Latinx Film and Media

El Cantante + “Nothing Connect Us All But Imagined Sounds” (Part II)

In the second part of the essay, Valentín-Escobar discusses the cultural significance of how salsa singer Héctor Lavoe, is remembered and celebrated at his funeral. Despite Lavoe being known for his salsa music, efforts are being made to recognize him as part of the traditional Puerto Rican music genre, plena. This recognition is significant because it is seen as a way to reclaim Lavoe as an authentic Puerto Rican figure, particularly from Ponce, his hometown.

Some consider plena to be the authentic music of Puerto Rico, and associating Lavoe with this genre is a way of asserting his Puerto Rican identity. Valentín-Escobar suggests that this recognition of Lavoe as a plenero is not literally about music but more so about memory and identity. It also highlights how Lavoe, through his performances, blended different musical genres, including plena, into his salsa music.

Additionally, Valentín-Escobar discusses how Lavoe’s commemoration is about remembering him as a cultural hero and negotiating his significance (and body) across different Puerto Rican and Latin American communities and locations. The essay touches on the idea that music and memory can serve as a form of agency, allowing communities to assert their identity fluidly and evocating new cultural narratives.




Guaman,Danny Steve

.How does the film challenge Héctor Lavoe’s identity by centering the diasporic communities he navigated?

.The director Leon Ichaso and stars Marc Anthony and Jennifer López shape Lavoe’s music and legacy for XXI century audiences. What aspects of his story interested them the most? How do they want to remember him?

.How do controversies surrounding Lavoe’s personal life, as depicted in the film, highlight the complexities of locality, nationalism, and diasporic memory?

El Cantante and “Nothing Connects Us All But Imagined Sounds” (Part I)

.Years after he died, el sonero (improvisational salsa singer) Hector Lavoe is still remembered as a cultural hero. His legacy lives on through street art, plays, poetry readings, clothes featuring his image, [films,] and special salsa concerts across Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

.His music is kept alive by artists like Marc Anthony, Van Lester, and Domingo Quinones, who emulate his style. This way of honoring Lavoe represents a deep respect for the past and a connection to a musical tradition that transcends time and place.

.By celebrating Lavoe in these ways, Puerto Ricans in the diaspora express their identity and belonging, bridging the gap between their homeland and new homes.

Discussion Question

Cultural critic Wilson Valentín-Escobar argues that the performances that honor Hector Lavoe, whether through storytelling, music, dance, murals, or ceremonies, reflect the complexity of expressing identity and memory across different places. The scholar says that Lavoe’s legacy transcends physical boundaries, becoming a symbol that connects various geographical locations, including the NYC Puerto Rican diaspora, and engages with varying narratives of Puerto Rican identity and history.

How does the film El Cantante present the complexity of Lavoe’s figure and the “blending of diasporic and nationalist narratives into a collective memory”?

Discuss how including Puchi’s point of view adds nuances to the retelling of Lavoe’s life? What is the effect of this dual protagonist?

Thinking about the film and the essay, how did Hector Lavoe’s persona and music simultaneously embody the Puerto Rican “jíbaro” (islander) culture and the Nuyorican street sound?



Gomez,Angie Carolina


Performing Nuyoricanness

Following Valentín-Escobar, discuss the role of instrumentation, arrangements, and the free mixing of Afro-diasporic musical genres played in Wille Colón and Hector Lavoe Nuyorican identity? (210-211)

Elaborate on the record covers and album titles as a way to perform salsa’s street cred in New York? Concerning stereotypes about Puerto Ricans in the city, how do you interpret these images and titles? (212-213)

Valentín Escobar discusses that “many of Lavoe’s friends, fellow musicians, Salsa music promoters, and music journalists have described his life as plagued with adversity,” why do you think the film directed by León Ichaso emphasized this narrative? 

From Mambo to Hip-Hop and Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip-Hop Zone

Entry Question 

Before watching From Mambo to Hip-Hop and/or reading “Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip-Hop Zone,” did your conception of Hip-Hop include other cultural groups besides African Americans? Why? Why not?

A Hip-Hop Definition

Raquel Z. Rivera, Puerto Rican author of New York Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone, argues that “hip hop is most often historically defined in terms of music, visual arts (graffiti), and dance (breaking, popping, locking, rocking). Language, mannerisms, fashion, and other expressions of culture are considered by some to also be defining aspects of hip-hop. Hip hop, like earlier cultural expressions, has in many senses served as a bridge between Puerto Ricans, other Latina/os, West Indians, and African Americans.” (354)

Davey D Cook, an African American who grew up during this time in the South Bronx, explains: “Hip Hop was multicultural in the sense that it was Blacks and Puerto Ricans who put this whole thing down. We lived next to each other and, for the most part, shared the same urban problems. We also shared the same legacy of exploitation, oppression, and colonization.” (354)

When New York Puerto Rican youngsters began participating alongside African Americans in the early development of MCing as a lyrical/musical style, they were not exactly “defecting” from Puerto Rican tradition. Regarding social function and aesthetics, Puerto Rican oral and musical styles can be invoked as precursors of MCing as much as African American ones.

Island musical traditions like plena, bomba, and música jíbara can be invoked just as easily among rap’s forebears. Verbal duels featuring boasting, trading insults, sexual innuendoes, and improvisation are common in all three. Like rap, they are notorious for historicizing everyday events.

What would breakbeats be without the decades-old influence of Puerto Rican and Cuban musical traditions on African Americans in New York City? Those timbales and conga solos that were the heart of so many breakbeats got into soul and funk records from Africa via the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. (357)


Adams,Kianna Alexia

Griffiths,Alaynna Natasha


In her essay, “Between Blackness and Latinidad in the Hip Hop Zone,” Raquel Z. Rivera argues that the Puerto Rican input to Hip Hop has been depreciated or plainly erased because of ethnic and racial constructions in the U.S., the Caribbean, and Latin America. There is a marketing factor to the Puerto Rican exclusion. The U.S. music industry and the media centralized English-speaking African Americans over Puerto Ricans and Latinxs. But Rivera also posits that although conceived as multi-cultural and multi-racial, the Puerto Rican and Latinx identities (formed collectively) tend to reject the African heritage while celebrating Europeanness. This social process has created a false cultural divide between African Americans and Puerto Ricans. (352)

In the mid-1980s, as graffiti and the “breakdancing” craze faded into the media background, hip-hop became commercial popular music and was thought of as almost exclusively African American.  Back then [the 1980s], rap’s blackness was a big part of its commercial appeal. But it was not clear if Latina/os were a lighter version of black or not black at all. The industry gatekeepers were not often willing to take a risk by signing Latina/os. That is, until Latina/os, particularly Boricuas, became a ghetto-tropical fad in the mid-1990s. Then it became trendy for Latina/os and non-Latina/os to include words in Spanish and references to Latina/os in rhymes and have Butta Pecan Rican mamis adorning videos. (355)

Group Discussion 

How does From Mambo to Hip Hop show this joint Afro-Diasporic cultural movement?

Which testimonies better represented the cross-cultural dynamics of hip-hop as described by Raquel Z. Rivera?

Creative Group Workshop

In a group you will develop a written proposal (due on 3/20) outlining your ideas for either a photo essay or a video essay focused on a Latinx neighborhood in NYC. This proposal will serve as a detailed plan for your creative exploration, connecting personal experiences with course sources. 

Some of the themes to explore are: community activism; policing; the criminalization of Latinx youth; music cultures; Afro-Latinidades; migrant lives; queer and trans lives, cultures and organizing; practices of Latinx self-representation

Initial Brainstorm and Listening Session

Part I (10 Minutes)

Jot down your individual ideas:

.Brainstorm specific concepts, storylines, atmospheres, sounds, and images you would like to include in the project.

.Create a quick conceptual map that shows how your ideas connect to course sources.

Part II (20 minutes)

.By engaging in active listening (silently taking in what the other is saying without interruptions), each member will introduce themselves and share their ideas with the group.

.Engage in dynamic feedback. Identify common threads and perspectives

Part III (5 minutes)

.Summarize key points discussed during the session and strategize the next steps.

La operación- Ana María García

First released in 1982, Ana María García’s La Operación is a landmark documentary on population control policies in Puerto Rico. Using both interviews and historical footage that contextualize the heavy-handed promotion of female sterilization as an answer to “overpopulation” on the island, this film offered one of the first comprehensive analyses of population policies [necro-politics] as embedded in the context of U.S. imperialism, racism, and corporate-government cooperation to rationalize a national workforce.

Historical Background

  1. How does “La Operación” shed light on the intersectionality of socioeconomic and racial factors in the context of the widespread sterilization operation in Puerto Rico during the 1950s and 60s?
  2. In what ways does the documentary challenge the notion of agency and autonomy over women’s bodies, particularly in the context of the false promises made to Puerto Rican women regarding the consequences and reversibility of sterilization?
  3. How does Ana María García use a mix of interviews, scenes of sterilization procedures, and historical context to create a comprehensive and impactful narrative about the forced sterilization of Puerto Rican women, and what role do these different elements play in shaping the viewer’s understanding?
  4. Discuss the ethical implications of marketing sterilization as a solution to poverty and the impact it had on the reproductive rights of Puerto Rican women. How does the film highlight the ethical considerations surrounding exploiting vulnerable populations?
  5. What connections do you see between the necro-politics depicted in Decade of Fire and in La operación. How does it challenge the narrative of the U.S. as Puerto Rico’s benefactor?

Decade of Fire + Necropolis

Entry Question

What are some common signs of urban marginalization through time?

.What are the central ideas of this writer, thinker, and/or filmmaker?

In the documentary Decade of Fire, Vivian Vásquez looks at how during the 70s the systemic disenfranchisement of the Bronx as well as the criminalization of black, Puerto Rican, Caribbean, and Latinx people contributed to the literal burning of the borough and further displacement of these historically marginalized communities. Using Vasquez’s account, the filmmakers also pay attention to the ways grassroots organizing led to an ongoing project of revitalization, cultural affirmation, and sustainability.


.Analyze one specific section of the film with an excerpt by your assigned author that best communicates what you identified in the question above. What analogies and critical connections can you establish between the audiovisual work and the essay?

Necropolis- J. Chang (Page 13)


Both Chang and the filmmakers bring evidence of how landlords benefitted from burning their own buildings to collect insurance money. They proposed that this type of corrupt economy went on for many years with no accountability of repercussions against those who destroyed and displaced whole communities in the South Bronx.

.Select one specific element of mise-en-scene (costume, lighting, camera frames or movements, sound, music, actors’ movements, or positions) and examine how this artistic choice enhances or adds nuance to the central concerns of the audiovisual piece.

A mise en scene element that stands out from the documentary is the use of maps with archival footage to demonstrate and see the scale of its arguments (see 12:00-13:40 /  42:00-43:00).

In these two sections, we see on one side how redlining was part of a concerted effort of the state, the city, developers, and insurance companies to neglect black and Latinx communities, and on the other side, the amount of money made from the fires.

.Critical questions 

.What were some of the community initiatives against the “mathematics of destruction” (Chang 14) that stood out for you?

.Discuss specific examples of media representation, that led to the neglect and extreme marginalization of the Bronx during the 1970s.

.How the current wave of gentrification in the Bronx is connected to this story? (01:08:00-01:11:00)