not just for them and not with o­nly them, but for all the exploited and dispossessed of Mexico, with all of them and all over the country. And when we say all the exploited of Mexico, we are also talking about the brothers and sisters who have had to go to the United States in search of work in order to survive.

2 – We are going to go to listen to, and talk directly with, without intermediaries or mediation, the simple and humble of the Mexican people, and, according to what we hear and learn, we are going to go about building, along with those people who, like us, are humble and simple, a national program of struggle for justice, democracy, and liberty for the Mexican people.

3 – We are going to try to build, or rebuild, another way of doing politics, one which o­nce again has the spirit of serving others, without material interests, with sacrifice, with dedication, with honesty, which keeps its word, whose o­nly payment is the satisfaction of duty performed.

Asynchronous Blog Post on The Uprising of Dignity

Asynchronous Blog Post


1. Watch the documentary The Uprising of Dignity

2. Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 11/11 before the class.


Pick ONE of the topics down below and discuss:

How do the Zapatistas create alternative practices to improve the living conditions and sovereignty of the indigenous people in Chiapas? Which of the approaches and ideas interested you the most and why? Do you think these ideas and models could help marginalized communities in the U.S.?


.respect for the land and ecological consciousness

.community self-rule structure




.collective work

.women’s rights

.global solidarity network


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about The Uprising of Dignity do you want to bring into the discussion?

Cocolos Modernos- Petra Rivera-Rideau

Entry Question

Thinking on our previous sources, discussions, and their relationship to today’s reading, what do you understand by cultural politics of blackness?

Cocolos Modernos

Professor and scholar of race and Caribbean music Petra Rivera-Rideau argues “that a cultural politics of blackness links salsa and reggaetón. This cultural politics of blackness denotes a particular positioning that not only calls attention to the processes of racial exclusion embedded within Puerto Rico’s so-called racial democracy but also situates the island within the broader African diaspora. Salsa and reggaetón are [many times] connected through diasporic cultural politics that centers on blackness. ” (1)

Socio-cultural context

Hegemonic constructions of Puerto Rican and US Latina/o identities tend to uphold race mixture as their foundation; however, in the process, they also frequently diminish the importance of blackness, privileging a whitened ‘Hispanicity’ instead. (2)

What current or day-to-day examples can you give of cultural whitewashing?

Afro-Diasporic Musical Genres

Salsa and reggaetón are linked together via a cultural politics of blackness that foregrounds broader connections to the African diaspora. Alternatively, it denotes a strategic positioning in relation to racial politics that denounces the problematic and essentializing tropes of blackness that are intrinsic to the discourses of western modernity within which Puerto Rican and Latina/o identities have been defined. (2)

In general, salsa musicians composed songs that contested the structures of power that adversely affected their communities, including colonialism, classism, and racism… salsa nourished an appreciation of African style evident in its musical aesthetics, dance forms, and the hairdos and fashions adopted by many salsa artists and fans. (3)

In Puerto Rico, reggaetón developed in part as a response to the neoliberal and racist policies that adversely affected working-class, predominantly non-white communities living in the island’s urban housing projects and barrios. (4)

Oral/Slide Presentations



Santamaria,Patrick Loui

Case Studies

I. “El negro bembón”

“‘El negro bembón’ can be read as a denouncement of racial violence and an account of the everyday strategies that black Puerto Ricans must use to avoid such incidents. This directly refutes one of the fundamental premises of racial democracy discourses, pointing out the persistence of racism despite rhetoric to the contrary.” (7)

Someone killed el negro bembón,
Someone killed el negro bembón
People are crying night and day

Because Everybody loved
al negrito bembón

And the police came and they arrested the killer
and one of the policemen who was also a bembón/ a black man got bad luck and was assigned the case
And you know what question he asked the killer?
Why you killed him?
And you know what the assassin answered? I killed him because he has big lips.
The policeman bit his lips and said:

That is not justifiable.

II. “Las caras lindas”

‘Las caras lindas,’ or ‘Beautiful Faces,’ describes the resilience and beauty of black communities throughout the diaspora, and especially in Latin America, and it has been embraced by many as an anthem celebrating Afro-Latina/o identities. Like his recordings with Cortijo, Rivera’s performance of ‘Las caras lindas’ represents a stark contrast to the privileging of whiteness in Puerto Rico and much of Latin America. (7)

The beautiful faces of my black people are a parade of molasses in bloom. When they pass in front of me my heart is happy with its blackness. The beautiful faces of my brown race have crying, grief, and pain they are the truth, survivors of life’s challenges and they have a lot of love inside. We are the molasses that laughs, the molasses that cry, we are the molasses that love. It is touching. That’s why I’m proud of our color. We are welcoming clear poetry. They have their rhythm, they have a melody, the beautiful faces of my black people.

III. “Loíza”

Located in the northeastern corner of Puerto Rico, Loíza is a town that is often described as the epicenter of Afro-Puerto Rican life and culture, sometimes in problematic ways that reiterate the ‘folkloricization’ of blackness. However, Calderón departs from this dominant image of Loíza by frequently describing socioeconomic conditions in the town as the product of perpetual institutional racism (P. Rivera, 2010, pp. 137–138). In this regard, Loíza serves as a metonym not of a folkoricized blackness, but rather of black communities that are consistently subject to racism on the island. (10)

This is for my people/pueblo!
With love, el abayarde!
With DJ Adam!
And Cachete, the big man of the drums!
For my people, that I love so much!
From Calderon, pa’ Loiza!
I’m in no hurry
But your slowness angers me
And the one who doesn’t deals/brega with Loiza
(No, don’t cry!)
He wants me to think
That I’m part of a racial trilogy
Where everybody is equal, no special treatment
I know how to forgive 
It’s you who doesn’t know how to excuse yourself
So, how do you justify all this bad treatment?
It’s just that your history/story is embarrassing.
Among other things
You traded chains for handcuffs.
We are not all the same in legal terms
And that has been proven in court
In the clear justice is obtained only by fighting 
That’s why we are as we are (Fuck it!)
If there’s no money for the lawyer, the state will provide one 
But brother
The one who takes you is the one who brought you
They kill you and don’t draw their guns
The cage is flooding
A legal sentence is a lame defense
There will never be justice without equality
Damn evil that destroys humanity
Because he’s protesting, he’s going to take away my freedom.
If I don’t recognize your authority
There will never be justice without equality
Damn evil that destroys humanity
If I protest, he’s going to take away my freedom.
I know that I don’t belong to your society
Of hypocrites
Vanity, plenty of falsehood 
There’s a lot of everything [consumerism] but no happiness
I have nothing
Just these fed up lyrics
And the ability not to believe in your truth
Who else
would think of 
saturate the mind of innocent children
With inconsistent education
Viciously manipulated
for the convenience of the wealthy
In the past they got away with it, they abused and they refuse to let me know of their wrongdoings
It is said that things have changed
but don’t go to sleep, they walk with sticks
And I’ve heard Ruben Berrios advocate for me.
I don’t trust anyone.
All with Vieques
My black people suffer
Little by little, mi negrito
Be smart
Be proud and honor god
For those niches
that believe themselves better by their professions
Or for having factions of their oppressors
Bastards, suckers
España go fuck yourself (Ja!)
I’m niche
Proud of my roots
Of having a lot of bemba and a big nose
We don’t stop being happy not even when suffering
That’s why our father God blesses us
There will never be justice without equality
Damn evil that destroys humanity
If I protest, he’s going to take away my freedom.
I don’t recognize your authority
This is el Abayarde!
Bringing it as it is!
I’m pushing them hard, to wake up my people!
Hey, how nice is my Loiza!
Look how pretty it is!

Group Discussion

Discuss the similarities and different perspectives of blackness between “El negro bembón” by Cortijo y su Combo, “Las caras lindas” by Ismael Rivera, and “Loíza” by Tego Calderón.

Asynchronous Blog Post on Cocolos Modernos

Asynchronous Blog Post


Pick ONE of the following options and respond in the comment section down below. The deadline is 11/04 before the class.


According to Rivera-Rideau, what are the central links between salsa and reggaetón? What does she mean by diasporic connections?


Who are the cocolos? Why Rivera Rideau conceptualize reggaetoneros as cocolos?


Rivera Rideau argues that salseros and reggaetoneros share similar cultural politics. Thinking of these commonalities, share a video by a salsa or reggaetón artist that exemplifies this political frame. Explain your selection by referring to Rivera-Rideau essay.


Respectfully interact with ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their arguments and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “Cocolos modernos, do you want to bring into the discussion?

Hip Hop in Colombia, Cuba, and México- Arango Garcia, Gates, and Tickner

Entry Question

Why do you think is important to think of Hip Hop as a Latin American musical genre too?

Hip Hop and Latin America

Hip Hop resonates in Latin America and the Caribbean because of its legacy of colonialism and slavery. There is a rich oral tradition in the region connected to the stories of people with African roots. Latin America and the Caribbean have the largest concentration of people with African ancestry outside Africa — up to 70 percent of the population in some countries. The region imported over ten times as many slaves as the United States and kept them in bondage far longer. Hip Hop in Latin America reminds us how the African cultural contribution is often forgotten or ignored.

Contextualizing Hip Hop 

Hip-hop exhibits a series of shared meanings and aesthetics that confirm the existence of a translocal network of cultural practices. The lyrical content of rap, especially, provides words, resources, and knowledge for articulating similar but not identical lived problems encountered in distinct places and times. The basic common denominator of this translocal space is the shared experience of marginality, understood as racial and ethnic discrimination, poverty, violence, and hardship. Hip-hop’s location in everyday life problems, however, also generates strong variations in local narratives, depending on the specific cultural contexts in which it is inscribed.  (Tickner 130)

Oral/Slide Presentations



Portillo-Carrillo,Laura A.

Ricketts,Javaun Anthony

Historical Context by Arlene Tickner

.Cuba’s isolation because of the U.S. embargo hindered hip-hop’s direct arrival via the culture industry. In the 1980s, however, television programs such as Soul Train and numerous U.S. radio stations, which Cubans heard through makeshift antennas, were received throughout the country. The 1980 Mariel boatlift, which permitted many Cubans to migrate northward, increased the circulation of cultural goods, such as cassettes and music videos, between the two countries. (129)

In the mid-1990s, the liberalization of foreign investment in Cuba, combined with the boom in world music sales, brought an upsurge in global music label contracts with Cuban musicians. (131)

.In Mexico, national and international media and record labels have been relatively uninterested in local hip-hop production, so that its expansion, development, and visibility to the public have been considerably less significant than in Cuba. The lack of public exposure led hip-hoppers to explore alternative venues for disseminating the genre. (132)

.In Colombia, hip-hop has enjoyed relatively ample media coverage nationally but has failed to attract similar levels of international press and record label attention. As in Cuba and Mexico, the mid-1990s constituted a turning point, when the genre gained recognition and an international market. (133)

-Arlene Tickner, “Aquí en el barrio”

Case Studies

I. Colombia

The song narrates a story of sadness and despair that characterizes everyday life in a poor and violent neighborhood in Bogota. The characters include a homeless man; a prostitute arrested for the umpteenth time for drug possession; her small children, who are forced to earn a living cleaning car windshields at stoplights; and an innocent youth unfairly accused of trying to steal an expensive car and then shot down and killed by the corrupt police. (134)

How this song by La Etnia compares to what the film La Playa D.C. depicts?

II. Cuba

The song is narrated by a black schoolboy who is the son of a construction worker. In subsequent verses, his awareness of class difference is apparent in the way he describes himself in comparison to the sons of doctors, who wear Adidas shoes and expensive cologne. At school, the narrator is the object of negative stereotypes associated with his race and social standing, among them thief, poor student, dishonest, and dis- respectful. In contrast, the doctor’s son is treated with veneration and respect. When the teachers discover that some math tests have been stolen, the black schoolboy claims that they automatically blame him, joking that the only reason he passed was that he cheated. Through this account, Clan 537 calls attention to problems of social inequality and racial discrimination. The song’s constant referral to the construction worker’s son as negro points to the role that race has played in the differential treatment of black people in Cuban society. (131)

Does this critique match what the rappers in Gates’ documentary series argued?

(Watch 47:41-51:15)

III. Mexico

In this song, Control Machete speaks about the violence characteristic of urban youth, as well as the anger and resentment associated with being poor and living near the U.S.-Mexican border. Throughout the narrative, being Mexican is vindicated through reference to local icons such as Pancho Villa and threatening language directed toward an invisible listener. As the song progresses, it becomes clearer that the “other” toward whom Control Machete’s rage is directed is the United States. In reference to U.S. border controls and police aggression, one of the rappers asserts, “what, you’re going to build a wall? We know how to drill. Don’t think for a minute that you’ll stop me!” Later on, he avenges dis- crimination against Mexicans by promising that he will be “sitting in your kitchen smoking a cigarette and drinking tequila, watching your television and eating your food.”

What thematic elements are distinct of Control Machete in relation to the other examples?