Let’s talk about your class experience. Please have a conversation with three people in the classroom based on the following questions:
How would you evaluate your performance in this class?
What was the most rewarding aspect of the class?
What was the most challenging aspect of the class and how did you tackle it?
After hearing from everyone, please share your main takeaways from the conversations. What were some common challenges or rewards that emerged? Did anyone share any particularly unique perspectives or strategies? How might this inform your future engagements with similar interdisciplinary classes?
Final Project Workshop
What challenges did you encounter (or think you will find) during your exploration of the Latinx neighborhood, and how did you overcome them (or plan to overcome them) to capture the essence of the community through your photos and personal essay?
How did (do) your personal experiences and observations in the Latinx neighborhood align or differ from the sources discussed in class? In what ways did the sources influence your understanding of the community, and how did they (will they) inform your photo essay?
Reflecting on the process of creating your personal essay and photo essay, what did you learn (or what do you think you will learn) about yourself, your biases, and your preconceived notions about Latinx culture and communities? How will this experience shape your future interactions and engagement with these communities?
Raising Victor Vargas (2002) is a Latinx coming-of-age comedy film. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received positive reviews from critics, and is now considered a classic of Latinx cinema. It was directed by Peter Sollett and co-written by him with the aid of -at the time- non-professional actors and the movie co-producer Eva Vives. The film is built around a series of structured improvisations. They tell the story of Victor Vargas, a teenage boy living in Loisaida, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, who struggles to navigate the complexities of adolescence, gender norms, and relationships while also dealing with the expectations of his traditional Dominican culture embodied by his abuela.
Raising Victor Vargas is ultimately a film about the abyss between reputation and experience, self-awareness, cis heterosexual gender performance, and teenage lust. The film explores the pressure that Victor feels to conform to traditional gender roles within the Caribbean culture of Loisaida where being a so-called “real man of the streets” is highly valued. Similarly, Victor’s grandma has difficulty accepting her grandchildren’s puberty and life changes. Victor and his family must deal with other ways to understand intimacy.
How do the film and the main characters navigate the complexities of masculinity?
How does Raising Victor Vargas explore the tensions and disconnections between self-image and reality; patriarchal gender roles, and intimacy?
How does Victor’s performance of masculinity (and the other male characters) fluctuate depending on the spaces they are in and the people they interact with?
How the film Raising Victor Vargas illustrates or challenges masculinist ideas
.Dominican and Puerto Rican boys embody heteronormative masculinity as a reflection of their social worlds. These male teens claim male supremacy and belonging by acting their maleness, la hombría. Boys did not experience puberty on their own but rather within their homosocial group.
.Male adolescence is a social process as much as a biological transformation. A social process means that there are interactions and a collective embodiment. You become yourself by fitting into the group’s norms. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans residing in low-income neighborhoods such as old-school Loisaida constructed their masculine identities by reproducing dominant gender expectations in their barrios, in the media, and in the norms of their countries of origin.
.Groups of male friends police each other regarding their gender performance. Boys must be vigilant regarding these gender expectations and thus should put an appropriate masculine performance in front of their friends and family. However, the ideal masculinity might look different depending on the social setting.
.In flirtatious exchanges, the boys and girls often incorporated sexual innuendos that called attention to their own developed bodies and those they desired. These interactions allowed the boys and girls to express their physical attraction to one another and explore the personal and physical boundaries of potential boyfriends and girlfriends. Collective notions of beauty constrain young men.
.The film also explores feminist visions in relation to the overwhelming machismo of the Loisaida community.
In the film, consent is given when the stereotypical performances of masculinity are dismantled, and the young men show consistency and their vulnerable selves without imposing themselves. First Melonie and then Judy affirm their desires accepting Harold and Victor but on their own terms. Vicky also accepts the friendship of a boy that pursues her, Carlos, once she establishes her boundaries with him. Arguably, la abuela sees the importance of letting go of her moralist grip, unrealistic expectations, and the need to communicate better her necesidades around the house.
Overall, Raising Victor Vargas presents a nuanced and complex portrayal of masculinity, showing how cultural, familial, and personal influences shape it. Masculinity ends up being performed by Victor in the context of his relationships with the women in his life (his grandma, his sister, and Judy). As he navigates his feelings towards his family, his friends, and Judy, he modifies his performance of masculinity questioning common stereotypes and learning what a fluid, respectful and caring masculinity entails.
Helen Ceballos describes the experience of arriving as an undocumented migrant and the weight of being seen or perceived in transit. What does this suggest about the challenges and risks of migration, and how might these experiences shape the ways migrants view themselves and their relationships with others?
Thinking of these questions describe how the photographs expand on the topics of migration present in Ceballos’s text.
Helen Ceballos is a Dominican performer, visual artists, writer and cultural promoter that addresses issues of migration to Puerto Rico and the US; Black Atlantic and Queer Afro-Latinidad.
As a photo-text, Cerezas por papeles/ Cherries for documents is part of a larger piece that Ceballos staged and performed in a gallery in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The piece is comprise of fragments inspired by Ceballos’ life experiences migrating to Puerto Rico and traveling and living in other countries including Brazil, Argentina and the US. Ceballos proposes that the topic of migration requires that we engage in multiple registers, narratives and perspectives. In particular she is invested in how migration affects Dominican and Caribbean women. She is also interested in how the vulnerability of being a migrant is intersected by gender-based oppression, anti-blackness and constant misreading.
How does Ceballos’ exploration of empowered womanhood intersect with her reflections on the perils and strategies of migration and traveling?
Can you explain how Ceballos’ need to perform citizenship and belonging affects her interactions with other members of her community in her piece? What does the birth certificate for rent suggest about the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants and the lengths they may go to overcome them?
Ceballos describes the labor and sacrifices of the women in her family. How do their experiences inform her understanding of the challenges faced by migrant women in the labor force today?
How does the story of the author’s aunt Cathy highlight the difficulty and complexity of legalizing documents as an undocumented immigrant? What are the consequences of being unable to do so?
Please discuss the following questions with a partner. Each person will speak for 2 minutes and the other person will listen.
Who benefits? Who suffers? Whose interests are advanced? Who pays the costs? Who/What is protected and served? Who is bullied and brutalized? What might be some alternatives to policing?
Alejandro Heredia is a queer Afro-Dominican writer and community organizer from The Bronx. He has received fellowships from Lambda Literary, VONA, the Dreamyard Rad(ical) Poetry Consortium, and the Dominican Studies Institute.
How does your experience as an immigrant shape your writing, if at all? How does the history of where you are from affect your identity, and in turn, your writing?
AH: I suppose that’s where it all begins for me, being an immigrant. I migrated to New York from the Dominican Republic when I was seven, so I had to learn a new language at a young age, and more, learn how to translate myself into a new set of words and linguistic patterns. And it wasn’t all easy and pretty. I didn’t have a choice but to learn English to survive the classroom, doctor visits with my mom, and run-ins with authority figures. In that way and in so many others, being an immigrant, a Dominican immigrant to be exact, informs so much of what I write about and how I write about it.
For example, when I was growing up, I was surrounded by kids from all over the African diaspora—kids from the Caribbean, West Africa, and Black American kids whose lineage in the United States goes back half a dozen generations. There’s so much richness there. This place was where all these ethnic groups were forced to share schools, apartment buildings, supermarkets, etc. I’m endlessly curious about the connections we made, the stories we created together and about each other across differences. There’s an endless pool of inspiration there, in those cities and barrios I come from.
I don’t pretend to represent anyone else. I can barely represent myself entirely. But through my work, I do hope to expand the narrative possibilities for people like me who come from The Bronx and Santo Domingo.
In “Muchacho,” Heredia portrays the aftermath of a police killing in a Dominican community. He delves into the multifaceted process of mourning, from individual experiences to collective grief. By investigating the significance of a name, Heredia exposes the dehumanization of Black and Brown lives caused by police brutality and media coverage that reduces individuals to anonymous bodies. Additionally, Heredia examines the politicization process within a community that is often marginalized and strives to remain inconspicuous.
Furthermore, Heredia employs the narrative perspective of the mother to emphasize the contrast between private and communal experiences, shedding light on the emotional burden of a missing son. Through the mother’s voice, Heredia conveys the intimate pain and suffering that is often overlooked in discussions of police brutality and its impact on marginalized communities.
Please discuss the following questions with a partner.
How do you feel after watching/listening to his story?
Why this story is pertinent to Dominican and Latinx Communities in NYC?
How do you connect this video with Heredia’s short story?
Write a 7-word story about how you feel about the police killing in the story and the myriad ways the community responded. You can choose anything aspect of Heredia’s narrative you want. Here are two examples:
Pick one of the four paintings by Martin Wong. In an index card describe what you see. How does the painting give a spotlight on how life was in NYC in the 1980s?
Wong’s work ties together brick, queer erotics, tenement living, city disinvestment,exploitative landlord arson to cash in on insurance money, and the Black, Brown, and Asian lives of Loisaida. Wong’s paintings, and the poems of Piñero and Rivas, represent a time that the current landscape of the Lower East Side actively conceals. The condemned tenement I pass by seems to be one of the only remnants left. It gives shape to the stories of yesterday, with its blasted windows and barred doors, this obelisk invisibly inscribed with their memories, keeping their Loisaida alive.
Non-fiction writer, Marcos Gonsalez, of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent reflects on his time living in Loisaida (LES). He references architecture, poetry, visual arts, and scholarly work to reflect on the Lower East Side’s history, vibrant culture, systemic marginalization, the derivative social ills that came with it, and eventual gentrification. In the essay, he argues that in order to avoid the erasures that come with gentrification it is vital to learn from the stories of the long-standing neighbors of the area as well as the arts.
Groups 1 and 2
In groups, select and discuss a quote from the essay in which Gonzalez tries to respond to these questions:
How do we “continue to struggle for the rights, well-being, and lives of the marginalized, in places like Loisaida, New York City, and beyond?
How do we keep thinking of, and fighting for, the displaced?”
Groups 3 and 4
How does Gonzalez compare life in suburbia vs life in the city?
Nuyorican Poets (Cafe) and Urban Storytelling/Poetics
My time in Loisaida cultivated a particular kind of sensibility which was not the one I was raised on. The high concentration of people in such a small perimeter taught me ways of being in the world with others that were about caring and responsiveness, about being attuned to the ebbs and flows of neighbors and strangers alike. It was about the ways a story is told – the emphases of the voice, the twists and turns of a plot, the preciseness of words – and not just about the content itself. It was about the listener and audience, keeping them with you in story, in emotion, in longing, towards laughter, crying, thinking. My time in Loisaida was about learning to live in a space where the odds were stacked against you. It was about the imaginative reanimating of a past that was but will never again be, lived through the streets and tenements.
2. In the comment section down below answer ONE of the following prompts (2o0-words minimum).
Why Marcos Gonsalez starts his essay on Loisaida (the Lower East Side) by referring to the Luxor Obelisk? What does the obelisk represent in the essay?
“Loisaida’s storytellers, dreamers, philosophers of brick and mortar taught me to imagine the past. To imagine the past, not as something to feel justified in transcending, nor to fit some narrative of progress that makes those in power feel good about how far we’ve come. Rather, they taught me how past times and neighborhoods made certain kinds of care and community possible, certain ways of thinking and storytelling manifest.”
How does Miguel Piñero’s work allow Gonsalez to imagine and understand different time periods in Loisaida?
Gonsalez says: “Like Loisaida’s poets and artists of the 1970s and 1980s, it similarly became for me the site of an erotic awakening, and of artistic possibility.”
How does Gonsalez present the connections between sexuality and artistic expression in Loisaida?
What things presented in the documentary and/or the essay about the PR-US relationship were new to you? Why they were impactful? What other questions emerged?
US imperialism in Puerto Rico began in 1898 when the United States invaded the island during the Spanish-American War. After the war, Puerto Rico became a US territory, and its people were granted US citizenship in 1917. However, despite their citizenship, Puerto Ricans did not have the same rights as US citizens on the mainland, such as the right to vote in presidential elections.
As the documentary presents US government used Puerto Rico for its own economic and military interests, including the establishment of military bases and the exploitation of the island’s natural resources. This exploitation often had negative consequences for the Puerto Rican people, who were often forced to work for low wages in dangerous jobs (in the archipelago and the diaspora) or had their land seized by US corporations (very recently by Airbnb and other Realt State Agencies).
What is transnationalism?
Transnationalism is a term that describes the processes of globalization that have led to the increasing interconnectedness and interdependence of people, organizations, and institutions across national borders. It could refer to social, economic, cultural, and political activities and interactions that transcend national boundaries and create new forms of identity and community that are not limited by geographical or political borders.
Both the Nuyorican actress, community activist, author, dancer, and choreographer Rosie Perez and the scholar Jorge Duany depict Puerto Ricans’ strong cultural identity en vaiven, on the move.
They describe circular migration, transnational practices, and how Boricuas present all sorts of tensions and at times open resistance to the prospects of assimilation into mainstream US society.
They highlight the ways Puerto Ricans are creating new forms of identity, community, and power that are not bound by traditional notions of national sovereignty.
In their work, they also refer to the ways in which Puerto Rican people maintain connections to their home countries and cultures while living and working in NYC, other states, and countries.
What is the context in which the documentary was written and produced?
Using the Puerto Rican Day Parade as a backdrop and questions about the roots of Puerto Rican pride, Nuyorican artist, Rosie Perez, her sister, and cousin embark on personal research about the history of Puerto Rico and its colonial dependency on the United States. The processes of Puerto Rican migration and community building in the U.S. are also discussed in the film.
What is the documentary’s central argument?
Rosie Pérez and her family, argue that to understand Puerto Rican migration to the United States, one has to discuss the history of imperialism and colonialism on the island and comprehend how the United States has benefitted from Puerto Rican land, resources, and people. The film also explores how US imperialism impacted Puerto Rican culture, language, and identity. Many Puerto Ricans faced discrimination and were pressured to assimilate into US culture, causing a loss of traditional customs and language. However, Pérez presents that Puerto Rican culture and identity persisted, and many Puerto Ricans fought back against US imperialism through political activism and cultural expression.
Discuss how the documentary addresses ONE of the following topics. Refer to specific scenes or sequences:
.US military presence in the archipelago
.Population control and medical experimentation on Puerto Rican women
.Puerto Rican diasporic culture
Expanding on the impact of US imperialism on Puerto Rico:
Agricultural Exploitation: The film discusses how the US government promoted large-scale agriculture in Puerto Rico, which resulted in the displacement of small-scale farmers and the destruction of the island’s natural ecosystems.
Language Suppression: The film also touches on the suppression of the Spanish language and Puerto Rican culture in schools. Many Puerto Ricans were forced to attend English-speaking schools and were punished for speaking Spanish. This policy had a lasting impact on the island’s cultural identity and contributed to a loss of traditional customs and language.
Political Struggle: The film also documents the political struggle of Puerto Ricans against US imperialism. The film argues that the US government’s efforts to suppress this political activism had a lasting impact on the island’s democratic institutions and created an environment of fear and repression.
Military Bases: The film discusses the establishment of US military bases in Puerto Rico, which had a profound impact on the island’s environment and the health of its people, a case in point would be the island municipality of Vieques. The film argues that the military’s use of Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals on the island has led to an increase in cancer and other health problems among Puerto Ricans.
The US has also used Puerto Rico as a testing ground for pharmaceuticals and other industries, often with little regard for the health and well-being of Puerto Rican people. The contraceptive pill is a significant example of this type of practice.
Yo soy Boricua Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepas! I’m Boricua, Just So You Know! (Rosie Pérez, 2006)
1. Watch the documentary Yo soy Boricua pa’ que tú lo sepas directed by Rosie Pérez (posted above).
2. Read the essay “Nation and Migration: Rethinking Puerto Rican Identity in a Transnational Context” by Jorge Duany (Blackboard Course Documents)
3. In the comment section down below, write a 200-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 3/22 before the class):
Jorge Duany defines Puerto Rico as an overseas possession of the United States. He says that the archipelago has been exposed to an intense penetration of American capital, commodities, laws, and customs unequal to other Latin American countries. (51)
Taking into consideration Duany’s exposition and the documentary, discuss what are some specific effects of US colonialism in Puerto Rico? Expand on at least two cases presented in the documentary.
Duany argues that over the past few decades, Puerto Rico has become a nation on the move (en vaivén) through the relocation of almost half of its population to the United States and the transnational flow of people between the archipelago and the mainland (and vice versa). (54-7)
How does Rosie Pérez’s documentary depict the notion of Puerto Rico as a country on the move (en vaivén; in back and forth flows)?
Duany contends that Puerto Ricans moving back and forth between the islands and the mainland carry not only bags full of gifts but also their cultural practices, experiences, and values, such as ideas about respect and dignity (53)
Thinking about this argument elaborate on how do Puerto Ricans defend their cultural legacy and community in the US beyond the parade? Expand on at least one example presented in the documentary.