Yomaira Figueroa-Vásquez argues that Frank Espada’s photography and Aracelis Girmay’s poetry “embodied practices that refuse silencing and erasure by bringing the Boricua subject to the fore as valuable and knowing human subject.” In cleaving these works together, she makes space for the examination of photo/poetics as “insurgent productions.” She analyzes how “the body and the quotidian are used as lenses through which to understand and indict coloniality and erasure.”
Inspired by the theory of Tina Campt, Figueroa suggests that the observer and reader listen to the images. “In her monograph Listening to Images, Tina Campt articulates the photographic image as a phenomenon beyond sight and focuses on sound, frequency, and the aural as a valuable and necessary intervention in Black diasporic cultural studies and beyond. Campt urges us to understand that the act of “listening to images” as “a practice of looking beyond what we see and attuning our senses to the other affective frequencies through which photographs register.”
In the comment section down below, write a creative response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 4/19 before class):
Inspire by Yomaira Figueroa’s method of describing and “listening” to photographs of Afro-Boricuas, describe and analyze one of Frank Espada’s photos from The Puerto Rican Diaspora Project.
Write a poem about a Puerto Rican, Latinx, Afro-diasporic and/or indigenous community using the poetic structure and main phrase (“You Are Who I Love”) proposed by Aracelis Girmay.
Respectfully interactwith ONE of your classmates’ creative responses. What elements of his/her/their piece caught your attention? What other observations about Frank Espada’s photographs and/or the poem by Aracelis Girmay do you want to bring into the discussion?
A native of Puerto Rico, writer and associate professor, Yomaira Figueroa, was raised in Hoboken, NJ, and is a first-generation high school and college graduate. She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Figueroa works on 20th century U.S. Latinx Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, and Afro-Hispanic literature and culture. Her most recent book Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature, focuses on diasporic and exilic Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, and Equatoguinean texts in contact. She is currently writing a book on Afro-Boricua Histories and audiovisual archives.
“The quotidian moments captured in the photos of Frank Espada’s Afro-Puerto Rican subjects and in Girmay’s poem “You Are Who I Love” are the facts of everyday Blackness and Black life and survival in the diaspora. The everyday moments that Espada documents invite a form of listening to what Tina Campt calls the “quiet register”; it is listening to the quotidian and the intimate as a central part of the human.”
Oral presentation on the essay “Afro-Boricua Archives” or the poem “You Are Who I Love.”
“These images and stories are works of poetry that refuse dehumanization and accusations of cultural pathologies. Instead, Espada renders his subjects through a lens of love, celebration, and dignity.”
How can we interpret these Frank Espada photos from Figueroa’s perspective? What elements stand out? What stories they suggest?
“Both Frank Espada’s photography and Girmay’s poetry allow Puerto Rican, Afro-Puerto Ricans, and other people of color to see themselves rendered beautifully as survivors and resistors. These bundles of photography and poetry can be cleaved together (but not apart) because they are visualizations of the human.”
Pick a line from Aracelis Girmay’s “You Are Who Are Love” that matches well with Espada’s photography project. Explain your selection.
Girmay and Espada create an archive of who is loved. Who is loved in these poems and in these photographs are: colonial subjects, diasporic peoples, those resisting coloniality, and practicing old/creating new ways to love one another. Within Espada’s work, we must bend our ear to listen to the poetics of the image, in Girmay’s work we must conjure and imagine the people, the bodies, and the immense love she writes about. We can listen to his images and read her poetry and behold an indispensable way to see communities that have been disappeared by the archive, coloniality, and erasure.
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 (due on 4/12 before class):
Discuss the involvement of Nuyoricans in the creation of Hip Hop. (Pages 122-123; 128-130)
Morales argues that Benjy Meléndez’s story illustrates the multicultural intersections at the core of Hip Hop. Why? Expand. (Pages 124-128)
Describe the input of Puerto Rican artists to avant-garde visual arts scenes in New York. (Pages 130-131)
Respectfully interactwith 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?
When you think of Nuyorican culture what art forms, artists, thinkers, activists, community organizations, political organizations come to mind and why?
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 presentation on the essay “Raza Interrupted. New Hybrid Nationalisms.”
Salsa reached back to Caribbean musical forms and insisted in 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).”?
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?
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 these poems, poets, and performances illustrate the ideas about Nuyorican identity presented by Ed Morales?
Beyond electoral politics, protests, and manifestations, in which ways people engage in political acts?
According to Bad Bunny
The fireworks I remember from Santurce hiss and pop in the break, but they can’t drown out the deep moan of our collective tropical depression: “Maldito Año Nuevo,” he curses. Damn New Year. There’s a timelessness to this lament. In the long, low-grade crisis of life in the world’s oldest colony, what year is not cursed?
Now, in 2020, in this maldito año nuevo, he has given us a little something to take the edge off… He performs the expressive freedom we wish we could, clearing the global stage not only for the charismatic spectacle of our joy but also for the impossible demands of our grief.
Despite the packaging of reggaeton as global pop, a palpable tension remains between Puerto Rico’s subjugated political status and its boisterous, filthy, defiant, and now world-dominating music. This is especially true of the music Benito makes as Bad Bunny.
Oral presentation on the essay “The World According to Bad Bunny.”
In her essay, writer and translator Carina del Valle Schorske reads Bad Bunny as a figure of “defiant” politics but also asks to what extent “we’ve seized on Bad Bunny as a symbol and extracted more political meaning from him than he can take credit for himself”?
Observing Bad Bunny’s interventions within these categories: language, gender, sexuality, national identity, and/or creative autonomy, what do you think of this debate?
Reading Bad Bunny’s songs through historical events
He exploded onto the música urbana scene as Bad Bunny in 2016, when he was just 22, with the emo trap ballad “Soy Peor”: If I was a son of a bitch before, now I’m worse … because of you. That was the year the United States Congress passed PROMESA, the law that subjected Puerto Rico to a pitiless payment plan for its debt crisis.
Then, in 2017, Hurricane Maria hit, and nine months later Bad Bunny released “Estamos Bien,” the defiant anthem of battered dreamers: And if tomorrow I die, I’m already used to living in the clouds.
Estamos bien. No, really, we’re fine — that’s what they told us, but we knew it wasn’t true. Benito’s parents would not have electricity at home for three months after the storm. Along the shoreline, there are still so many palm trees with missing crowns.
In 2018, amid an epidemic of femicides in Latin America, he released “Sólo de Mí,” channeling his voice, in the video, through a woman’s bruised mouth: I’m not yours, I’m not anybody’s, I belong only to myself.
The song defends vulnerability as a sacred principle in all of us that should never be exploited
Benito often condemns gender-based violence on Twitter and live TV, but much of his advocacy takes the form of performance art: grinding in full drag in the “Yo Perreo Sola” video, wearing a skirt on “The Tonight Show” to publicly mourn the murder of Alexa Negrón Luciano, a trans woman in Toa Baja.
When Bad Bunny appeared with J Balvin on Cardi B’s smash hit single “I Like It” in 2018, the New York bugalú sample seemed to signal a major crossover moment… But this wasn’t really a conventional “crossover”: Bad Bunny cracked “the gringo market” (his words) without assimilating, without making the one concession that seemed unavoidable: his mother tongue.
Bad Bunny’s dialect — his highly particular Puerto Rican Spanish, as he mirrors, modulates, and maximizes it — inspires exultant proprietary feeling in those who understand it instinctively and desperate thirst in those who don’t. Then there are the shamefaced Nuyoricans texting questions to cousins they know will clown them for asking. I count myself among those who must embark on a program of cultural reclamation to follow his clever flow and hyperlocal allusions.
He is well aware of the politics latent in his language choices, and he performs this awareness slyly in his lyrics… the vocables of Indigenous revolt stay on the tips of our tongues, and generations of Black speech from Kingston to Brooklyn to Santo Domingo style our interjections.
Puerto Ricans have fought fiercely to preserve this supposedly cut-rate Spanish as the official language of government, schooling, and culture under U.S. colonialism. This syncretic, sidelong way of speaking — celebrated and circulated via popular music — archives histories of migration, resistance, and coerced intimacy barely audible elsewhere.
On salsa, Lavoe, and the jíbaro image
But his style made such a mark — his voice, his way of singing. Jíbaro, but modern. A jíbaro who wouldn’t let anybody play him.” It’s hard to translate “jíbaro,” a historically loaded word that Puerto Ricans use to describe humble rural people on the island, people who have been both abandoned by the national project and held up as symbolic of its noble essence. My Puerto Rican family on my grandmother’s side are jíbaros, and the same might be said of Benito and his family.
On Tego Calderón
A polymathic rapper and percussionist who infused Puerto Rican rap with sophisticated Caribbean rhythms — not just dancehall, but bomba — and Black Power consciousness. For baby Benito, Tego was his “favorito full,” and those mornings on the radio were his “moment” to key into the particular pleasures of his own generation.
On reggaetón and race
Benito came into the world with the mainstreaming of reggaeton, when a quirky, introverted kid from the country, with no taste for the streets, had access to the music descended from underground mixtapes once sold at pickup points in the projects and exchanged in San Juan’s high school parking lots. The music was still gritty, but it was everywhere, and it came to seem as though it belonged to everyone. In the early aughts, canny impresarios worked to rebrand reggaeton as reggaeton Latino, shifting away from its intimate associations with the emphatically Black genres of rap and reggae and toward the vague but profitable Pan-American possibilities promised by latinidad.
He has been able to take advantage of a much more hospitable pop landscape than the one his predecessors navigated, when the genre was dismissed as hood music. The market still seems to value versatility most highly in white artists. When I say “white,” in the Caribbean context, I’m departing from the rigid “one-drop rule” that still seems to determine most U.S. thinking about race. Many Puerto Ricans, including Benito, are racially mixed. But he consciously identifies as white in recognition of how he’s treated in relation to darker-skinned Puerto Ricans.
Given the hierarchies that organize modern society, it’s not surprising that música urbana has become whiter as it has been further subsumed by global capitalism, but this trend is hard to tolerate given the genre’s genesis in Black rhythms and diasporic solidarity.
It’s also true that many white artists in the Caribbean diaspora really did grow up collaborating closely with Black people, living, loving, and working in the same neighborhoods, in multiracial families, under intimately related forms of state violence, so that simple charges of appropriation sound off-key.
On the links between corruption and colonialism
Mainstream media outlets have portrayed the political cronyism in Puerto Rico as typical third-world shenanigans, obfuscating the role of the United States in fomenting the decade-long financial crisis by offering huge tax breaks to American corporations at the expense of local businesses, defunding public services including utilities and education and triggering a wave of out-migration.
The Telegram chat revealed what many of us already knew: Urban music was never to blame for the degradation of Puerto Rican society. The real degradation has always been Puerto Rico’s colonial condition and the nihilistic corruption it cultivates among local power brokers.
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)
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.
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)
Afro-Diasporic Musical Genres
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)
“‘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)
“Las caras lindas”
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.
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)
Oye! 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! Hey! 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 Boricua! This is el Abayarde! Bringing it as it is! I’m pushing them hard, to wake up my people! Ja! Hey, how nice is my Loiza! Look how pretty it is!
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.
In the last section of her chapter, Arlene Torres shows that Puerto Ricans who define themselves as negros and mulatos argue that those who promote ideologies of mestizaje and blanqueamiento fail to recognize how Black people have engaged in cultural practices that have transformed Puerto Rican culture, the nation, and its people. She concludes that Black Puerto Ricans are continually creating themselves anew as they engage in debates about the rootedness of Puerto Rican culture. (Pages 300-01)
In the comment section down below, write a 225-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 3/8 before class):
Arlene Torres argues that also under US rule Black and Mulato people understood that they were within the geopolitical boundaries of the nation but they were not considered part of that cultural construction. How these exclusions affected national solidarity? Expand on how the mestizaje ideology emerged from this conflict. (Pages 294-97)
According to Torres, in Puerto Rico indicators of social status are racialized. How issues of race, class, and a sense of place are usually intertwined? (Pages 295-298)
How migration to the US and return migration to the island challenge racist and class-based ideologies and stereotypes around black and mulato people? (Pages 298-301)
Respectfully interactwith ONE of your classmates’ responses. Do you agree with their points and interpretations? Do you disagree? What other observations about “The Great Puerto Rican Family” you want to bring into the discussion?
What do you understand by the ideology of mestizaje and why Torres considers it a paradox?
Associate Professor of Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter, Arlene Torres works “against the silencing of a critical discourse on race relations and color prejudice in Puerto Rico.” She discusses how “ideas and perceptions of self and other are reproduced and/or changed over time in a racist and [racialized] class-based society.” (288)
Torres argues that powerful symbols of nationhood in Puerto Rico are coupled with ideologies of mestizaje and blanqueamiento. The mixture [el sancocho] is embraced, provided that the essence of Puerto Rican society and culture is still rooted in Spain and later in the Americas.” (287)
She defends the perspective that blacks and mulatos should be considered not as marginal but rather vital to the development of the nation. (294)
Oral/slide presentations on “The Great Puerto Rican Family is Really, Really Black.”
.During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Black people constituted the labor force on sugar plantations.
.Free blacks (the majority) and maroons lived in subsistence-oriented fishing communities or in the interior
.With 1815’s Real Cédula de Gracias a major influx of Europeans came to the island creating a powerful hacendado class that displaced many small farmers. They worked independently of the people.
.In the mid-nineteenth century a second wave of foreigners arrived. They settled in the interior because of the coffee industry. As black slaves became more difficult to acquire, and later after abolition (1873), Europeans relied on the indentured labor of the displaced peasants.
.The señorial class, the hacendados began to lay claim to Puerto Rico in opposition to the interests of the Spanish colonial government. “Puerto Rican nation was constituted as a paternalistic class of hacendados who provided the jíbaro with the means to engage in productive labor for the good of the nation.
Torres argues that the opposition between the coast and the interior and between coastal/urban and rural laborers positions are subsumed by the tripartite classification of el negro (coastal towns), el blanco (urban), and el jíbaro (mountanious interior).
Why she challenges traditional conceptions of el jíbaro, the represented light-skinned peasant, bearer of a Puerto Rican identity? (292-93)
Founding Director of the Latinx Project and Professor of Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, Dr. Arlene Dávila provides in “Local/Diasporic Tainos” a discussion of the diverse objectives and goals for which Taino-ness has been deployed. Dávila argues that the “debate over Taino is not only about the content and nature of this identity, but rather about issues of cultural authority and the role of cultural memory in the very redefinition of Puerto Rican-ness both on the island and in the diaspora (35-6).”
Dávila describes the historical transformation of the Tainos from a recognized group and a living population into a symbol of national assertion to be revived, romanticized, and manipulated.
In the comment section down below, write a 225-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 3/1 before class):
Elaborate on the ways cultural policy in Puerto Rico constructed the Taino heritage as an “equal” foundational element of Puerto Rican culture. How the Taino identity was used as a “racial buffer” and a basis of racial integration despite the ongoing reality of racial discrimination directed at Afro-descendants on the island? (Pages 36-39)
How the Taino image has been interpreted politically by different groups? (37-40)
Discuss how in the United States, interest in the Taino has not been limited to its use as a symbol of national assertion (Puerto Rican-ness) but also as an organized movement of ethnic revival and indigenous advocacy. (Pages 40-43)
Sebastián Robiou Lamarche is a historian dedicated primarily to the study of the Tainos and Caribs, the two main indigenous people of the Caribbean. The chapter “Tainos: Mythology and Cosmology” from his book Tainos and Caribs The Aboriginal of the Antilles offer us a description of the recuperated Taino myths, ancestral storytelling, cosmology, and spiritual views.
Oral/slide presentations on the essay “Tainos: Mythology and Cosmology.”